I recently discovered something that I possibly may have never come across myself until I saw a simple sentence in a novel I was reading:
'Zehra had been unable to locate coffee for some time, so she prepared a cup of boiled chickpeas and carried it out to the back garden'.
The book set during the fall of the Ottoman Empire brings up the lack of food resources during a period that also includes the first world war and the War of Independence. (You can see all the dishes from the book here)
It makes sense, of course, that coffee would be scarce during times of limited resources because even though Turkish coffee is famous worldwide and has been been an established drink for centuries, Coffea plants are not native to Turkey and therefore the beans are not produced locally.
I'm aware that herbal coffee has been used by several nations during times of war and famine, and can still be found either prepared at home or commercially bought as caffeine-free drink alternatives.
But boiled chickpeas?! ...
Well, with a spiked interest and after investigating and it turns out that chickpea coffee is still a thing here, it's just that there is very little incidence of drinking the roast and ground peas now and I could only find one place producing and selling it.
A small online seller called 'Çanakkaleden', based in a small district called Biga in ...yes you guessed it Çanakkale; a region that sits across the Dardanelles - a strait which connects the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara.
Significant to Mehmed 'the Conqueror' (Mehmed II Fatih) who a decade after the conquest of Constantinople built up either side to create a fortress protecting the city from naval attack. And well known in regard of The Battle of Gallipoli (Gelibolu) / Çanakkale Savaşı during the First world war where the Allies struggled on in a lengthy campaign with significant loses before retreating. Costly on both sides the Ottoman victory propelled Mustafa Kemal Atatürk into a legendry path of leadership and the journey into the creation of the Republic of Turkey.
Çanakkale province produces some much-loved produce including wines, olives and their oil and is home to to the wonderful Ezine cheese.
Biga the location of the online market I purchased by coffee from is home to a village called Işıkeli whose locals still avidly drink the chickpea coffee and hosts two coffee houses who produce and serve their Nohut kahve.
Produced from chickpeas that have been cooked, roasted until blackened and then ground into a fine powder, the actual brewing of the chickpea coffee is much the same as how to make Turkish coffee - in a traditional cezve (Turkish coffee pot). The main difference is that the chickpea kahve does not naturally foam as the standard drink does so it's advised to add a tiny pinch of bicarbonate of soda to replicate that.
The art of serving Turkish coffee holds a special place in Turkish culture and during the economic difficulties faced during periods such as war, it was not unusual to keep back the very little Turkish coffee that people could get their hands on for guests or special occasions. During the first world war, Turkey had difficulty in importing many items including coffee beans and so chickpea coffee became popular during that period although seems to have died out quite rapidly once coffee beans became available again.
Another foodstuff that was hard to come by was sugar and so often the chickpea coffee was drunk after placing a couple of dried grapes in the mouth.
The first time I tried the coffee I made it without any sugar and I maybe added a little too much bicarb - So I did not love it! Was drinkable? yes, but it certainly didn't inspire me into thinking of giving caffeine any time soon!
The second time I took care in only adding a smidgin of bicarb and went for a whole sugar cube, and what an improvement, it no longer tasted like chickpeas to me and, dare I say, I might have liked it.
I won't be replacing my daily coffees with it any time soon, I mean yes it would be lovely to think I could find a caffeine-free alternative to help cut down a little, but as I currently drink my coffee sugar-free I can't see the benefit in reducing a some of the caffeine and increasing up my daily sugar intake. No sir!
But it's fun to say I've tasted something new and to be able to take a sip and think back to the Turks of yesteryear: Sit for a moment and give a silent nod to the dietary changes both they and my forefathers had to make.
When I first started researching the chickpea coffee it was purely out of curiosity and I placed my order from the website for the sake of intrigue.
At that time Coronavirus was was on the news but it was mostly an issue in China, I recall the odd case here and there around the world. It seems to have little effect on our lives here in Turkey.
As I prepare this blog piece for publishing now, news articles are spreading of Turkish school and universities closing down for few weeks, public gatherings are to be postponed and sports events will take place behind closed doors. Around the world, people are starting to panic-buy household items and dried goods, seemingly in unnecessary quantities.
Those that can't get to the shops easily such as elderly community and those less abled, already ill or taking care of those that have fallen ill have a real potential to suffer if we selfishly empty the shelves thinking only of ourselves.
Over the last few years as we've seen so much of our population have their pockets stretched and our kitchen costs increase maybe this should be a time where instead of looking for a place to throw those extra bags of dried goods and toilet roll we should be digging out those traditional store cupboard recipes like Hoşaf and grain-based soups and stews.
And with all this in mind never has a look back on the make-do attitude of the kitchens of past felt so relevant.
To see more of the dishes described in Ayşe Kulin's book check out my tasty blog post here when I show them all: Novel Eating: Farewell By Ayşe Kulin
As A Living Culture of Traditional Herbal Coffee in Turkey: Chickpea Coffee Düzce University Journal of Science & Technology
Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300-1923 Caroline Finkel.