Leyla Yvonne Ergil
ISTANBUL: The autumn harvest in Türkiye provides an intriguing combination of nuts, fruits and vegetables, many of which will be used for stocking the pantry for winter
When September arrives in Türkiye, the succulent fruits of the summer suddenly disappear and a range of less-familiar vegetables tend to take the forefront. This is because it is the time of the year when households across Türkiye prepare their pantry with pickles and preserves for the winter months.
While most of the produce on the stalls at farmer’s markets at this time of year may be familiar, there are some very intriguing varieties that one can only find in this season.
The variety of muskmelon, referred to as Acur, is a fruit that resembles an exaggerated cucumber because it is long and green with a similar interior texture; however, the outer skin has prominent ridges. It is most prevalent this time of the year as it is pickled or grated into a refreshing salad. Also referred to as Hıta, this melon variety is used in Turkish cuisine similar to the cucumber and zucchini it resembles. Sometimes it serves as a substitute in dishes such as cacık or an olive oil dish in which it is sauteed with onions and tomatoes.
Kelek is the word that refers to an unripe melon, which is a fruit on the stalls that resembles mini versions of either a watermelon or melon. Kelek is generally seeded, and the seeds can be consumed separately and are revered for their nutritional benefits, while the fruit is mainly prepared as a pickle. There are recipes in which the fruit’s crevices are filled with savory stuffing and baked as a “dolma,” which is the Turkish word that refers to anything with a filling.
Primarily used for its medicinal properties, yet ever so pretty, the Kudret Narı, which in English is referred to as bitter gourd or bitter melon, resembles a yellow flower. The fruit is preserved in either olive oil or honey and taken by the spoonful as a natural nutritional supplement.
Bamya and Bamya Çiçeği
The fall is also the time for two very precious items in Turkish cuisine, which are Bamya and Bamya Çiçeği. While “bamya” is the Turkish word for okra, it’s flower is a variation on hibiscus. Both are painstakingly harvested and prepared in Türkiye’s culinary traditions. While okra is prepared as olive oil and tomato-based dish, in its preparation is a very special slicing style of the tip of the vegetable to ensure the slimy texture is not released. What this means is carefully cutting the tip of every single okra in a dish in a pyramid shape. The painstaking part of its flower, which is used in teas in Türkiye for its medicinal benefits, must be collected early in the morning and each flower is strung one by one onto a rope where they are dried.
The jujube referred to as Hünnap in Turkish, is a popular fresh and dried fruit mainly consumed as a snack and for its medicinal properties. At this time of year, they are harvested and sold fresh; however, Hünnap is also available year-round dried, in which this usually white and plum-sized fruit takes on a homey-amber color and shrinks to the size of an almond. In addition to simply eating the fruit fresh, which is sort of a bland yet fibrous combination of flavor, the jujube is made with vinegar and teas here in Turkiye.
September also marks the start of berry season, as is evident from the fresh produce stalls of farmers’ markets nationwide. One of the prized findings at this time of year is ahududu, which is the Turkish word for raspberries and they are sold in small single-sized portions, which Turks either use in cakes and preserves or just nibble on them one by one.
Blackberry is another berry that springs up at fruit stalls this time of year and is deliciously sweet, as can be suspected for its dark burgundy hues. These berries are also sold cleaned and ready to handle in small plastic boxes to preserve their soft and very crushable nature.
Sometimes translated as cranberry and other times as cornelian cherry, Kızılcık is a flowering fruit that is harvested in the autumn months. Somewhat bitter to just bite into, Kızılcık is mainly consumed as a “şerbet,” which is basically a brewed ice tea of the fruit or it is made into preserves.
The fall months are also when Türkiye’s famous nuts begin to rear their beautiful heads fresh at farmers’ markets. Pistachios can be found bright pink, soft and slightly more bitter than they become when dried.
Similarly, September is when you can see freshly picked walnuts on stalls. While they resemble the dried walnuts we are usually more familiar with, they are softer and more bitter yet still a very special treat. Referred as taze ceviz, these fresh walnuts are sold in the shell and are cracked open and the outer membrane removed to reveal a light beige-colored nut that is much softer and more subtle in taste than its dried variation.
Autumn is also the season of sesame. Although it is not necessarily something you will find on stalls, it is a precious product with a unique harvesting style that stands out to the foreign eye. Because you see to harvest sesame, in Turkish susam, which is a seed used in many capacities in Türkiye from baked goods to tahini, to say the least, the stalks are placed in pyramid-shaped bundles on the land they were grown on, for the seeds to dry and fall out from the stalks on their own. In the next few weeks, one may easily come across plots of land filled with pyramid-shaped piles of sesame seeds.