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Championed by the cavalry

Winning ways with okra

Okra was so well established as a food in Turkey by the fifteenth century that Mehmet the Conqueror’s formidable horsemen adopted it as an emblem for their jousting tournaments.

In the year 1402, when the formidable Tamerlane defeated the Ottoman sultan Beyazıt the Thunderbolt at the battle of Ankara, the Ottoman state was on the brink of collapse. The sultan was taken prisoner with two of his sons; the countryside was burnt, pillaged and ransacked. in the middle of this turmoil Beyazıt's eldest son, Prince Mehmet, who was lucky to escape his father's fate, swiftly tried to rebuild a defensive force to replace the lost army. From the provinces of Amasya and neighbouring Merzifon in the northeast of Anatolia, he recruited able archers and skilful riders from among the farmers to create two new mounted regiments. Later on, after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II brought this cavalry, which his grandfather had founded, to the new capital. Famed for their loyalty and skills in riding and combat, they became the royal guards. As their emblems, these two regiments modestly chose the vegetables for which their home towns were best known: the cabbage for Merzifon and okra for Amasya.

This little fact from the byways of history sheds light on something rather fascinating: that okra (bamya in Turkish) was in established use as a vegetable, quite as common as the cabbage, as long ago as the beginning of the fifteenth century.

Okra, Hibiscus esculentus (or Abelmoschus esculentus, as botanists now prefer to call it), is a perennial with eye-catching pale-yellow flowers that have prominent stamens protruding from their purplish velvet centre. it is related to some very pretty garden shrubs with colourful blooms, H. rosa sinensis and H. syriacus, often seen in parks today, and the luxurious H. abelmoschus, the musk plant of old, which was sought after for its musk-scented aromatic seeds, used to flavour the sherbet of Oriental grandees. Medicinally, it has long been recommended for sensitive digestions, particularly in those convalescing from a high fever…



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Issue 34, 2005 Ottoman Kaftans
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 34
  • And Where Shall We Begin?

    Maureen Freely looks back on the life of the architectural historian Godfrey Goodwin, who died aged 84.

  • Power Dressing

    For boldness, colour and virtuosity nothing can compare with the golden age of the Ottoman kaftan. After months of conservation work to ensure that they could travel safely, the Topkapı lent the Sackler dozens of its mesmerising royal kaftans.

  • In the spirit’s wake

    At last there need be nothing between you and the Bosphorus. Patricia Daunt tells the story of how two architects created Sumahan on the Water, breathing new life into an old Ottoman spirit factory. Photographs by Jürgen Frank

  • Land of a Thousand Mansions

    A 40-page celebration of the architectural heritage of the Eastern Black Sea Mountains

  • Painting his way into history

    The dashing Abdülmecit Efendi was the last member of the Ottoman dynasty to hold court on the Bosphorus. This enlightened, sophisticated man with a passion for painting, son of a Sultan and cousin of the last Sultan, spent two brief years as Caliph. But in 1924, the caliphate was abolished and Abdülmecid left the city his family had captured five hundred years earlier for exile in France. His paintings, abandoned in the very studio of his house on Çamlıca Hill where he had created them, are a remarkable pictorial legacy of the last days of empire. By Philip Mansel. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

Buy the issue
Issue 34, 2005 Ottoman Kaftans
£50.00 / $63.53 / 2,077.35 TL
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