Monday, 17 March 2014

Salep, Vanilla, Orchid

                        Visiting Istanbul in winter, you will see vendors of Salep around, just like this one.

It's a popular winter drink in Turkey and in Middle East, over the lands where once Ottomans ruled. The ground real Salep is easily found in Spice Shops, in Turkish called 'Aktar'.
 The original drink is hard to find and expensive to consume as it is made from the powdered roots of some mountain orchid species mostly grown in Anatolia. 
According to a research in 2004, in order to obtain a kilo of Salep, 1000-4000 orchid tubers are used. This should explain why a kg of salep is 500 Turkish Liras. 
Salep is not only used in its popular drink but is also a main ingredient for ice cream production.
Real ice cream 'dondurma' in Turkey is not to be made with eggs or corn strach but from Salep.
Today, orchids used in Salep making are unfortunately announced to be endangered and are under protection. A new project launched in 2014, by the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs in Turkey aims to cultivate 2 million new orchids in gardens established for genetic studies and transfer them to their natural expansion zones until 2018. 

All orchids look beautiful but their tubers are named after their fox testicle appereance which according to some resources is where the name Salep derives from the Arabic transtation for fox testicles hasyu- al-tha 'lab.
Talking of orchids; on the left we have a sample of an orchid and on the right there's vanilla and salep. Yes, vanilla is another wonder of orchids.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

How are sheep turned into carpets?

First of all you need to have the right sheep, not every breed is good for shearing. Daglic is a common breed in North Aegean part of Turkey raised for its meat, milk and wool. You can identify them easily thanks to their black make up.

  • You need housing for them and need to take them grazing daily.  The climate, jointly the flora allows, it’s never too cold for the sheep to go out and graze around Assos/Ayvacik.
  • All sheep must be officially registered; you can’t claim any loss on an unregistered sheep.
  • You need to keep an eye on them, you can’t just let them out and expect them to come back home all together. Eventually they will be stolen, lost or hit by a vehicle.
  • If you manage to keep them alive and healthy, then comes the moment to shear them. Shearing can be done once or twice a year depending on the breed, but for timing, it’s better to do it before your sheep vaporizes with the heat. Spring in this case is good. Anyone can attempt to shear but if you have never done it before you are likely to injure your sheep. Electrical shears may simplify this process. It may be a good idea to fast the sheep before shearing, to avoid unwanted dirt in your work environment and on your future carpet. A world record of hearing a sheep is 38 seconds. Oh well I can’t even shear myself that quickly…
Not all of the fleece is good, so skirting is done after shearing to get rid of useless parts. 
Skirting is the removal of the belly and butt and leg bits which are usually easy to spot as they have manure marks all over them; smelly dreadlocks. 

The wool is standing now free of lamb. Imagine wearing the same woolen sweater, everyday for 8-9 months, going out and playing on the grass with it, sleeping&eating with it among fellows like you, day and night. It needs a deep wash!  

The raw fleece contains lanolin, roughly lanolin is sheep grease and it only starts melting at 35°C/95°F, the primary goal in washing is getting rid of most of this grease. Some fleece with low lanolin ratios can be cold washed but not around Ayvacik.

Once your wool is clean enough than it needs combing, this is the first step for the fleece to turn into wool. There are different combs and techniques for this all over the world but basically you need to comb it somehow before starting hand spinning. Combing is also a time taking work.

Hand spinning is a thousands of years old tradition of turning fleece into a yarn. Since the industrial revolution it has almost become extinct. In some rural villages it is still a part of the daily life. Sheep get sheared once or sometimes twice a year, so there’s always some wool to be spun. Women would do this in any given free time throughout their lives.

Dyeing of The Yarn

Some colors would settle on the fiber without the help of another chemical substance, some will need to go through the process of mordanting. Mordants are chemicals (alum, iron, tin…) that fix a dye in or on a substance by combining with the dye to form an insoluble compound. They also help generating different shades and tones. 
Depending on the type of wool and the natural ingredients that will be used, mordants can be applied before, after or at the time of dyeing.

Natural dyes; obviously are made from ingredients found in nature such as vegetables, plants, animal bases, bark, nutshells, berries, insects. Within the same country from region to region resources will vary as flora and fauna varies. The laborious hand work of collecting and preparation remains the same. Plants are collected, air dried, then depending on the color demand some are mixed some are used on their own for dyeing.
Red comes from the plant Rubia tinctorum (madder)   which was once the number three export product of the Ottomans to the world. The term and the color Turkish Red is derived from this trade power that was controlling two third of the market. Still today, the red color mostly is given by madder.
Yellow: In Ayvacik area chamomiles are used to obtain yellow. A study shows that yellow can be obtained from 84 different plants in Turkey and  from 10 types of chamomile.
Blue: The most popular plant for is woad, isatis tinctoria (the common species in Anatolia and Europe)  also known as the oldest natural source for blue colors. It was used in Mesopotamia even 5000 years ago. The land that produced the first beers and the wine also learned that isatis tinctoria needed natural fermentation to give out a blue color. In antiquity; the fresh leaves were crushed and hand kneaded into small balls, left for drying than powder crushed to be fermented in water. This fermentation aims breaking the sugar molecules in order to bring out indigotine, finally when indigotine is exposed to air it becomes air oxidized and blue.

Green:  Though the nature is green, the color green can’t be retrieved from nature, mixture of blue and yellow will give us green. Indigo and reseda applications are common in Ayvacik area.

Mystery of Purple, well ask your seller about purple… So far all the colors I asked about had one or two popular answers. The rumor says that purple formulas are kept as a secret by the natural dyers. In ancient times, so called the imperial purple was obtained from sea snails and were very pricey, so possessing purple dyed textile and wool products was a sign of wealth a symbol of status. Of course in time with the help of mordant substances blend of red and blue giving plants give out purple. Dyers may also use only one plant for example: Rubia tinctorum (madder), mordanting and some source of oxidation for the red to become purple. A cauldron filled with water and full of rotten nails is one source of oxidation as revealed to me by a dear guest…

With the finding of synthetic dyes and the industrial revolution, production and usage of natural dyes faded.