Sherbet and Spice: The Complete Story of Turkish Sweets and Desserts- Mary Isin
by Zoe Perrett - Tuesday January 8, 2013 3:01 pm
If you go and dig around the Christmas leftovers cupboard- what do you mean you don’t got one?- you might find one of those whimsical, hexagonal boxes of Turkish delight decorated with an Arabian Nights-style camel silhouette. And you might think a few of those glunky cubes dredged so heavily in icing sugar it chokes you- doubly hard if you inadvertently select a nasty ‘lemon’ specimen- would be the perfect accompaniment to this sweet tome.
But you’d be wrong. Unless you revel in feeling particularly hard done by, that is. Because within a few pages, you’ll feel pretty resentful towards your rubbish rose jellies, as Mary Isin introduces you to a highly scented, beautiful and befuddling universe full of Turkish confections. The description of authentic Turkish delight- lokum- is as cubes of unctuous, softly nuanced pleasure, bearing no relation to what you’re currently in possession of. Cast it aside, then, and get stuck in.
Lokum is just the tip of the iceberg (or should that be Glacier Mint?). The book isn’t one for the visually stimulated, with a mere smattering of colour plates, but if richly descriptive prose and a goldmine’s-worth of in-depth historical information gets you off (it does me), you’ll be in for a treat. In fact, there’s so much detail on every single type of delicacy, you might start to feel a touch sick. Perhaps you should ration it, like a particularly fine box of baklava.
Or crumbly sesame helva, or ice-cold, creamy dondurma, or chewy, toffee-like macun. There’s a chapter devoted to each- a whopping 28 different types of confection in all. There are literary and poetic citations; recipes using anachronistic weights and measures; and complete histories- ‘unpotted’, if you will. And it’s all bloody fascinating. Covering a topic in this depth could end up dry as a 'gullac'-starch wafer-, no matter how delicious the subject, but Isin brings style and humour.
The author’s interest in the cuisine is a long-running romance- Isin’s called Turkey home for 40 years, and this book has been decades in the research. It can proudly boast of being the first study into Turkish confectionary- and also of rendering a huge body of highly academic, weighty information emotional and intriguing, delivering the lot with verve and a good dollop of sweet stories. Perhaps the most literal ‘Turkish delight’ you’ll ever have the pleasure of discovering.
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