Still in Istanbul, Burcu of Unison Turkey told me about a particularly delicious marzipan made in Edirne close to the Bulgarian and Greek border by a family who’d been in business since 1952. So despite the heavy snowfall and lots of advice to the contrary, I decided to seek them out. It developed into an endurance test….. a five hour journey along the snow clogged highway past abandoned cars, jack-knifed trucks and freezing hungry drivers many of whom had been stranded since the night before. When we eventually arrived at Keçecizade almost three hours late, we were warmly welcomed with hot black Turkish tea, cay and a plate of the famous marzipan and cookies. The founder Metin Bey’s office was crammed with awards and trophies garnered throughout the years for his delicious confections
Here again we encounter an example of the Turkish apprentice system and a passionate commitment to quality. Metin worked with both a candy master and halva master in Safranbolu, an area traditionally famous for candy and Turkish delight, Eventually he started to make marzipan and Keçecizade was established in 1961. Metin and his son source their almonds from Thrace where the climate and soil produce the finest nuts with the best aroma and oil content. The sugar too is carefully sourced.
Apparently, it takes 4 years to become a master marzipan maker as opposed to just three years for a master tailor or shoemaker.
To make the marzipan, the finest almonds money can buy are first ground with a special blade, then sieved. Meanwhile they are cooking the syrup from beet sugar at 120° Centigrade This is poured into a huge stainless steel mixing bowl, specially designed by Metin. The ground almonds are added and the marzipan is mixed slowly with some corn starch for an hour. It’s then poured out onto heavy unpolished marble tables to cool, formed into mounds, then rolled into 10″ batons, with a special corn starch and cut into individual pieces of silky marzipan.
Metin stressed the importance of consistent vigilance not only of each step of the process but also the quality of each element: the starch, the almonds, the sugar….. Apparently, many confectioners now use glucose syrup, which changes the taste and texture. Food is being adulterated in ways we can’t even imagine according to Metin.
Keçacizade also make a delicious Turkish delight, not in the least like the sickly sweet, tooth wrenching jelly that is usually sold under that name.
There was a wonderful rose flavoured version, also one with mastic, and double pistachio to die for. There were rolls of walnut Turkish delight and a hazelnut version rolled in desiccated coconut. The hazelnuts come from the Black Sea area of Giresun, they cost 80 Turkish lira a kilo, Turkey, I discovered is the biggest producer of hazelnuts in the world.
Sultans Turkish Delight has chocolate sandwiched in the centre and another pistachio version is totally encrusted in chocolate. The marzipan too, came in many incarnations. In Ceviz Sarma, little cushions of marzipan were sandwiched between two beautiful fresh walnut halves. Kakaolu Bademezmesi, is for me the un-prouncable name for little rectangles of marzipan coated in dark coca and that’s not all- there was also a superb halva which came in many flavours.
Keçecizade has five shops in Edirne but despite that, marzipan is definitely not the only reason to make a pilgrimage to this remarkable city, which was the Ottoman capital of Turkey in the 14th century. Edirne is justifiably proud to have one of Turkey’s finest mosques – Selimiye Camii, designed by the famous architect Mimar Sinan. We visited the Eski Camii “Old Mosque” which is famous for its particularly striking calligraphy, and is the oldest mosque in the city. Selimiye is the one towering on the highest hill of the city with four minarets famous for its stunning architecture and included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The city’s food speciality is Tava Ciğeri (translation Fried Liver), thinly sliced deep fried calves liver served with crispy fried chillies and yogurt. We had a feast of ciğer in a superb little place called Çiçek Ciğer. Formica tables and lots of locals popping in and out. The return journey to Istanbul in the evening took just a little over two hours, the highway had, by then been miraculously cleared of the huge build-up of cars, vans and lorries that had travelled with supplies for Istanbul from as far away as Russia, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Iran and Romania…..
I hadn’t expected to encounter heavy snowfalls in Turkey but it made the countryside even more beautiful and was welcomed by the farmers in a country where the spectre of drought is becoming even more of reality in recent years.
Turkish wines were another big surprise, I also visited a very interesting winery called Arda near Edirne where the wines were elegant and full of promise and produced without a ton of chemicals so were hoping to be able to source them over here before too long. See www.ardasarap.com and https://www.facebook.com/ardabagcilik for more details.
Edirne Fried Liver with Cacik and Crispy Chillis
350g (12oz) very fresh calves or lambs liver, cut into very thin slices, about an inch (2.5cm) square
beef fat or oil for deep frying
Cacik (see recipe).
crisp sun dried, deep fried chilli peppers.
ripe tomato wedges,
raw onion slices,
Wash the liver in cold water several times until the water runs clear, drain, cover and keep chilled.
Make the Cacik, and keep cool.
Just before serving, take a fist full of liver per person, dry and toss in well-seasoned flour. Drop gently into the hot beef fat or oil, stir with a metal spoon to separate the pieces, cook for 2-3 minutes or until the liver is crispy on the outside but still tender in the centre.
Drain on kitchen paper and serve on a hot plate with a bowl of thick yoghurt or Cacik and the other accompaniments. The chilli heats, the yoghurt cools and the vegetables provide a delicious freshness. Add some flat parsley too.
Cacik – Cucumber yoghurt dip.
This delicious version of Cacik comes from “Eat Istanbul – A journey to the Heart of Turkish Cuisine” by Andy Harris and David Loftus and published by Quadrille.
3 garlic cloves, peeled
500g thick yoghurt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried mint plus extra to serve
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grate, dice or shave the cucumber into ribbons and place in a colander. Sprinkle with salt and weigh down with a plate. Leave it to drain for at least 30 minutes. After that, put the cucumber in some muslin or a clean tea towel and squeeze out any excess juice.
Use a pestle and mortar to pound the garlic cloves and a little sea salt to a paste. Transfer to a large bowl with the cucumber, yoghurt, olive oil, dries and fresh mint and combine well. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use, then transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with a little more dried mint and garnish with some chopped cucumber and fresh mint.
175g (6oz) ground almonds
200g (7oz) sugar
110ml (4fl oz) water
1 egg white
natural almond extract to taste (beware, 1 drop only)
Put the sugar and water into a deep saucepan. Stir over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar in the water. Bring to the boil. Cover the pan for 2 minutes to steam any sugar from saucepan sides. Remove cover and boil rapidly just to thread stage -106-113°C (236°F).
Remove from the heat. Stir the syrup for a second or two until cloudy. Stir in almonds. Set aside to cool briefly.
Lightly whisk egg white, add the almond extract and stir into the almond mixture. Transfer the paste from the saucepan to Pyrex plate. Cool. The cool marzipan should feel like moulding clay
(Marzipan will keep for 2-3 months in a fridge).
Use up scraps of marzipan to make these Marzipan Dates.
28 fresh dates depends on source
4ozs (110g) almond paste or marzipan (see recipe)
Split one side of the date and remove the stone. Roll a little piece of marzipan into an oblong shape so that it will fit neatly into the opening. Smooth the top and roll the stuffed date in castor sugar. Repeat the procedure until all the dates and marzipan are used up. Serve as a petit four or as part of a selection of homemade sweets.
Medjool Dates with Pistachio and Marzipan
Dip the top of the stuffed date in finely chopped unsalted pistachio nuts.
Serve as above
Medjool Dates with Walnuts
Stone the dates but keep attached, slip a walnut into each and press closed.
Medjool Dates with Candied Orange Peel
Stone the dates but keep attached, slip a sliver of candied orange peel into each and press closed.
Medjool Dates with Candied Pecan Nut
Stone the dates but keep attached, slip a candied pecan nut into each and press closed.
Serves 10-15 people
1 packet best quality filo pastry
450g (1lb) ground almonds
325g (11oz) castor sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
75-110ml (3-4 floz) orange flower water
75-110g (3-4oz) melted butter
Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl to form a paste.
Lay one sheet of filo on the work top, brush with melted butter. Take a fist full of the paste and make into a snake about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick. Lay this along the long side of the sheet of filo, about 1 inch (2.5cm) in from the edge. Roll up and bend into an accordian shape and then roll up into a ‘snail’. Put a sheet of tin foil on a baking sheet and lay the snail on top, continue with the rest of the filo and paste. Press the ends together to seal the joining and continue to make the snake. Brush with egg wash and then with melted butter. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for approx. 30 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool.
Dust with icing sugar and perhaps a little sweet cinnamon.
Seed Savers Easter Camps, 31st March to 3rd April at Capparoe, Scarriff, Co. Clare. A fun filled camp aimed at six to ten year olds with a combination of nature activities and arts and crafts. Activities include: Easter egg hunt, pizza making in a cob oven, camp fire building and cooking, drumming and singing, biscuit baking, nature walk and foraging, bug hunt, pond dipping, woodland activities, Spring activities, seed sowing, felt art, Easter egg painting and so much more. Price: €65 per child. Time: 10am-2pm each day. For more information & registration phone 061 921866/061921.
West Waterford Festival of Food, 9th to 12th April Celebrating Generations of Irish Food Stories, bringing together amazing food, drink and people in a wonderful weekend of demos, discussions and dining of all kinds. There’s something for everyone in the seaside town of Dungarvan. For more details of the jam-packed programme see www.westwaterfordfestivaloffood.com
Start your own Cafe or Teashop: Many of us dream of having a little café or tea shop, but it’s so easy to get carried away not realising the hard work and expertise required to run a successful business. This intensive one week at the Ballymaloe Cookery School runs from Monday 13th April to Friday 17th April and covers everything from setting up and running the business to practical advice and “hands-on” demonstrations with the school’s top chefs. For detailed description see www.cookingisfun.ie.