Saturday, 15 December 2012

The giant carrots of Beypazarı

The wonders of Turkey…When I was in Istanbul in October I was introduced to a mention of the carrot town of Beypazarı in central Turkey, by Mary Isin who is an authority on Turkish heritage vegetables.

Beypazarı is the carrot capital of Turkey – probably the carrot capital of the world. Over half the country’s carrots are grown in the area. They hold an annual carrot and stew festival here and have many and ingenious culinary uses for carrots, including carrot ice-cream and carrot-flavoured Turkish delight.

Here’s a roundabout in the town proudly sporting Beypazarı’s iconic vegetable:


Nowadays the farmers tend to grow Dutch carrots, but what caught my attention were rumours of the almost extinct giant carrot – the historical mega-carrot – once grown in the area. Mary went to investigate and to acquire some seeds – and sent me this picture of the mighty vegetable. These are, apparently, quite average specimens – they can grow to over a metre in length…

Mary is also a historian of Turkish and Ottoman food who has just written the definitive book on the history of Turkey's love of puddings: Sherbet and spice : the Complete Story of Turkish Sweets and Desserts – part recipe book, part cultural history of a deep tradition that could produce, and I quote, ‘One hundred sculpted sugar lions, baklava the size of cartwheels a thousand layers thick, halva made in memory of the dead, rose jam in a hundred pots of Dresden china, violet sherbet for the sultan and parrots addicted to sugar…the stories behind Turkey's huge variety of sweets and puddings, valued not only for their taste but as symbols of happiness, good fortune and goodwill, are as fascinating as their flavour.’ Cultural and gastronomic history from the land of the giant carrot!

On the cover, the float of the guild of sugar merchants is being pulled along in one of the flamboyant Ottoman processions in Istanbul, sugar piled high on the shelves, and in the cage the sugar-loving parrot which, Mary tells me, was the guild's symbol.

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