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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

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Issue 52, Spring 2015 Istanbul Unwrapped: Bosphorus Requiem
£15.00 / $19.14 / €17.79
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 52
  • City of Domes and Dames

    Üsküdar – its history shaped by three powerful queen mothers and a tireless English nurse – has surprises to offer behind its unprepossessing façade: dazzling mosques, villagey tranquillity and epic views…

  • Seeing and Believing

    Lovely churches, a lively market, enticing ice cream, shady cafés… and they called this the land of the blind. Andrew Finkel introduces Kadıköy, and Harriet Rix mooches around the district of Moda. Photographs by Monica Fritz

  • Memories light the corners of my mind

    Maureen Freely goes ‘Bosphorising’ with her father, John Freely, in search of her treasured childhood in Istanbul. Could it be that it was all so simple then?

  • City Bosphorus: the European shore

    Turn your back on the Old City and make for the water. Andrew Finkel takes a drive along the Bosphorus’s lower shore: from the half-abandoned docks of Karaköy, past mammoth cruise ships and hangars for modern art, to the palaces of Beşiktaş and Ortaköy

  • Village Bosphorus: the European shore

    Andrew Finkel extols the charms of a trip up the western, European, shore of the Bosphorus, whether by water or by road

  • City Bosphorus: The Anatolian Shore

    Over 56 pages, we cross the Bosphorus to explore the lower reaches of the Asian shore. Sailing past the ruins of stately Haydarpaşa Station, we land at the busy Kadıköy docks, wander round Moda’s old cosmopolitan backwaters and head upstream to the sparkling hilltop mosques of Üsküdar

  • Village Bosphorus: The Anatolian Shore

    Continuing our tour of Bosphorus villages, we cross back to a more untamed Asian shore. Heading upstream again, we start in Beylerbeyi and Çengelköy, with their grand views of the Old City, and make for the fortress of Anadoluhisari, where the Bosphorus narrows and the yalis are at their most captivating. Our journey ends on the hilltop of Anadolukavağı, with the Black Sea in our sights

Buy the issue
Issue 52, Spring 2015 Istanbul Unwrapped: Bosphorus Requiem
£15.00 / $19.14 / 619.69 TL
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