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Centuries ago, travellers to Turkey were amazed by a new, uplifting taste sensation: the sherbet, flowery or fruity, and served with ice. Berrin Torolsan traces the history of sherbets and the sorbets made from them, and serves up an irresistible array of cooling summery treats
Ever since the conquest of 1453, Western visitors had grumbled about the Ottoman Empire and its Turkish ways. But two things never failed to titillate: the harem and sherbet, two exotic notions plucked from The Arabian Nights. “Worthy of cooling the ruby lips of the houris who people the Abode of Felicity” was the usually phlegmatic foreign correspondent Charles White’s verdict on sherbet. In his book Three Years in Constantinople, published in 1844, he singled it out as one of the pleasures of Ottoman daily life.
How did a simple drink acquire this mystique?
The word “sherbet” comes from the Arabic shariba, which simply means “to drink” (the word syrup, or şurub in Turkish, is related, as is şarap, the Turkish for wine). But in passing into almost every language on every continent it has acquired connotations of sweetness and delight.
Central Asia adopted it from Farsi, the lingua franca of the day, and sherbet became she-li-pa, a favourite drink of the Mongol court. Its status was assured when Genghis Khan’s grandson Kubilai appointed Mar Sergius, a Nestorian Christian, as his sherbet-maker in 1268, requiring him to supply the palace in Beijing with 40 jars a year. The post of she-li-pa-chi (şerbetçi in Turkish) became sought after at the Chinese court. In 1330, pomegranate and redcurrant sherbets were prescribed in Proper and Essential Things for the Emperor’s Food and Drink, a Uighur physician’s dietary manual written for Kubilai’s descendants (and published recently as A Soup for the Qan).
It was the Ottoman Turks who popularised sherbet in the West. The German traveller Hans Dernschwam noted in 1525 that in Istanbul they added honey to drinking water and called it “czerbet”. Three decades later the French botanist Pierre Belon described sherbets made with figs, plums, apricots and raisins – thirsty passers-by would buy glasses of “syrup” from itinerant sellers or market stands, mixed with water and chilled with ice…
A recipe for Rose Sherbet
3 or 4 scented roses
1 red rose (for colour)
2 glasses water (500ml)
1 glass sugar (200g)
Juice of half a lemon
Using roses in any recipe always raises the spirits. This sherbet could not be simpler to make, but two golden rules: the roses should be a scented variety, and the water the best you can find, preferably spring water. In Istanbul we are f0rtunate in having water delivered straight from the spring in large glass flagons.
Rose Sorbet: This sherbet makes a delicate, refreshing and uplifting sorbet. If your roses have thin petals you can leave some of them in the sorbet, which gives a lovely, slightly crunchy texture as the sorbet melts in your mouth.
How to Make a Sorbet
These instructions for making a sorbet from a sherbet apply to all the sorbets that follow. As the legendary Elizabeth David wrote in Summer Cooking (1955), “Water ices made simply from fruit juice and sugar and frozen in the ice tray of a refrigerator make a delicious and refreshing end to a meal.” It really is that simple.
To make a sorbet:<br /> Prepare the sherbet as in the recipes below. The fruit is less sweet and slightly blander when frozen, so dilute with a little water, but do stir in some lemon juice to bring out the colour and flavour. If you want a fluffier texture, add a lightly whisked egg white.</p>
You then have a choice:
Sorbet will keep almost indefinitely. Whichever way you make it, it is delicious.
Other recipies in this article include sherbets and sorbets made with violets raspberries, strawberries, pomegranate, sour cherries (vişne), mint and lemonade and poppies, as we as Lohusa Şerbeti, traditionally offered after a mother gives birth.
In 1919 the Ukrainian artist Alexis Gritchenko fled Russia for Istanbul. Here he befriended Turkish artists and walked the streets, keeping a diary and making sketches, then applying ‘dynamos’ of colour. A new exhibition throws light on his stay in the city
A shared fascination with the Roman Empire impelled Britain’s greatest photographer, Sir Donald McCullin, to join the writer Barnaby Rogerson on a foray to the Troad to capture Rome’s Aegean legacy
Roger Norman looks back over the life of the late historian and writer Norman Stone – always unconventional, sometimes difficult, frequently mischievous – who, after less-than-happy times teaching at Oxford and Cambridge and a stint as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, chose to make his home in Turkey
Istanbul without coffee houses is a day without sun. It was here that they were born, and they are still as individual and interesting as their clientele. Savour them while you can, says Andrew Finkel. Photo essay by Monica Fritz
The botanist Andrew Byfield relives the happy days on Bozdağ, in the Taurus Mountains. Flowers thrive there in the harsh climate on bare limestone cliffs and in fractured gullies, and cedar of Lebanon and black pine brave all that nature can throw at them
Can ingenious new ideas coupled with old country wisdom stave off the long-predicted death of the Anatolian village? We sent two keen conservationists to Turkey’s lake district. The writer Nicholas Haslam found reasons for hope. The photographer Paul Veysseyre captured the poignant beauty of its tumbledown houses
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