Taste of The Wild
Hunting has been a major feature of the Antalya region, a strong tradition which has continued throughout the ages, uninterrupted since the cavemen of Karain. It is not only the Taurus Mountains, but also the Lake zone near Burdur and Isparta, that is favourable to bird hunters. All kinds of birds, including partridge, starling, turtle dove, woodcock, and wild duck are caught, and are usually turned into a feast for the hunters. Other than birds, wild animals such as bezoar ibex, wild boar, Anatolian chamois, wild sheep, red stag, roe deer, hybrid ibex are sought-after animals, though not for the table. Still, the tables are occasionally adorned by wild goat or the occasional wild rabbit.
The Taurus Mountains provide a bountiful supply of wild mushrooms, many of which having high market value. The best of the autumn mushrooms is the matsutake, katran mantarı or sedir mantarı in Turkish. This much praised mushroom in Japan, derives its name from Japanese, and gets its Turkish name from the cedar tree, sedir. The wood of the cedar tree was very valuable in days of old, and was used in ship construction and also to produce tar, katran. The cedar tree is also known as the ‘tar tree,’ katran ağacı, for that very reason. The matsutake grows in the same habitat as the cedar trees, and after the annual autumn rains, they pop up.
The ultimate winner of the spring months is the morelle, kuzu göbeği, consumed either fresh or dried. Stuffed morelles cooked with olive oil is a local delicacy.
The wild tastes of the forests are not limited to mushrooms. Wild thyme, oregano, bay leaves (laurel) and wild sage are gathered extensively, to be used as herbs or tisane, or to extract essential oils. Foraging for wild herbs provides a great income for mountain villages.The dense aroma of all these wild herbs and flowers are reflected in the Taurus mountain honey,Toros balı, much praised for its strong taste. The pine honey, çam balı, yields another fine taste, a gift of the pine forests. High up in the mountains, bears and wild boar are a threat to the bee hives, so interesting methods are developed to keep them safe. The hives are nestled on top of timber structures, architecturally inspired by Lycian tombstones. Discovering these creative bee-hive structures of vernacular architecture is a surprise to be encountered on trekking routes, as is the taste of Taurus honey.
Fruits of the wild are also foraged for culinary and medicinal purposes. Wild blackberry, wild cornelian cherry, and rosehip are everywhere in season. The juniper tree is considered sacred by the Yörüks, and juniper berry molasses is a rare taste, and is often praised for its healing properties. At the end of summer, the scarlet coloured pompom-like fruits of the Arbutus unedoappear in city markets.
Of all the wild tastes of the mountains, one deserves special mention. Sahlep is a rare and expensive spice, the root of the wild orchid flower. The orchid tuber is dug out, boiled, dried, and ground into powder. Sahlep is the hidden secret behind the Turkish ice cream, and it is also made into a thick warm milk drink, heart-warming on cold winter days.
Carob is the humble treasure of the Taurus Mountains. It is believed to be the miracle food St. John survived upon while he was in exile in the Taurus Mountains. Mentioned in the Bible, John is said to have survived only on carob and honey, and for that reason carob (locust) is also called St. John’s bread. Carob is a blessing in its own right, used for almost everything in industry, from shoe shine to sauce thickeners. Its powder is a substitute for cocoa, and is used in place of chocolate in health conscious recipes. The fibrous quality makes it a favourite ingredient in dietetic products. The gelatinous sticky quality makes it a good thickener, used in ice-creams, salad sauces, mustards, jams, preserves, sausages etc. Carob is enjoyed fresh in autumn months; however the most important traditional regional product is the carob molasses, a pure delicacy of the mountains, fit for the saints.
Yörük: The True Owner of the Mountains
The Yörük, also Yuruks or Yorouks are a group of nomadic people of the Taurus Mountains. Some are still nomadic, primarily inhabiting the mountains, while some are completely settled, yet preserving their former semi-nomadic traditions. Their name derives from the Turkish verb yürü- (yürümek in infinitive), which means "to walk." They are also referred to as Turcomans orTürkmens, indicating their Central Asian Oghuz Turkish roots.
The nomadic tribes of the Taurus Mountains maintain a simple life living in black goat-hair woven tents, herding goats and sheep flocks. The limited possessions they can carry on their long treks include very few kitchen utensils that permit only simple cookery. The bread is unleavened and flat, not baked in an oven, but cooked on a griddle named a sac, which is like an inverted wok. A low table-like wooden board and long thin rolling pin is all that is needed. The rolled out dough can be folded and filled with various fillings to make delicious giant griddled turnovers calledgözleme. The fillings sometimes incorporate edible wild greens such as lumex, mallow, poppy leaves etc. The Yörüks have a high knowledge of gathering wild greens and fruits and are experts on their healing properties. They are also skilled at spotting the wild honey coves and getting the best of the wild herbs.
When the summer sun scorches with its heat, Yörüks travel up to high mountain plateaus, reaching for sufficient grass and fodder for their animals. This pastoral life gives an abundance of fresh milk from the herds, creating a diverse dairy culture. Yogurt is definitely the foremost essential dairy product in the Yörük diet. Yogurt is preserved in various ways, including the deliciously creamy and tangy drained yogurt or the cheese-like salty, chalky dried yogurt. Yogurt can be consumed plain, or made into the wonderful thirst-quenching salty yogurt drink ayran, or used as an essential ingredient in hot or cold soups. There are also cheeses made of churned and drained yogurt preserved in tulum - goat skin sacks, allowed to ferment and age in cool caves hidden in the lofty chasms of the Taurus Mountains. Yörüks sell their dairy products such as delicious kaymak cream, salty goat cheese, goat skin tulum cheese and salted or sweet butter at the city markets. Their dairy products bear the taste of the mountains, primarily the almost-pungent smell of wild thyme and oregano.
Wheat Berry and Yogurt Soup
Yogurt based soups are the ultimate comfort foods of Turkish cuisine. Heart-warming and nutritious, this soup reflects the simple and straight-forward life of nomadic Yörüks of the Taurus Mountains.
2 cups strained yogurt
1 cup wheat berry (soaked)
½ cup dried chickpeas (soaked)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon dried mint
- Pick out and wash the wheat berries and soak in cold water overnight. Soak the chickpeas in a separate bowl.
- Drain and rinse the wheat berries and chickpeas. Put in a large pan with 8-10 cups of water and cook until both are tender.
- Skim, add salt, stir and continue to simmer a little longer.
- Put the yogurt in a big bowl, and pour in a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Take care to have a creamy consistency, free of any lumps. Continue to add more of the cooking liquid until you achieve a warm soup like mixture.
- Now add this mixture back to the cooking pot, and bring to boil constantly stirring clockwise. Season to taste and remove from the heat.
- Transfer the soup in a serving bowl. Heat the butter in a small pan, add the dried crushed mint. When the mint-butter sizzles, drizzle over the soup, swirl in and serve at once.