One of my most favorite things about summer in Turkey is the moment when fruit like strawberries, green sour plums(called erik) and cherries arrive to market stands. This summer I was craving PIE literally ALL SUMMER LONG! I went ‘home’ to the states for most of the summer and begged my mom to make me a pie…I would have even been happy to eat the kind made with cans of gooey pre-made pie-filling. In the end as it usually happens when I go back to see my family in the summer, the days booked up quickly with seeing as many friends and family as I could in only 3 weeks…and the pie was never made.
I was ‘ok’ about it because I just thought, “You can have it in Turkey, cherries are better there anyway”. YES cherries are AMAZING in Turkey. There are two kinds, the large sweet ones called ‘kiraz’ and the tiny sour ones called ‘vişne’. Vişne are apparently highly sought after and are one of Turkey’s largest export crops. They are supposedly a traditional fruit stemming all the way back to Ancient Anatolian times and possibly even the Hittite Civilization. The Turks use them in savory dishes, on the menu as a sauce for kebabs adding a sweet and sour element. They are also a very popular juice, ‘vişne suyu’.
Here’s the thing- living in Istanbul definitely comes with its charms and yet also presents me with the weekly if not daily hurdle of navigating and understanding a foreign environment. I thought I could make cherry pie here but it turns out that I forgot many crucial things:
1) There is no pre-made refrigerated pie crust to be found !
2) There is no air conditioning in my apartment-making the kitchen a furnace in August ! 3) Fruit is SEASONAL!
I came back ‘home’ to Istanbul and set out for sour cherries! I’ll give you the ‘Cliffs Notes’ version of what turned into me wandering around my neighborhood going from market to market and begging for vişne only to be met with the same answer “We had an early season, vişne are finished”. I was heartbroken-not only because I couldn’t have pie, but also because I couldn’t have the cherries in ANY form. I had compeltely missed what I had been wanting all summer!
I ran into some luck a week later at my usual grocery store…and what transpired was very strange. I asked for vişne and the grocer looked around and said (whispering), “How much do you want?”- I told him a kilo would be good-he didn’t respond, he just walked away and minutes later returned from the back with a package wrapped in plastic wrap and a price sticker on it. I paid, left and kinda prayed I had actually bought cherries and not something that had been lost in translation. I never saw anymore vişne again in markets after that day… and I think I probably bought a kilo that was meant for someone else.
That’s the thing about living here-When I first moved here, I had a really hard time figuring out food and shopping. I also didn’t really know how to cook. I always helped my mom make cookies but actual dinner wasn’t something I did unless it was heating something in the microwave or throwing frozen veggies into a pot. I can’t do any of that here. I don’t own a microwave and nothing is in cans or really processed. I had to learn slowly how to do everything from scratch.
I ABSOLUTELY wasn’t aware of seasonal fruits and vegetables. I grew up in suburbia where anything I could ever want to eat was just there at the grocery store. I guess on some level I knew that certain fruits didn’t grow in winter, but there they were still at the store. But upon moving here, it was baffling. Tomatoes don’t grow year-round? If I want broccoli or celery, I really have to wait until Fall? I forgot about this rule once again after returning to Istanbul- I went in search of cauliflower …the guy at the market looked at me amused and told me “Cauliflower is not in season until October”.
So there I was with these prized cherries, possibly the last of their kind until 2017 worrying if I should eat them or save them…when I had a brilliant idea! One of my dearest friends was planning a trip to Istanbul and just so happened to have the surname of Cherry. Perfect! I planned to make the pie when my friend was here and we could all pay tribute to people named CHERRY and food that was CHERRY.
I pitted the cherries using a straw, then made the pie crust. My mom’s southern cookbook had millions of recipes…all calling for shortening…again an ingredient not to be found. I found a recipe from Martha Stewart and made the dough in my food processor. Doing this in August with no air conditioning was the most challenging cooking experience of my life. Everything went into the freezer: the butter, the rolling pin, the blades from my food processor, and water. I made the crust while stopping every now and then to chill the dough and then froze everything.
We ate the pie a few weeks later, and I invited some Turkish friends over as well, as some of them hadn’t really ever had this American style of pie before. Everybody loved it, and I do have to say that it was exactly what I wanted! It was sour, and buttery, and gooey, and crunchy… it felt like being home with my grandmother, and yet it was different because it really had such an intense cherry flavor. Why is pie so good?! I promise, I am not making another one for a long time!
After pie night I went on my vacation and came back to FALL and was reminded yet again of the seasons. It happens like that here in Istanbul…there’s no slow and gradual warning of season change. One day it’s summer, the next’ it’s not. Simultaneously worked started and I promptly got the FLU ! Having the Flu as an adult is horrifying. I thought I was actually dying. There was only one thing that helped me get over the flu: Herbal tea. Two herbs in particular are both really prominent at this time of the year and only recently started showing up in markets, just in time to cure us of winter colds. I know how it sounds…herbal tea… but just hear me out.
These are two magic flu killing herbs: 1) Adacayı and 2)Taze Kekik.
Adacayı (pictured above on the left) translates literally as ‘island tea’ but it is actually wild sage, and it grows here in mountainous seaside areas. My colleague has a summer home outside of Istanbul on the Black Sea and always brings it. I make tea with it by sticking it in my french press with a cinnamon stick and some cloves, then when I pour it I add honey and lemon. I promise it works like medicine. It actually smells like you are making tea out of vicks vapor rub…which might be gross to some but is heaven to me. My colleagues rely on it when cold and flu season starts and they told me it actually has been proven to have healing properties for the throat and mouth. It grows in summer but then is harvested and dried for the winter.
The other, the taze kekik (pictured above on the right) is difficult to explain. It’s translated into English as both thyme and oregano; however, it really doesn’t look or taste like either to me. I have yet to really figure out what it is although a friend of mine told me it was just wild thyme. It too smells very medicinal and vicks-like. You can cut this up into salads and on roasted potatoes, but if your’re feeling flu-ish, you can seep it in boiling water for tea.
I also made soup in which I took two giant celery roots and threw them into water to flavor it. Yup…celery root. Green celery stalks are not eaten here, only the roots…another thing that took me quite a while to figure out how to use.
So what’s at my market currently? These days, there’s lots of cabbage and spinach, huge purple beets, broccoli and cauliflower, plums, grapefruits and pomegranates. Gone are the tomatoes, the berries, and definitely the sour vişne. For those I am once again waiting for next July… this time, I will be more prepared!
**For the PIE I used Martha Stewart’s normal pie crust recipe and I used 6 cups of the sour cherries, juice of two lemons, 6 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar, a little cinnamon and nutmeg, a little salt, and a splash of milk. (This came from an old Betty Crocker print out that my mom sent me and I added more cherrie than called for).