Extract

Earthly Delights: the Humble Potato

The potato was a latecomer to Turkish cookery, but today it is hard to imagine life without it. The humble spud, the ultimate in comfort food, is endlessly versatile,and also comes packed with goodness. Berrin Torolsan serves up some favourite dishes

The catastrophe known as the Irish Potato Famine became infamous throughout the world after blight repeatedly wiped out harvests of the potato crop, on which rural Ireland was wholly dependent for food. Over three million Irish either perished from starvation or were forced to emigrate; most went to America.

The Ottoman sultan, Abdülmecid, was among those who wanted to help, but his donation of £10,000 was considered inappropriate, since Queen Victoria had given £2,000. So, as the newspapers reported, only £1,000 reached Dublin on March 31, 1847. But the sultan was so moved that a fleet of cargo ships laden with food supplies set sail for Ireland. Alas, on reaching Cork and Belfast, these too were turned away by the authorities. However, three foreign ships are reported to have docked between May 10 and 14 in the harbour of Drogheda, on the River Boyne, where they unloaded a cargo of wheat and corn – an incident politely hushed up so as not to harm diplomatic relations.

Potatoes, one of the world’s most widely consumed staples, originated in the New World, with variants growing wild in the Andes and being cultivated by the ancient Peruvians. They arrived in Europe in the 16th century, carried by the Spanish conquistadors, along with their hauls of gold and silver. But though they proved a valuable addition to the sailors’ limited diet, they proved unpopular in mainland Spain. As one of its natural defences, the potato, Solanum tuberosum, contains the alkaloid solanine, and its fruit and foliage are toxic, as are the tubers that sprout in storage, so probably people had been trying the poisonous bits. Quite rightly, the plant aroused suspicion, as did another American import, the tomato, which was initially detested. The realisation that both belonged botanically to the Solanum family, which also includes deadly nightshade, or belladonna, made things worse. For two centuries, no cook would touch the potato…

Many New World imports – such as corn, beans, peppers and Jerusalem artichokes, not to mention the turkey cock – had quickly reached Constantinople, the Ottoman capital, via Alexandria. From there they were spread by nomadic market gardeners across the Balkans to Europe – often carrying the label ‘Turkish’ as a result. But the potato was an exception. For a long time it remained a foreigner in Ottoman lands, its eventual arrival in the first half of the 19th century coinciding with the Tanzimat reforms. In 1843 the then ambassador to Paris, Mustafa Reşid Pasha, impressed by agricultural developments in France and with the support of the enlightened young Abdülmecid, set in motion agricultural reforms to improve cultivation of various crops, one of which was the potato.

Recipes include: Terbiyeli Patates Çorbasi/Potato Soup with Lemon; Sahan Köftesi / Meat Patties with Sliced Potato; Kıymalı Patates Oturtması / Potato Slices with Mince; Patates Köftesi / Potato Croquette; Patatesli Omlet / Potato Omelette; Patates Gratine / Potato Gratin

To read the full article, purchase Issue 52

Issue 52, Spring 2015 Istanbul Unwrapped: Bosphorus Requiem
£12.00 / $15.66 / 75.30 TL
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Buy the issue
Issue 52, Spring 2015 Istanbul Unwrapped: Bosphorus Requiem
£12.00 / $15.66 / 75.30 TL