No one can grow up in Turkey without childhood memories of asure simmering in the largest saucepan in the kitchen, then being poured into a dozen or so small hotels, decorated with dried nuts and fruits and distributed to the neighbours, who return the bowls unwashed or filled with their own asure.
The month of Muharrem, which this year falls in April, is the time for this ancient tradition, which goes back thousands of years and was almost certainly originally a celebration of the bounty of the earth.
This soup-like sweet dish of wheat, pulses, dried fruits and nuts is made at home by fewer and fewer people today, and is more often served in restaurants, where it has taken on a thicker consistency and joined the ranks of milk puddings.
Legend has it that when Noah's Ark was grounded on a high mountain (Mount Ararat in Christian tradition and Mount Cudi to the south in Islamic tradition, both in eastern Turkey) as the flood water
receded, those aboard thanked God for their deliverance Of the supplies which
had kept them alive on the Ark just a little remained in the bottom of the
They decided to cook them all up together: haricot beans, broadbeans,
chickpeas, wheat, sugar and dried fruit. Tipping it all into a cauldron with
the holy water of life which God had sent them from heaven, they boiled it up
to a hot, sweet soup. This last meal on the Ark was also the most delicious,
and moreover one that all the creatures could share.
As they clambered down from the high mountain summit they promised one another to cook the same meal year after year in memory of the deluge and in thanksgiving to God for the bounties of the earth.
And so the tradition has been handed down from generation to generation in Anatolia, among Jews, Christians and Muslims.
But over time fresh disasters affecting later generations prompted them to give new meanings to taining it returned unwashed to
their owners. This type of asure contains broken wheat, haricot beans, broad
beans, chickpeas, rice, bulgur (cracked boiled and dried wheat), red lentils,
green lentils, raisins, currants, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts,
hazelnuts, apricots, prunes, dried peaches, dried mulberries, quinces, figs, oranges, bitter oranges,
tangerines, p o m e g r a n a t e grains, apple peel, dates, almonds, cloves,
cumin seed, sesame seeds, blackberries, cornelian cherries, saffron, basil,
cinnamon, salt, sugar, rose water, lemon juice, milk and water.
Of course the
main ingredients are again wheat, beans, chickpeas and sugar, the others being
added only in symbolic quantities.
Salt has special important as an ingredient
granted by God to give flavour to food, and some believe that the asure must
actually taste salty otherwise its sacred character as a food of thanksgiving
The people of Anatolia, of whatever faith, enjoy symbolism and hidden meaning. In this way they cany on the tradition of mystery and sacred significance embodied in this ancient soil, and asure is one of the most important surviving vehicles of this tradition.