Monday, April 19, 2010

Turkish Delight.

I am particulary fond of “Turkish delight”, especially (maybe exclusively) the rose-scented version. Maybe also the pistachio version. In Turkey itself, I understand, this delicacy is called lokum. I came across an interesting reference to it the other day, in an early nineteenth century travelogue:

“We were also favoured with morsels of confectionery, in which, it is supposed, the Turks are unrivalled, but with a single exception, the great family of candies, including the species rock lemon and hoarhound, with the minor varieties of plum, comfit, &c., are in nowise different, but if anything rather inferior to our own. The exception to which we allude is a delicious pasty mass which melts away in the mouth and leaves a fragrant flavour behind. It is, as we are informed, made by mixing honey with the inspissated juice of the fresh grape, and the Turks, who esteem it highly, call it rahat locoom, or ‘repose to the throat’ - a picturesque name to which it seems fairly entitled.”
[Sketches of Turkey in 1831 and 1832. By an American (James Ellsworth De Kay)]

No rosewater or nuts there. Hmmmm. In search of an early recipe I went. My first find confused the issue further.

Put three quarters of a pound of fresh butter in a saucepan, and set it on the fire. When hot, add one pound and six ounces of the best flour and keep stirring till it becomes a light brown; then pour three quarters of a pint of water over, and continue stirring until it becomes like a paste; then take it off and let it remain till cold; then add about ten eggs, and work it with your hands to form a softish paste; then divide it in round pieces the size of small peaches, hollow the centre of each with the point of your finger, lay them in a buttered baking tin and bake them a nice delicate colour. When done fill them with the jam, clotted cream, or minced meat previously stewed brown in fresh butter. Dish them up tastefully on a white napkin and serve.
[The Turkish Cookery Book, by Turabi Efendi, 1865]

This buttery choux-pastry with sweet or savoury filling would certainly give comfort to the throat, but it is a long way from the Western/European idea of ‘Turkish delight’, which, as the Oxford English Dictionary tell us is ‘a sweetmeat consisting of gelatine boiled, cubed, and dusted with sugar.’ I am utterly delighted that the first mention given in the OED is from Charles Dickens:

‘I want to go to the Lumps-of-Delight shop.’ ‘To the .. ?’ ‘A Turkish sweetmeat, sir.’
[Edwin Drood, 1870]

The Western history of the concept of Turkish Delight would surely make a most wonderful story, would it not?

Quotation for the Day.

Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.
Alice May Brock


valm said...

I absolutely LOVE Turkish Delight! The lovely pink rose watery one. Yum. I remember Mum used to love it too & Dad would often bring her home a Fry's Turkish Delight on a Friday night as a treat which she would savour slowly. She would often comment though that the Australian one wasn't as nice as the English Fry's - another sympton of her early homesickness perhaps or do they really taste different? Thanks for a blog that set off a wonderful chain of memories big sister!

valm said...

I LOVE Turkish Delight - especially the pinky rosey one! Mum used to love it too and I remember Dad would often bring her a Fry's Turkish Delight home on a Friday evening which she would savour slowly. I can remember her lamenting that the Australian one wasn't as nice as the English Fry's - another symptom of her early homesickness perhaps, or do they really taste different? Thanks for another blog that sen off a wonderful chain of memories big sister!

Liz + Louka said...

I thought Claudia Roden might have something to say on the matter, but all she really says is that every family has their own closely guarded secret recipe. The recipe she gives is set with cornflour rather than gelatine and sweetened with sugar and glucose (though she does note that substituting grape juice for some of the water gives a richer flavour).

samuel said...

I've recently discovered your blog and enjoy it. Your subject today is something I read about as a child and always wondered about.

The reference from my childhood is the book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When younger brother Edward visits Narnia he meets the evil White Queen. She wins his favor and coaxes him home to her castle with Turkish Delight.

I always assumed it must be something wonderful, and it's fun to read what you've found.

Piet said...

Any time I see or hear a reference to rahat lokum, my brain snaps to the memory of Doretta Morrow singing the opening phrases of the Virtue song to the harem in Kismet. But then I'm an old musical theatre lover.