Istanbul's Summer Gardens

June 2014

SUMMER USED TO MEAN GARDENS, DENSE SHADE, AND LIGHT BUT TASTY DISHES. THOSE GARDENS, WHERE FRUITS, VEGETABLES AND MEDICINAL HERBS WERE GROWN, WERE ALSO PLACES FOR ENJOYING NATURE’S BEAUTY, SERENITY AND LUSH GREEN.

Istanbul's Summer Gardens

The Turkish poet most sensitive to summer was, I believe, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, who begins his poem “The Whole Summer” by saying, “How delightfully it passed, the whole summer/Nights in the small garden… /You on an impulse/As shy and white as lilies...”
Not only did every house, mansion and seaside villa in Istanbul have its garden, the sultans, the palaces, the pavilions and waterfront palaces all had big gardens as well, where fruit and vegetables were grown to supply their needs. The Chief Palace Gardener Corps was responsible for these gardens, known as the Privy Gardens. But the biggest garden of all was that in today’s district of Bostancı. Here, the unsalaried members of the corps raised the fruits and vegetables needed by the Imperial Palace Kitchens and sold the surplus to make a living. There were pools, ivied bowers, gazebos, fountains and water jets in the gardens, among which the tulip gardens, rose gardens and green meadows were the most beautiful. Architect Sedad Hakkı Eldem, who says that Istanbul’s gardens were still in place until the 1940’s, has described the garden architecture of the Ottoman capital to us as a visual feast.
Istanbulites referred to the approach of the hot weather as eggplant season. See how it is described in Ahmet Rasim’s City Letters: “Turning more and more purple, the eggplants took on their velvet hue. Confident in his cry, with his pannier on his back, [the eggplant vendor] hawks his ‘fat eggplants’ in the street.  In truth, the eggplant is a beautiful vegetable; it regales guests. It’s a little hard to digest, but it’s filling and you never tire of it. It goes with everything. It can be stewed, stuffed and grilled on a skewer. It can be pounded to a paste. It appears as ‘Imam bayıldı’ but it is formidable fried. And how easy to prepare. Just a little brushwood, sawdust or wood chips, a hundred drams of oil from the grocer, a bowl of yoghurt from the milkman and you’re all set! The preparations commence immediately. The preferred places for summer picnics were those ‘with a breeze’. Among them Göksu (the Sweet Waters of Asia) with its prevailing northerly wind was the favorite. Eating corn and eggplant was an important custom at Göksu, whose waters were Ab-ı Hayat, “the water of life”. Corn would be boiled in big cauldrons and sold, especially to children. With its light dishes, summer used to be especially lovely…”

BRAISED SUMMER VEGETABLES IN CASSEROLE
INGREDIENTS
10 g olive oil
2 medium onions
2 cloves garlic
2 yellow peppers
2 red peppers
2 zucchinis
2 eggplants
2 tomatoes
5 g fresh oregano
5 g fresh rosemary
A pinch of salt
A pinch of black pepper

PREPARATION
Peel the onion and garlic, chop finely and saute over low heat for 20 minutes. Then spread these ingredients in the casserole. Cut all vegetables into flat rounds and arrange in the casserole on top of the onion and garlic mixture. Add the fresh oregano and rosemary and bake in a pre-heated 185° C. oven for 20 minutes. Serve hot.

KEBAB OVER TOMATO-PEPPER SAUCE
INGREDIENTS
20 g ground veal
10 g ground lamb
5 g tail fat
20 g tomatoes
3 long, thin hot green peppers
1 clove garlic

PREPARATION
Knead the ground veal and lamb together with the tail fat and season with salt and pepper to make a kebab. Roast the tomatoes and peppers whole either on a grill or in a skillet, then peel and chop finely. Melt some butter in a skillet and sauté the finely chopped garlic, then add the tomatoes and peppers. The kebab may be either grilled or cooked in the oven. Spread the sauce on a platter, arrange the meat on top, and drizzle with a spoonful of melted butter.

MILK PUDDING WITH STRAWBERRY SAUCE
INGREDIENTS
3 cups milk
1 1/2 tbsp rice flour
4 tbsp granulated sugar
1 packet of vanilla

FOR THE STRAWBERRY SAUCE:
1 1/2 fresh strawberries
2 tbsp granulated sugar

PREPARATION
Cook the milk, sugar and rice flour together to make the pudding. When it is cooked, turn off the heat, add the vanilla and pour into individual bowls. Let cool for half an hour. Place the strawberries in a deep pot, add the sugar, then mix with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour over the cooling pudding and chill in the refrigerator. Serve cold.