The Sweet Taste of Summer

The fragrant melon

What would summer be without fragrant melons and their honeyed, juicy, cooling flesh? Hundreds of varieties ensure that this most luscious of fruits – a favourite for a thousand years or more – is there just when you need it most. Text and photographs by Berrin Torolsan

  • The winter melons of Kırkağaç
  • Winter melons of every hue, freckled, ribbed and plain. In the middle of this painterly pile is an almost black casaba

‘The taste was so delicious that anyone only accustomed to this fruit in Europe would scarcely recognise its relationship with the delicate and highly perfumed melons of Khiva,’ wrote the fearless cavalry officer and explorer Colonel Fred Burnaby in A Ride to Khiva, published in 1876.

It was on those steppes of Central Asia that the cultivation of sweet melons first took off, and to this day, hundreds of different varieties can be found there. The sweet melon, Cucumis melo, is known in Turkish as kavun, derived from the old Turkish kagun, which according to the 11th-century lexicographer Mahmut of Kashgar, was the word used by all the Turkic tribes in Asia. The fruit is so deeply rooted in the culture that a thousand years ago there were specific words for melon gardens, the possession of melons, even for having a thirst for melons – kagunsamak

In the mid-1920s, the Russian botanist Professor Pytr Zhukovsky came to Turkey to collect vegetable and grain samples for an enormous project: a gene bank that would enable Russia to feed the masses left starving by the revolution… He was particularly surprised to discover two melon varieties – the ‘diamonds of Anatolia’, as he called them – that had become geographically isolated. One is the Van melon, from eastern Anatolia, the ancestor of all cantaloupe varieties; the other, from western Anatolia (though now grown all over the world), is the thick-skinned and long-lasting casaba…

Recipes in this article: Mehmet Kamil Efendi’s Kavun Dolması (Baked Melon Stuffed with Nuts and Lamb), Ali Eşref Dede’s Kavun Dolması (Baked Small Melons with Spicy Lamb Filling), Kelek Turşusu (Melon Pickle) and Kavun Dondurması (Melon Sorbet)

To read the full article, purchase Issue 39

Issue 39, 2008 Diplomatic Secrets
£8.00 / $11.25 / 44.40 TL
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 39
  • Birth of a Nation

    How the diplomatic world dragged itself away from Istanbul and settled in the new capital. By Norman Stone

  • Crockery and crocuses

    In Turkey the tireless George Maw was able to indulge in both his loves. He found inspiration for the decorative tiles made by his family pottery. And he discovered the plants that inspired his magnificent book on crocuses.

  • Ankara’s Palaces of Diplomacy

    A new capital called for new architecture. Ankara in the 1920s and 1930s produced a fascinating diversity of styles as the foreign powers dragged themselves away from the Bosphorus and settled reluctantly on the Anatolian plateau

More in the Guide
Buy the issue
Issue 39, 2008 Diplomatic Secrets
£8.00 / $11.25 / 44.40 TL
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