Turkey’s Sour Green Plums

This month I’m in Turkey, and, in Istanbul, it’s also the month of the festival of the Tulip. From the moment we arrived, even just driving out of the airport, we noticed impressive and beautiful displays of varying colours of bright tulips, shown up by deep violet hyacinths – they were everywhere, literally millions of tulips, some blousy some tight and pointed, some spiny and the supporting-act hyacinths wafting a sweet scent through the city. The most impressive display is to be seen just outside the city in Emirgan gardens where you will see witty flower sculptures – white blossom swans on a river of blue hyacinths, topiary musicians….

Turkish green plums
Topiary musicians in Emirgan park.

Sour green plums – the season

And on my way in I saw my first Turkish green plums (yeşil erik). In Turkey this fruit is a real harbinger of spring, blossoming into summer, and the season finishes in June.

How to eat them

For a foreigner the concept of biting into these tight-skinned, sour unripe plums rather than waiting for them to mature to sweetness seems, initially, a bit odd. It’s an acquired taste, the acquiring made easier by sprinkling them with a little salt and matching them with a hair-on-your-chest cocktail – a glass of the local raki with less water than the norm… or a strong martini cocktail…maybe even a pink gin. As the temperature rises, serve them chilled.

Alternatively you can cook with them – the Turks put them into a garlicky lamb stew, or threaded onto kebabs. In Ghillie Başan’s comprehensive The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking, she describes Erikli Tavuk – Chicken with tart green plums and grape syrup. She explains that it is possible to make the dish with fresh sour cherries or damsons – I’ll try the latter version in September since damsons are easily available to me, whereas Turkish sour green plums are not!

The ones I noticed outside the Emirgan must have been some of the first (the street sellers in the city were still selling roast chestnuts, corn and mussels) – can eriği. Papaz eriği are a sweeter, crunchier, juicier version; and köy eriği are bitter, large and softer.

Pickled green plums are available all year around – for those in North America, follow this link. In the UK you can sometimes get them from The Turkish Deli in London’s Borough Market.

For more Turkish inspired recipes on Saucy Dressings, go here.

yeşil erik Turkish Green Plums
Green plums begin to appear in April in Turkey.

Music to listen to as you savour your plums

Toygar Işıklı, below, is a soft-singing Turkish singer.

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