I slept with pomegranates beneath my bed - the best place, my friend said, for them to survive the cool of winter. Elderly neighbours filled our table with fallen fruits - sharon and persimmon and pomegranate shells. Eat, they said. Enjoy what we have. It is yours.
On warm Autumn days, yet with the sun low in the sky, we sunsetted and sunrose. Watched the sun tumble. And rise. Into the sea. Out of the sea. We drove mountainous tracks and sailed windless seas. Watched boats racing in not a breath of breeze - whispering towards a finishing line that disappeared into the darkening dusk.
We sailed to Chevalier Island - my own little piece of heaven - where knights templars did what knight templars do, the longest of times ago. The tiniest huddle of houses straddling this offshore peninsula - gulets dropping by with touristy types, of which, of course, we were far removed :-) A restaurant jutting out over the sea and the tiniest secluded stretch of sand with sun beds and shade in which to snooze after a lunch of Su Boregi - water pastry and feta and parsley. Salt. And Snap. With rose wine and water and cay (Turkish tea) for the not faint hearted. Turkish food speaks to me of its Ottoman Empire roots - a fusion of central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisine.
On independence day (for Turkey today is a young and secular country) red Ataturk flags dropped down from the Fethiye sky - respectful nods to an inspirational leader. A legendary man. We shopped for shoes in a market that was long in length mostly with saffron and sumac and aubergines dried; with fruits; with stalls selling pancakes and pickles and pomegranate juices. And children marched past - the girls dressed in tartan - to the brass band playing and the batons caught.
In winter blacks (whilst us in summer shades and shorts), men sat in sunny clusters, sipping raki and moving backgammon pieces speedily across the delicate oyster shell boards. We wandered beneath an umbrella of Autumn leaves, stopping to shop in shops that were gradually bunkering themselves down for a winter that we would consider a good Scottish summer. At night, as it cooled, we friends cooked together, or ate Pide - flat pitta style breads baked with tasty topping in a stone oven. Delicious, simple comforting food that was the speciality of many a Fethiye eatery.
We wandered the fish market, picking fillets of fish whose names got lost in translation. We carried them to the bundle of restaurants that bordered the market - lady lady we cook feeesh for you - and waited to see what dish they would produce; our fish now simply cooked, fresh as fresh could be, with salad and bread.
In Selimiye - a coast hugging higgle piggle of village on the other mountainside from Marmaris - a cafe that was closed produced omelette and salad which we enjoyed, sitting on brightly painted wooden chairs that disappeared as soon as we did - whisked away by a man in a van until summer returned. The last people, for sure, to eat there this year, we thought. A small pontoon stretched into turquoise blue sea and we lay and read and caught the heat of the sun. Drove back the winding road to bustling Marmaris marina where our trusty sailors shared stories of sail trims and nearly wins. Efes beers brought nations together - Russians, Bulgarians and bikini clad beauties. Oh, to be that shape again!
As I write, I remember. Other places we visited - quiet now 'because it's cold here,' they say. And our last evening spent cooking our own mangal (bbq) over hot coals- guided by a Turkish friend - in a garden restaurant at the foot of Kayakoy: A hill side village where Greek Peoples and Turkish Peoples lived side by side. Until.
".. I went to south-west Turkey and there’s a ghost town there. It used to be a mixed community, as described in the book ( Birds without Wings) more or less, and they obviously had a wonderful way of life, quite sophisticated. An earthquake finally destroyed the town in the Fifties, but it really started to die when the Christian population was deported. It was walking around that very special place that gave me the idea .The town, called Eskibahce in the book, will be recognizable to those who know Turkey, ‘but I’m not going to go round telling people’. Louis de Bernieres.
We sipped Ayran - more of a national drink than Raki, I thought - a salted chilled yoghourt served typically with grilled meat and rice; and we tried the Salgam - oh my, this might take some getting used to - Turkish fermented purple carrot and turnip juice (ingredients also listed included bulghur wheat, salt and chilli). Both drinks had a somewhat challenging effect on my poor kidneys - I suspect, from the high salt content that made them taste bitterly bitter, to this sweet toothed lass at least.
Now home once more, and nearly weighed down by hand luggage stuffed with spices and baclavas (you could be forgiven for reading balaclava if you're of cold Scottish blood) and nar (pomegranate) juice, I resolve to return knowing more of the language. So that I can be at the very least polite. Share gratitudes in more than just gesture.
Dinners at home now pay homage to Turkish influences - and I practice dishes that would work well as wedding feast components - saffron infusions, sumac marinaded meats and grills, flatbreads - in anctipation of adventurous brides and travel loving guests. Below (very below) is a big bowl recipe for chilli spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with coriander, pomegranate and toasted almonds. Imagine this on an Autumn menu for guest peoples to dig into and share!
The sun shines at home now, too: Its warmth chilled by the cold East winds. But it feels good to be home on this winter day, remembering what's been and planning trips to come.
And to Susie and Tolga, and to Kay and Jock, whose home we share whenever we visit,and whose boat we sail and whose friends we are getting to know - teşekkür ederim!
Pomegranate, cauliflower and chickpea salad
1 whole cauliflower, broken into florets and steamed until al dente
A pinch of saffron
2 tins of chickpeas - rinsed and drained
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 egg cup of rose wine
A handful of chopped coriander
1 pomegranate, de-pipped
Toasted pine nuts
Salt and pepper
infuse the saffron in 1 tbsp warm water
Sautee the onion and garlic in butter until soft.
Pour the white wine into the onion and garlic mix, along with the saffron and reduce until almost dry
Add the cauliflower, some more butter and the pomegranate seeds. Cook until the butter has disappeared and the cauliflower is a lovely golden orange.
Stir in the coriander, and the pine nuts. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice and season to taste.