The cottage had two large open fireplaces. These two large open fireplaces were all that the cottage had! Well, yes, it had walls and a sort of roof, but nothing else.
Near the cottage was a pipe which sometimes supplied water, a circle of stones that marked the site for fire and cooking, and a hole in the ground some distance away for which I am at a loss to define. Latrine? Toilet? Lavatory? Hardly, it had no seat, no walls and no flush; it was just a hole in the ground.
My first job was to build a bed and to buy a mattress. That done, we settled in and made plans to become civilized. We photographed the lean-to goat shed at the side of the house and then demolished it. It was not actually on our land and the photographs were intended to prove to any authority who might object to us building a kitchen there that there had always been a kitchen, though only with a low tin roof [and, not in the photo, two goats]. In the meantime we cooked on the outdoor fire. We washed ourselves, our dishes and clothes from a plastic bowl near the stand pipe. We put off the construction of the kitchen and set about cleaning out the stables at the back of the house. One half was to be our proper bathroom complete with a sit-down lavatory, while the other half was to be our donkey’s home.
I won’t tire you with the progress but suffice it to say that the house is now more or less up to 19th, possibly even 20th, century standards. OK, the kitchen was built with only cold running water and it remains so today; any hot water with which we could bathe, shower or shave would be too difficult to pipe into the ex-goat shed. Because of the frequency of power cuts in our early years of habitation, and sometimes due to whim, we often cooked on an open fire outdoors and sometimes on a fire in one of the cottage’s original fireplaces.
A few years after we moved into the cottage we built an authentic bread oven. The design might differ throughout Turkey but in these parts, a bread oven is a half sphere with a semi-circular door in front. It had no chimney. When the wood fire inside was well established it would be pushed to the back of the oven so that the smoke, and of course the heat, would travel up and under the dome and escape out of the door. In doing so, the considerable heat would reflect down onto the contents of the oven.
So I have now reached the point of the story. Over the years we have become quite the experts at cooking without the aid of electricity or gas and we do so often. No, not to save electricity and not really for the extra flavor which the burning wood might add to some food. We do it often just for fun, but more often we do it to please guests.
I think that started when we were given our first wild boar. It was in our early years when we still had a considerable circle of friends in the sailing community and they are always ready to enjoy a party, especially if the food is plentiful and free. So we announced a “piggy-party” on “Wednesday afternoon starting at noon.”
Our boar had arrived very dead but otherwise in fine condition -- that is to say, it was completely intact and needed butchering. Regular readers will know my wife’s nationality; and she is a country girl of that great nation and so is not as squeamish as an old bloke from Liverpool. She and a friend strung the poor boar up from a tree and butchered it thoroughly. We then divided the meat into four manageable lots and set about the cooking or the planning thereof.
One lot went to the aforementioned oven, one lot went to the large barbeque which had been made by a local blacksmith, another lot was chopped up and became part of a thick stew, while the final portion was cooked “poacher’s style.” We dug a hole half a meter deep by about half a square meter wide. In the bottom we placed a layer of rocks and above that we built a wood fire. We used olive wood, which may not have been the best but was our only alternative to the ubiquitous pine. After the fire had burnt for about two hours we raked the embers flat and covered them with a layer of wetted vine leaves. The meat, an entire leg, was placed on top of those leaves and I believe Frau threw in some smelly green leaves, some orange segments and half a bottle of my wine. We then placed another layer or two of vine and mulberry leaves over the whole thing and shoveled back most of the soil to cover the hole, after which we drank the other half of the wine.
We had dug the hole and placed the rocks on the day before and we lit the fire at about 6 a.m. on the day of the party. We dug out the meat at about 2 p.m. and it was cooked perfectly. It was a good party.
As far as cooking is concerned, it seems that in parallel with advancing (more or less) into the 19th, or even 20th, century we have also managed a step or two back into the life of our caveman ancestors. We have undertaken another experiment which may be of interest. For no particular reason I developed an interest in solar ovens a year or so back. I did my research on the Internet before building one. It comprised a box with external dimensions of 650mm x 450mm x 350mm (depth). The walls of the box were made of two skins of 12mm ply with 50mm of insulation between them. The inside of the box was lined with tin that was painted black. The first of two lids consisted of two pieces of glass separated by a 5mm cavity and the second was a piece of ply but with kitchen foil tacked to the underside, thus forming a reflector.
We launched the oven with a couple of experiments heating cups of water and, after we were satisfied that it worked, we prepared two stone dishes containing the raw ingredients of a chicken casserole. At about 11 a.m. on that fine summer’s day, we put the box into a sensible position facing south and with the reflective lid appropriately angled we left it there for three hours. After the three hours we opened the lid and were thrown back by the heat and steam from the oven. Eventually we managed to take out two steaming hot chicken casseroles cooked to perfection.
I’d like to report that we cooked that way for the whole summer until we realized the drawback… steaming hot casseroles are not the ideal food for a Turkish summer afternoon. We stuck to salads.
Oh darn it… I’ve gone and written a cooking column.