Only a single, sun-dried fig or apricot makes you feel like you’ve just popped a full basket of fruit in your mouth. In the cold of mid-winter, this is the best way to remember the sun-kissed days of summer.
Anatolia is blessed with both sun and fruits, and naturally it is a paradise for sun-dried fruits. What marks the characteristics of dried fruits is intensified flavors, enhanced aromas and concentrated sugars, all culminating in a climax of tastes that can only be achieved by the effect of the warmest sunlight.
It is amazing that Turkey ranks first in the most dried fruits. One of every two dried figs in the world is from Turkey. Turkey has been the epicenter of the dried fig world, and the ones from Smyrna have been praised in Europe since yesteryear. Actually they were from the port of Smyrna, a.k.a. Izmir, the figs were from the inner and southern Aegean plains, mainly from Aydın. The dried figs around Aydın and Tire are legendary, especially if you can find the ones soaked in a hot thyme bath during the drying process. Wild thyme is antiseptic and acts as a natural preservative and a dip in steeped thyme tea makes the figs way tastier. Producing half of the dried fig production in the world, the area can easily be crowned with the title of “Fig Kingdom.”
Another item on the number-one list is the dried grape category. Raisins from Turkey constitute 27-30 percent of world consumption, and most grapes grown in Anatolia are not turned into wine but dried for export. The Aegean region is also an outstanding area for raisin production, but not alone in this field. Many parts of Anatolia, such as Tokat and especially southeast Turkey, grow grapes mostly for drying. The varieties of dried grapes are unbelievable, ranging from seedless sweet sultanas to almost black prune-like dark grapes with crunchy seeds. Some are tiny, perfect for fillings and cookies; some are as big as plums, with only a few serving as an ideal energy-boosting snack. There are also sweetmeats made from boiled-down grape juice, which are the ancestors of Turkish delight.
The world center for apricots must be Malatya in eastern Anatolia. Turkey produces 70 percent of all dried apricots in the world and Malatya alone produces 90 percent of the figure for Turkey. For every citizen of Malatya, there are 10 apricot trees, an amazing total of 7.5 million trees. From the fruity golden orange ones to the contrasting dark, sun-dried ones with a deep toffee flavor, the apricots of Malatya are unrivaled. For plums and prunes, Kastamonu seems to lead the way. Uryan erigi, funnily meaning the naked plum, are naked indeed, as they are painstakingly peeled before being dried.
With their sour taste, they are best with game, or the amazing pastırma, the garlicky dried beef of the town.
Apricots, figs, prunes and raisins… This sun-kissed world of flavors is just the warmth you need for a lazy winter night in front of the fire, may be with a glass of sweet wine to go along.
Recipe : “Kaymaklı Kayısı Tatlısı,” clotted cream stuffed syrupy dried apricot dessert, is a sublime taste to finish a meal, or enjoy with sweet or fortified wines. Soak ½ kg dried apricots a few hours or overnight in fresh water. Make syrup from 3 cups of water and 1.5 cups of sugar, add a few shavings of orange peel to flavor, add drained apricots and cook until the apricots are tender with the syrup thickened. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and remove from the heat. Transfer the apricots to a plate with a slotted spoon and allow to cool. Just before serving, split open each apricot and slide in a spoon or a slice of kaymak, clotted cream. Drizzle the remaining syrup over.