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F - 87 : The Story of Turkish Delights

It is almost impossible to visit Turkey without seeing a shop with Turkish Delights. Lokum, as they are called in Turkish, got their English name from the forgetfulness of the Gentlemen who introduced them to London in the 19th century. Returning from Constantinople, he remembered how tasty the sweets were but not their name. Or so the story goes.

Haci Bekir's original Shop in Istanbul still has a large Customer Base

Lokum is easy to make albeit it takes a while. All you need is water, granulated sugar, corn starch, lemon juice, a flavoring agent like rose water and some food coloring (if you desire a color other than yellow) . Slowly boil the mixture for a good two hours, add splinters of pistachio or thin slices of dates and then pour into a form where it shall rest for eight more hours. One cold, slice it into small stripes and cubes and powder with icing sugar to remove the morsels' stickiness. Et Voilà!

Granulated and Icing Sugar, Corn Starch, Lemon Juice, Tartar Cream, Water is all you need

Sprinkle Icing Sugar on the Morsel so they do to stick to each other

Here is a link for the adventurous amongst you who want to try themselves:

Lokum was first mentioned 500 years ago when it was made from honey and pekmez, a concentrated grape syrup. These little lumps of sweetness originated from eastern Turkey or Persia. Nobody really knows. They were rather different and less chewy than today’s delights. Lokum took its name from the Arab word luqma(t) for “morsel”, “mouthful”.

Sugar Cane was grown in the Mediterranean for Medical Use until the 17th century

Lokum as we know it only appeared in the late 18th century when sugar stared to be consumed for pleasure and was not treated as medicine any longer. Sugar cane had a long tradition in the Mediterranean and was introduced by Arabs around the 8th century AD. It was grown in the Levant, Cyprus, Egypt, Sicily and southern Spain. The production of sugar required a hot climate, plenty of water and lots of charcoal for the refining process. Abundant irrigation water and plenty of wood were scarce though in the Mediterranean. Sugar was thus expensive and remained a medical niche product. As such, sugar has no medical properties. But it gave sick people an energy boost which was interpreted as cure.

Sugar Plantation in the New World - Could not figure out Location - from WorldHistory

All this changed with the age of exploration when European powers brought sugar cane to the Caribbean and northern Brazil. With plenty of water and huge rain forests to log, these places were ideal for planting sugar cane. Black slaves brought over from Africa provided the labour required. Sugar from the new world was so cheap that it destroyed the old sugar production centers in the Mediterranean and became available to a broader consumer base.

Hande Celalyan now runs Haci Bekir in the Fifth Generation!

Whilst the upper class in London, Paris and Amsterdam met in coffee houses to sipped sugar sweetened drinks like coffee, tea or chocolate, in Constantinople the white, new substance attracted the attention of Haci Bekir, a baker from the Balkans, who moved to Istanbul in 1777. He replaced honey and pekmez of the traditional recipe with sugar and cornstarch and flavoured it with rosewater, lemon peel or bitter oranges. Haci Bekir’s Lokum was sweeter, more tasty and chewier than the original. He also added Mastic, a substance the Sultans had imported from Chios for centuries for its healthy properties (see my blog on Mastic).

His Royal Highness, the Sultan of Delights :-)

It is thus no surprise that Sultan Abdul Hamid I (1725 – 1789) noticed and ordered these sweets for the Top Kapi Palace. Rumors have it that he wanted to keep his harem ladies happy and thus served them Turkish Delights. Interesting story but probably more gossip than truth. Have seen many Turkish men loving their Lokum as well. The Sultan made Haci Bekir his official supplier to the Ottoman court. Bekir’s original shop in Istanbul still exit and is now run by Hande Celalyan, Haci Beki’s great-great granddaughter. We shall visit her shop during the Ottoman Tour this August.

From Istanbul, Turkish delights made their way into the world as one of the first mass produced deserts available – almost 100 years before chocolate. Whilst quite dominant in the world of the former Ottoman Empire, their fans can now be found everywhere around the globe. A quick search on google “how to make Turkish Delights” yields more results than you can read in a full week!

If you want to see the movie scene that made Turkish Delights world famous in 2005, click here:

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