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Summer Nectar: Şerbet

Rose SherbetWhen the heat of summer leaves you wilting, how about cooling down with a delicious glass of iced şerbet home-made from the fruits of the season? Şerbet enjoys a venerable place in the Turkish cuisine, and comes in a myriad of wonderful flavors. Şerbet groups sweetened with sugar or honey can be made not only from fruits, but from flowers, nuts, seeds, roots and herbs. Often species such as cinnamon or cloves add their fragrance to the şerbet. In the palaces and great households of Ottoman times, a great diversity of şerbets were prepared in season and stored in the larders, but today many of the exotically flavored şerbets have fallen into oblivion. Pistachio nuts, almonds, melon seeds, sweet marjoram, mint, and carob are just some of the countless varieties.

Since alcoholic drinks were prohibited to the Ottoman Turks, şerbet took the place of wine or beer at meals. We find the first descriptions of şerbet sellers by foreign travelers to Turkey in the 17th century. In the early part of the century, Salomon Schweigger reported that the şerbet sellers added a lump of ice preserved from the previous winter to each glass. The şerbet sellers with their colorful head dresses who bent to fill the cups from the container on their backs, so familiar on Istanbul's streets in the past, have now disappeared. Yet at one time, the şerbet makers were important enough to rank as a separate company in the guild of confectioners. Their shops were to be found in the area around Koca Paşa and Sultan Beyazıt Mosque.

Muradja D'ohsson, in his Tableau General de L'Empire Ottoman, wrote, "The more prosperous citizens prefer a sweet drink known as 'şerbet'. That for the common people is simple, while those for the rich are of great diversity. The former contains only honey or sugar, but to the latter are added the juice of lemons, or oranges, citrons, violets, roses, saffron, lime flowers and so on. By stirring a couple of spoons of the syrup into a glass of water, the Muslims prepare the most delicious drink. Some of them enhance the flavor by adding such fragrant substances as musk, ambergris, and aloes. Şerbet is consumed at mealtimes, particularly after pastry dishes, that the greatest quantities are drunk."

Friedrich Unger, German chef to the Greek court, who came to Izmir in 1835 to study the art of Turkish confectionery, wrote a book entitled Oriental Confectionery published in Germany in 1838. He devoted an entire chapter to şerbet, which he says was traditionally served to guests in Turkey.

Today the şerbet is often in special occasions, to those gathered to celebrate the birth, engagement, wedding or circumcision. A variety called lohusa şerbeti (lohusa meaning a woman who has recently delivered a child) is served to guests who bring gifts to a baby after 40 days after its birth. Made with hard red squares of şerbet candy which are dissolved in water, this şerbet may be drunk hot or cold depending on the season. The mother customarily drinks a glass with each guests.

The method of making şerbet varies slightly for each type, but one over-riding rule is to avoid the use of metal containers or implements. Metal can easily react with the acids in fruit juice, and spoil both the taste and color of the syrup. şerbets shouldn't be used on the day they are made, and if they are to be stored for any length of time, twice the amount of sugar should be added.

Fruit şerbets come in countless varieties, principally sour cherry, strawberry, apricot, bitter orange, orange, red currant, pomegranate, cornellian cherry, blackberry, and sour grape. They are a very acceptable substitute for guests who do not want an alcoholic drink at cocktail parties.

Flower şerbets, which are a heritage of Ottoman Palace cuisine, are a delicious drink which may be served at any time of day. Choose from rose, poppy, violet, jasmine, lily, jonquil, Arabian jasmine, or oleaster.

Other flower şerbets may be prepared an a similar way to rose şerbet, except that for flowers with an overpowering fragrance, such as lilies, half the quantity of petals should be used.

A way of saving petals for use out of season is to prepare a paste. Take from 250 grams to one kilogram of petals and tear away the base of each. Then add the same amount of sugar by weight and rub together well between the hands. When the petals are thoroughly crushed and beginning to blend with the sugar, add the same amount of sugar again and repeat the process. Once the petals and sugar from a thick paste, press it well into a jar, pour the juice of one lemon on top and close tightly. To prepare the şerbet, dilute this paste with water and strain through a muslin cloth.

ORANGE şerbet:

Peel 6 orange, pick of all the pinth and dice the flesh, removing the seeds. Place in a glass jar with 50 gram of citric acid and 4 cups of sugar. Replace the lid tightly and leace for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Strain the contents through muslin, squeezing the pulp well, and add two and a half cups of water to the juice. Stir and serve with orange slices slotted onto the rim of the glasses.

ROSE şerbet:

You need 500 grams of fragrant pink rose petals (the white and veined parts at the base part should be removed), ¼ litter of water, 25 grams citric acid, and the juice of one lemon. Place all the ingredients in a glass jar and close tightly. Leave in a sunny place for three days. Strain off the petals, Stir in 500 grams of sugar and leave to dissolve. Then dissolve a further 500 grams of sugar in ¼ liter of water and add to the şerbet. Strain into a bottle through a muslin cloth placed in a funnel, and close tightly. Keep in a cool place, diluting with cold water and adding ice to serve.

Summer Nectar: Sherbet
By Meral Demirel