Compote

A recipe for compote:
You’ll need some

20120613-203557.jpg
peaches,
And some

20120613-212955.jpg
apricots.
Peel them if you like, and cut them up. Put them in a pot with water to cover and sugar (or honey, or stevia) to taste. Toss in:

20120613-213232.jpg
Herb flowers- these are oregano. They grow wild in the garden and are a great favorite with the butterflies.
Simmer for five or ten minutes and let it cool. Compote is nice chilled- it’s quite refreshing on a summer day. Bits of cooked fruit in a light syrup- it goes down pretty easy. It might seem like food for invalids, but since an invalid would require comforting, nourishing fare, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Thyme flowers would be nice, in fact that’s what gave me the idea: I was reading a book called Mes Tartes by Christine Ferber, whose book, Mes Confitures, is my current favorite jam book (although the titles are French, these are English translations, by the way).
Her tarts are quite intimidating sounding and I have not attempted one yet. (I’m sure I’ll do it when my mom is with me in the kitchen this summer.) She had one tart, though, involving apricots and flowering thyme. That thought stuck with me.
When Ali brought a handful of the last, almost overripe apricots from the tree at the bottom of the garden, I mixed them with peaches from the tree by the kitchen, which have been falling even though they are slightly underripe (the whole kitchen area smells like peaches now,as the fruits ripen). I thought the result was quite tasty. The flowers taste like oregano, of course, but there is also a distinctly flowery flavor to them as well. It has made me curious about other herb flowers. I’ve not cooked with lavender much, for instance, but I’d like to.

Bearing fruit

Image

This is the result; but first, some back story.

We began work in this garden four years ago. It seems like ago, although it has passed by quickly, but it is not all that much time when you think in terms of trees. With trees, time stretches out before you in decades because the steps that trees take are big long steps that span years. Kaya, on the other hand, takes little steps, so that from one week to the next he is quite a different little fellow.

When we first got here, we had to plant a tree a week. This is because we used a dry, sawdust toilet. Now, most things that I do are driven by necessity, not ideology. We use solar electricity because there is no other kind where we are, for example, not because we are great green giants. But one thing that I do get sort of driven about is water. And although I am not evangelical about it, I disagree with the notion of using water to transport human waste. Overall, although it is stinky stuff and can be full of ick, I can’t see why we don’t face up better to our own excrement and the disposal thereof. To this end, when it came to our toilet, I put my foot down and said no to the septic tank.

This left us with the problem of what to do with our buckets of waste. (They were not as stinky as they might sound, as we used sawdust to bury any deposits, but full is full.)  Our answer to this weekly dilemma was to dig extra deep holes when we planted trees and simply empty the buckets into them. A layer of dirt and a tree later, we could consider our toilet flushed.

Over the past four years, as you can easily calculate, we have planted a number of trees. They seemed to like the arrangement just fine.

(Things slowed down a bit last year when we got a separation toilet. If you are interested in knowing more, I will let Google do the talking.)

We have not had a huge amount of fruit from these trees, as anyone who has planted little saplings will know. The first year, I dutifully plucked all the flowers off of the trees. The next year, they bloomed like crazy and I rubbed my hands greedily. Then all the flowers fell off on their own and we had harvest like this: one sweet red cherry, one jujube, two apples. That is when I learned that plants really won’t be convinced to do anything they don’t want to do. If you want them to do something, you have to make them want to. And a young fruit tree is interested enough in thriving that it will not set more fruit than it is ready to, or at least the ones in our garden won’t!

So when Ali asked me if I had taken a look at the apricot tree down at the Old Water Tank terrace lately, I skipped down the hill and was delighted to be greeted by the tree pictured above. Kaya and I went down to pick them (he was in charge of sampling) and were rewarded with a nice heavy bucket of fruit:

Image

I picked some of them before they were, strictly speaking, very ripe, but I didn’t want the bugs to get into them, and my mother had mentioned that she would like the apricot jam to be not too sweet. I have made jam with half of them, and it is tart, so she ought to like it. With the rest I think I may try my hand a fruit leather. These are tasty apricots, but not crunchy, which is how I prefer to eat them. We have a crunchy apricot bearing tree at the top of the garden, by the road, but those fruits are still green.

My first overabundance of fruit. A sweet predicament!

Have your roses and drink them too

20120515-204251.jpg

I was talking to my mother as I weighed the sugar to add to the rose sherbet. We will be visiting her in NY in a month, so there always seems to be plenty to talk about.
“Okay,” I said, “the sugar is weighed and I can add it with the water.”
“Are you going to taste it??”
“Oh wait a second, mom, I can’t find the camera. Maybe I left it in the truck…”
I got Kaya and went out to the truck, but no camera.
“Aren’t you going to taste it now? Oh, we’ll have to serve it in tulip-shaped tea glasses.”
“Sorry, can’t do it now. I have to take pictures.”
(The camera appears to have been left behind in the garden, but I did manage to find the iPod.)
After week one, with the rose petals steeping in lemon juice, I ended up with about two cups of ruby juice, redolently rosy. I strained it into a ceramic pot and added half a kilo of sugar. Then it sat for another week.
It was a bit warm here, so I put the liquid in the fridge once in a while. Probably nothing would have happened if I hadn’t, though.
So now it was time to add yet more sugar:

20120515-204226.jpg
A liter of water also went in, and after much stirring I managed to get it all to dissolve. Then, the moment my mother had been waiting for. Mixed with cold water, the sherbet became pale pink. Its flavor was sweet of course, but the lemon juice gave it a pleasant acidity. I think the proportion of syrup to water is quite important- too much syrup, and it would be too sweet.
20120515-210123.jpg
The rose flavor literally bloomed in my mouth as I drank it. Have you ever smelled a rose and wished you could put it in your mouth so the smell could fill your head? Well, get out your glass jars and dig out the lemon squeezer; this is a way to smell your roses long after the last bloom has faded.

20120515-205333.jpg

May flowers

While the rose petal elixir is maturing, here’s a peek at a few other things happening in the garden.
The climbing rose next to the greenhouse is starting to bloom. It’s a relatively recent arrival, so it is not the spectacle that the red rose is, but I love the flowers- they look like petticoats.

20120508-214141.jpg
That hand is Kaya’s. He emerged from the shadows and attempted to devour the roses (due to their inviting scent?)

20120508-214418.jpg
The roses were promptly whisked away.
Kaya had his first taste of wild strawberries over the weekend. Wild in the sense of being small and fragrant, but not literally wild; we started them from seed a few years back, and they’re doing well. Kaya was very enthusiastic, which drew Baki’s attention, and he made sure we didn’t leave any behind.

20120508-214727.jpg
Another pleasant surprise was the sweet peas. Sweet peas are a sentimental favorite of mine, because it was my nickname as a baby. Still, despite my mother’s and later my own enthusiasm for them, I was for a long time quite unaware of the lovely scent of some of the older varieties.
My mother and I found ourselves in Kew Gardens in June of 2004 and caught wind of a beguiling scent as we strolled beneath wooden pergolas. Following our noses, we were bowled over when they led us to sweet peas. I’ve grown them every year since, and I’m always careful to choose scented varieties.

20120508-220444.jpg
These ones self-seeded, so they were unexpected. At this time of year, the garden is just one surprise after another.

Roses you can drink

The roses growing on the side of the house are the most fragrant ones we could find (Etoile de Hollande is the name of the variety) and let me tell you, they are real floozies. They flop open and let out a scent that could hypnotize you. They smell good enough to eat, but when I thought of bottling that smell this year, I wanted roses that I could drink – rose sherbet, or gül şerbeti (ş=sh). Sherbets are like cordials- sweet syrups flavored with fruit, spices or flowers that are mixed with water and can be served cold or hot.
Sherbets were once quite important social lubricants here in Turkey. If social convention frowns upon alcohol, you can ply your guests with the next best thing- sugar. From the palace to the street corner, sherbet kept conversations cordial. It is still among us, though today it is more common on special occasions; I have fond memories of lahosa şerbeti, the sweet spiced drink served to new mothers, as well as to any well wishers.
Rose sherbet is not to he confused with rose water. Rose water is a by-product of the production of rose oil and is made from the pink Damascus rose. Rose sherbet is made from scented red roses and the process, unlike that of rose oil production, is quite simple.

20120503-225418.jpg
You will need:
200 grams (7 oz.) rose petals
1 kg (2.2 lb) sugar
1 liter (4 cups) water
400 ml (1 2/3 cups) lemon juice

1. Gather your roses. This is probably best done early in the morning or on a cloudy day so the flowers will be at their best. (I did neither of these.)It took about 30 roses for me to get enough petals.
2. Remove the petals. You will want to shake your roses out as you do so, to evict any critters. I dislodged a number of small spiders from mine, as well as some very tiny mite-like insects.
3. The petals of the rose are tasty, except for the yellow bit that attaches it to the flower. This should be removed, making this step the fiddly part of the recipe. Get out your scissors and pretend you are a palace kitchen lackey.

20120503-230641.jpg

20120503-230709.jpg
4. Wash the petals under cool running water. It will bring to mind laundering silk hankies.
5. Stuff the petals into a jar.

20120503-230915.jpg
6. Squeeze the lemons juice and pour it over the petals. Mix it around a bit with your hand to cover them all, then cover the mouth of the jar with a cheese cloth and tie it tightly. Leave it in a shady spot (or in a cupboard) for a week. During this time, the scent and color of the petals will be transferred to the lemon juice.
7. Take out the rose petals and add half of the sugar. Let this mixture sit for another week.
8. Now add the remaining sugar and the water and mix well. Strain the liquid and bottle it.
To drink, pour a finger or two of syrup into a glass, top with water and add ice. The syrup should keep a good long while in the fridge.
(Recipe adapted from the booklet, Osmanlı şerbetleri, published and distributed by Konyalı restaurant, Istanbul)

I have to admit that I am only halfway through this process myself, so I can’t attest to how well this recipe works (but my cupboard smells marvelous). My jar, after four days, looks like this:

20120503-232208.jpg
Updates will follow…