Autumn was always a mixed time for me as a youngster growing up in Iowa. The warm dry days and crisp cold nights gave us beautiful fall color. But I always greeted it with mixed feelings; the brilliant maples, blooming chrysanthemums and sweet scent of fallen sycamore leaves also meant the torture of having to force my feet, which had spread out over a summer spent 99% barefoot, into tight leather shoes, the "Back to School" sales (it always seemed those ads were devised for no purpose other than to rub it in), and seemingly endless months of icy winter. And I thought chrysathemums smelled awful anyway. I used to hate marigolds, but as the weather started getting nippy and they started to go ratty, I could get a little weepy even for them.
I'm not completely over this. Even though, as the following post will attest, moving to the west coast of the US and then to Istanbul has forced a bit of change to my attitudes, I still tend to see the coming of fall in terms of what favorite plants are putting out their last blooms, will soon ome to an end, or what last hopes will soon be snuffed out by an early frost. Like this bottle gourd. I bought the seeds in spring. Late spring. Okay, May. And then came home and planted them, as the weather was already starting to get pretty warm. If I'd planted them a little earlier, the roots would have gotten better established before the heat kicked in. And as they say in Greece, "If my grandma had b_ _ _ _, she'd be my grandpa." So the plants started putting out gourds way too late, and now the lower leaves have dried off; I'm hoping for just one ripe gourd before either frost or rot does the vine in. I guess I can always stir-fry it.
Many of our favorite annuals are actually tropical plants, so for them, fall is like a bad joke. I what they would think, if they could think, about the sudden change in the weather just as they're at their peak growth:"What the hell? I didn't evolve for this!" Luckily most of them manage to produce seed early enough to ensure a new generation, if I'm diligent enough to collect it. Even as curmudgeonly I can be about fall, I have to admit that for some, the seed pods are half the fun. One is Dolichos lablab, which incidently combines, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful words of botanical Latin with one of the silliest sounding. It's also known as hyacinth bean for its beautiful hot pink, fragrant flowers. But the pods are just as interesting; purple, shiny with an almost metallic glint. They'll soon fade to a most inelegant gray and shrivel to let me know the seed is ripe.
I suppose the quintessential fruit of fall in Turkey is the pomegranate, or nar in Turkish. It was an exotic fruit for me when I was growing up, and my mother still remembers being thrilled as a five year-old girl in Greece, when she lived in a house with pomegranates growing right outside her bedroom window. I'm cheating a bit as this isn't actually my pomegranate tree, it's down below in Sevil's garden. Our pomegranate flowers but generally doesn't set fruit and when it does, the fruit is inedible. I just keep it around for esthetic value. Though it would have more esthetic value if it was covered with beautiful fruit! Other fruits of autumn here include hurma (Japanese persimmon), muşmula (medlar), ayva (quince) and hünnap (Jujube). But pomegrantes are definitely queen this time of year; there are many different varieties, some with pale pink seeds and a sweet flavor, and others with deep red kernels and a delicious tartness. To taste the best ones you need to go to Antakya down south (or have friends from there), where they grow pomegranates that weigh nearly a kilo, some with kernels as large as large corn. Not only do they eat them, they boil the juice of the sour ones into a thick syrup, nar ekşisi, which is used in a variety of dishes. Ours isn't all that special, but I suppose it works as a segue into the next installment!