Monday, March 30, 2015

Cherry and almond blossoms

Cherry blossoms

In the Japanese film After Life (Wandâfuru raifu-1998) directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, the role of Kiyo Nishimura was played by Hisako Hara.  Kiyo, an old woman, has died and along with 21 others arrives at a way station between life and death where they need to choose one memory to take into the afterlife for ever after. Kiyo loves cherry blossoms and walking underneath blossoming cherry trees is going to be the memory she takes with her. I can understand her decision.

Any fruit tree or shrub’s spring flowers are called ‘bahar’ in Turkish. This is also the word for spring.

In the spring when we went for Sunday drives when I was young, we took reckless liberties with other people’s orchards along the highway and broke several branches of ‘bahar’ off the trees. We didn’t think of this as wrong doing. We equated the blooming trees with spring wild flowers. Looking back I am glad that I had the experience. The presence of these beautiful blossoms in vases, exuding sweet smells became a source of serenity and enrichment throughout the week.

The blossoms were those of cherry and almond grown in the vicinity of Aydın. In the Rosaceae family Prunus is a genus of trees and shrubs which includes the plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and almonds. Cherries belong to the subgenus Cerasus and almonds and peaches come under the subgenus Amygdalus.

Most eating cherries come from either Prunus avium, the sweet cherry or from Prunus cerasus, the sour cherry. The native ranges of both the sweet cherry and the sour cherry extend through Europe, western Asia and parts of northern Africa, and the fruit has been consumed throughout its range since prehistoric times. Wikipedia provides the information that a cultivated cherry is recorded as having been brought to Rome by Lucius Licinius Lucullus from northeastern Anatolia, modern day Turkey, also known as the Pontus region, in 72 BC. Sweet and sour cherry do not cross pollinate.

“The English word cherry, French cerise and Spanish cereza all come from the classical Greek (κέρασος) through the Latin cerasum, thus the ancient Roman place name Cerasus, today a city in northern Turkey Giresun from which the cherry was first exported to Europe.” (

In 2011 Turkey was the top producer of cherries before USA, Iran, Italy and Spain. In Turkish the word is kiraz.

Cherry blossoms can be pink or white depending on the cultivar. Ornamental cherry trees produce pink flowers and they do not bear fruit. Prunus avium is a deciduous tree growing to 15-32 m tall and its flowers are white. The flowers are produced in early spring at the same time as the new leaves but the leaves are small so for a while one can observe only the glorious blossoms on the trees.

The flowers are borne in corymbs of two to six together. This means a flat topped inflorescence in which the stalks reach the same height. Cherry blossoms are hermaphroditic and bees pollinate them.


The fruit is a drupe 1–2 cm in diameter and bright red to dark red (some cherry cultivars are yellow) in color. They mature in midsummer. Each fruit contains a single hard-shelled round stone the size of a large pea. The seed (kernel) inside the stone is 6–8 mm long.

     Pomegranate, oleander, loquat and cherry

                                                                             Sour cherry blossoms and fruit              

Almond Blossoms

In 1888 and 1890 Vincent van Gogh made several paintings of blossoming almond trees in Arles and Saint-Rémy in the south of France. Almond Blossoms (1890) was made to celebrate the birth of his nephew and namesake, son of his brother Theo and sister-in-law Jo. The almonds blossom early, as early as February in warmer parts of the Mediterranean and for van Gogh they represented life and hope.

                                                                                       Almond Blossoms 1890

Almond blossoms come as axillary buds in threes and they are sessile, that is not raised on a peduncle but attached directly by the base. An axillary bud is a shoot between the stem and the leaf stalk.


The almond is a deciduous tree, growing 4–10 m. The flowers are white to pale pink, 3–5 cm in diameter and have five petals. They are produced before the leaves in early spring.

The almond, Prunus dulcis (syn. Prunus amygdalus, Amygdalus communis, Amygdalus dulcis) (badem in Turkish) is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia. Almond is also the name of the edible seed of this tree. The fruit of the almond is a drupe that measures 3.5-5 cm long consisting of a downy and leathery gray-green outer hull and a hard, woody shell with the edible seed (which is not a true nut) inside. The fruit matures in the autumn, 7–8 months after flowering. Within the genus Prunus, the almond is classified in the subgenus Amygdalus and it is distinguished from the other subgenera by the woody and corrugated (with ridges and grooves) shell called the endocarp surrounding the seed.

Generally, one seed is present, but occasionally two occur. Blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften and remove the seedcoat to reveal the white embryo.

Unripe green almonds last 15-20 days in the spring and they are a delicacy called çağla badem (pronounced chaala) in Turkey. The whole fruit, the downy green coat and the unripe seed inside is eaten perhaps with a pinch of salt. They have a milky and tangy taste.


The seeds of Prunus dulcis var. dulcis are predominantly sweet, but some individual trees produce seeds that are somewhat bitter. The fruits from Prunus dulcis var. amara are always bitter. The bitter almond is slightly broader and shorter than the sweet almond. Bitter almonds may yield from 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond. Even in small doses, effects are severe, and in larger doses can be deadly; the cyanide must be removed before consumption.

                                             Bitter almond cookies 

It is not clear which wild ancestor of the almond is the domesticated species. The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant which tells us that the almond must have been taken into cultivation in this region.


Today USA is the top grower of almonds. “The pollination of California's almonds is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, with close to one million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being trucked in February to the almond groves. Much of the pollination is managed by pollination brokers, who contract with migratory beekeepers from at least 49 states for the event. This business has been heavily impacted by ‘colony collapse disorder’ causing nationwide shortages of honey bees.” (

                                                                          Candied blue almonds of Mardin, Turkey
The blue coloring is mentioned to be from Lahore (Pakistan) trees. Research indicates that this may be Isatis tinctoria or a species of Indigofera

                                                                 Blanched almonds served on ice is a delicacy in Turkey. 

Monday, March 23, 2015


Looking at a blooming pomegranate tree is akin to looking at fire. You can’t take your eyes away. The flowers, 3 cm in diameter have four to five petals and they are a vibrant red. The feeling of joy I would get from a chance glimpse over a garden wall of a blooming pomegranate tree is a feeling that still resonates with me. Called Punica granatum in botany, pomegranate is a small tree growing between 5-8 meters. It is believed to have originated in Iran. Today it is cultivated in the Mediterranean basin and it has been introduced to many other parts of the world. In the Northern Hemisphere it flowers through June and July and the fruit is in season from September to February.

Despite the fact that this fruit was and still is widely used in Turkish cuisine, pomegranate did not used to be grown commercially when I was a child. In season one would find it at bazaars and green grocers, brought in by local farmers and gardeners as a delicacy.

Pomegranate belongs to the family Punicaceae which includes only one genus and two species, the little-known other one being native to the archipelago of four islands called Socotra in the Indian Ocean.

The red fruit is about 12 cm in diameter and it has a rounded hexagonal shape. After the peel is scored with a knife all around, the pomegranate can be broken open. The white membranes separating the chambers are peeled off and the seeds are taken out of the indentations in the fleshy interior of the skin. They can be placed in a bowl and eaten with a spoon. The edible part is the sarcotesta, which is a type of testa, the protective hard and juicy outer layer of the seeds. Some people swallow the seed but it is better to eat the juicy testa and spit out the seeds. The number of seeds in a pomegranate may vary from 200 to about 1400 seeds.

                      An old folk riddle goes, ‘when I bought it at the bazaar I had one, when I brought it home I had a thousand.’

The name pomegranate derives from Medieval Latin pōmum -‘apple’ and grānātum -‘seeded’. This has influenced the cognate common names for pomegranate in many western languages. In Turkish and Bulgarian the fruit is exceptionally named nar. The genus name Punica refers to the Phoenicians who cultivated it widely and perhaps carried it to other realms.

                                                                A blossom pressed 18 years ago still keeps its color

When soldiers found a similarity between their shapes, the military grenade acquired its name from the French term grenade for pomegranate.  

Fortunately, this nutritious fruit has been a symbol of good things in many cultures since ancient times.

                                                                                        A ceramic pomegranate

Monday, March 16, 2015


In the early sixties my family used to drive to a country place we called the Kazakh Café for picnics with friends.

This place was about 10 km outside the town of Aydın, right off the two lane highway taking us to Izmir. The packed dirt road that we turned into when we arrived lead to one maybe two villages. The man who owned the café must have lived in one of those villages and he must have emigrated from Kazakhstan. We didn’t call his place the Kazakh’s Café we simply called it the Kazakh Café-Kazak Kahvesi.

I remember us staying on into the night one time. This place did not have electricity so the luxes were lit. They had the latest kerosene lanterns with a pressure pump that we simply called luxe as in a luxe lamp (lüks lambası) back then. The light these lanterns gave off was quite bright and the kerosene burned with a reassuring hiss.

                                                                                                 A luxe lamp

I never again in my life encountered true darkness as the one I came to know that night. We youngsters had decided to play hide and seek. After we scattered around, the ‘it’ was left near the building in the flood of light from the lamps. Those of us hiding were standing a mere meter away in the dark and teasing him. He could not see us and did not dare step into the darkness. That was a unique experience.

The second thing I remember from the Kazakh Café is the flower bed the owner had on the other side of the dirt road across from the café. Along with various small flowers he had planted some gaillardia.  Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella) in Marineland, Florida, Author Ebyabe

Gaillardia or blanket flower as they are commonly known is a genus of flowering plants in the sunflower family Asteraceae. It was named after M. Gaillard de Merentonneau [or perhaps Charentonneau] who was an 18th century French patron of botanists. Interestingly gaillardia is native to North America and Mexico. The common name blanket or Indian blanket comes from the colors resembling the ones used in Native American woven blankets.

There are more than two dozen species of Gaillardia. Gaillardia pulchella seen in the photographs is the kind I remember. This annual plant has daisy like flowers that can be yellow, orange or red. I remember red ones with yellow rims from the Kazakh Café.

Blanket flowers are good for hot, sunny gardens. Flowers which are 5 cm across open up in the summer and continue to appear into early fall. Blankets form slowly spreading mounds, bush-like clusters that can spread about 30 cm. Blanket blossoms are quite attractive to butterflies, and these annual flowers will reseed themselves easily.

                                                                             My parents beside our 1960 Chevrolet

Monday, March 9, 2015


When you eat canerik you need to have some salt on a plate for dipping in the erik. That is how it is eaten in Turkey. This brings out the flavor. The green-fruited wild plum Canerik is a very special kind of plum. It is native to Asia Minor that is modern day Turkey. Cultivars are grown in Europe and California.

Canerik belongs to the Rosaceae family. Greengages (Prunus domestica), also known as the Reine Claudes, are a cultivar of the European plum that comes from Canerik. These are a subgenus of Prunus in the genus Prunus of the Rosaceae family. The first greengages produced from canerik in Moissac, France were named Reine Claudes after the consort of King François I and Sir Thomas Gage of Suffolk imported them for the first time from France at the end of the 18th century.

The ones grown in California are called Canerik.

Sometimes the name is spelled as Janerik in the west. In Turkish the name is two words, can and erik. ‘Can’ means life, soul, precious or beloved and ‘erik’ is the word for plum. Phonetically the word could be written as can erik = dʒa:n érik (a more explanatory description of the pronunciation of ‘can’ could be ‘the sound of g as in the word large + the sound of a as in the word arm + n’).

Can erik is mildly sour, juicy, hard and crunchy. If you did not eat it growing up you need to give it time to be able to truly enjoy it. Some Internet sites may describe can erik as unripe plums. This is not entirely true. If left to ripen on the tree, they turn golden and syrupy sweet but they are not favored at this stage.

Can erik flowers in April through May. In the beginning the plums can be the size of hazelnuts and as the season progresses they grow to 3 cm in size. They taste better when they are bigger.


Can erik contains Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C and E. It is also rich in potassium and magnesium. Can eriks can be eaten fresh or made into compote, jam or pestil. “Pestil, a Turkish word meaning dried fruit pulp, is best exemplified in the English term "fruit leather." Fruit leather is made from mechanically pulverizing fruit, then spreading it out to dry into a tough, yet flexible and edible material which can be kept preserved for several months in an airtight container” ( Pestil could also be likened to a healthy and much more flavorful form of twizzlers candy of the Hershey Company.

                                                      Can erik                                                     Apricot and mulberry pestil

There are thousands of kinds of plums in the world and 200 kinds grow in Turkey. Can erik is the one awaited by all in the spring. Eating can erik adds life to one’s soul. It is sort of like finding your mojo should you lose it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Elaeagnus angustifolia

Elaeagnus angustifolia, commonly called silver berry, Russian olive, or iğde in Turkish, is a species of Elaeagnus in the Elaeagnaceae family, native to western and central Asia, from southern Russia to Kazakhstan to Iran to Turkey. Its English common name comes from its similarity in appearance to the olive which is from a different botanical family of plants.

Elaeagnus angustifolia is a shrub or a small tree growing to 5–7 m in height. The leaves are alternate and lanceolate, 4–9 cm long and 1-2.5 cm wide, with a smooth margin. Lanceolate leaves are lance shaped, they are long and narrow. The flowers are aromatic and produced in clusters of 1-3. They appear in early summer and in the fall they are followed by clusters of fruit which are small olive like drupes1-1.7 cm long and covered in orange-brown colored skin.

Elaeagnus is one of those fruits that are relegated to second class. Unless you become acquainted with them as a child you do not notice or eat them later in life. The fruit is sweet but has a mealy texture that dries out the mouth.

The shrub can fix nitrogen in its roots, enabling it to grow in bare mineral surfaces. The fixation process frees up the nitrogen atoms from their diatomic form (N2) to be used in biosynthesizing the basic building blocks necessary for growth. The hardy Elaeagnus can thus be planted in dry and nutrient poor soils to prevent soil erosion.

                                                                Elaeagnus angustifolia in Istanbul in October

I like eating this very beneficial fruit and when it is in season I look for it at green grocers. It is also a great source of food for wild life.