It's August in Istanbul....after a few delicious days of cooling rain, it's back to the heat. The annual glut of red and yellow plums, mulberries and sour cherries is finished, to be remembered in the form of preserves and syrup for those who were ambitions. For those small enough to fit under the four-o'clocks, the problem is solved. For the rest of us, it's lots of showers and cold drinks. (See the end of this post for a good one!) Chiggers are having their heyday, though most of the city's residents in their apartments are unaware of it. The ticks have received extra publicity this year, because not only are they running amok, they are carrying the extra added bonus of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever. It has been serious enough to prompt the closure of certain popular summer picnic areas. The latest death was an unfortunate village man who was bitten "down there;" his eastern morals left him so mortified that he could not bring himself to be seen by a doctor.
The city is enveloped in a misty haze that produces a climate not unlike that in a sumo wrestler's armpit. Though hot summers are nothing unusual, there are usually life-saving breezes blowing in from the seas. In August, those breezes all but disappear and all you can really do is wait it out.
The consolation prizes: The Bosphorus is at its most exquisite turquoise blue, and the figs are starting to ripen! In Seattle, you could count on getting figs only about one in three years, and then if you planted an early variety. Here there's no such problem. We have three trees in our garden. One, a truly enormous tree that perhaps fed the Ottoman hanımefendi who lived in this house, bears large honey figs with a slight brown blush when ripe and brilliant red flesh. The white part between the skin and the soft flesh inside doesn't soften like I'd like it to, and the tree is so huge that it's almost impossible to reach most of the fruit. There is another similar one near it, but with less brilliant innards; and the third produces a clearer green fruit with dark honey-colored pulp that is incredibly smooth and sweet. This year's fig jam will come from that one. With that many figs in the garden, it might seem absurd to even think about planting more, but I would love to have a good dark purple fig. There are so many fig trees in the city that all you really have to do is walk around and sample them in season, remember the one you like, then nab a branch in November after the leaves fall. Stick it in the ground, and it will be well rooted by the time spring rolls around. It will also be practically inextricable, so think before you plant!
And of course some flowers are at their peak. My next door neighbor Sevil is an archaeologist whose summers are spent working on a dig in Cappadocia. She leaves in early July, just in time to catch the fiercest heat on the Anatolian pleateau, and miss the peak of her gardening efforts. So Sevil Hoca, if you are reading, here's what's going on!
My own garden, being in its first year, is a bit more modest, and with the exception of Verbena bonariensis, which you can't kill with a stick, most things are just biding their time. Still, a few old favorites are doing their thing. One of the five plants of mullein pink (Lychnis coronaria) has been blooming on and off, and providing me with plenty of seed for future guerilla gardening efforts. Mina lobata (right) was a bit reluctant to get started this year; she really likes the heat and humidity. But better late than never seems to be the motto, and her improbably color-shifting blooms now hover above the shy-to-bloom pomegranate that is her support. Better soil would have helped too; there will be a lot of manure going in in the fall!
Down in the vegetable patch, the branching sunflowers have done nicely as well; they were planted a little late to give the maximum show, but one of them beat the odds and is nearly 9 feet tall now. Still, I know what they can do when they are well cared for, so I won't toot my horn too much this time around. The red blooms at the lower right of the photo are Amaranth "Hopi Red Dye," which has been a favorite for about 3 years now. If it gets a good early start, it can grow to five feet or so; mine are a little shorter than that but making lots of seed for next year.
One plant I'm very pleased with is the variegated, red-kerneled popcorn I got at the Northwest Perennial Alliance plant sale. It doesn't have as much pink as I'd hoped, though two plants show a bit more. But it's a fun thing to grow and there are lots of ears. I'm not sure it's ornamental enough to actually use as an...ornamental, but I might plant a few in the actual flower garden next year just for kicks. It's too small to be a support for beans, but could look nice next to a patch of red shiso.
There is also one American-style pumpkin on the way. I've never grown pumpkins before, and am wondering if it should be so orange at this point....is this the end of the growth or will it put on more size yet? It is probably destined to be a jack-o-lantern because the local gray Adapazari squash has a better flavor than any pumpkin I've had. One correspondent near Seattle has grown them and has decided that they are the pie squash. I love growing any winter squash; the problem is what to do with all of it, especially if you like the big ones. Cutting into an Adapazarı is a bit like slaugtering a sheep...you better either have lots of people to feed, or a spacious freezer. The other alternative (one sure to make you popular) is to distribute the extra to the neighbors.
As far as I'm concerned, there is hardly a better drink for a hot summer day. I usually eyeball this but the last time I made it, for the sake of sharing, I decided to measure.
2 largish sections of fresh ginger root
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 c water
1 1/2 c lemon juice (about 8 medium lemons if they're juicy)
grated peel of 1 lemon
4 c sugar
Garnish: cucumber slices, fresh mint
Grate the ginger finely, mix with the 1/2 c sugar and allow to macerate for half an hour. Then add 1/2 c water and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and allow to simmer 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, grate the zest of one lemon into a bowl, juice the lemons, strain and add. Add the lemon juice to the ginger syrup, then add the sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce, simmer a few minutes, let cool. Strain and bottle.
To serve - pour an inch or so into the bottom of a glass (depending on taste and the size of your glass), add cold water and ice. Add 10 or 12 very thin slices of cucumber and a sprig or two of fresh mint.
An alternative is to juice the cucumbers. Make sure you have small cucumbers with a non-bitter peel! Easier said than done in some areas of the world, but give it a try if you can. Cut into cubes, process to a pulp, then squeeze the pulp through a cloth. This is most convenient when making a large pitcher of the beverage. This gives more cucumber taste, and lends a beautiful shade of green to the drink, but it should be served immediatly because the color will fade in a few hours.