Karsambaç — a unique dessert made of mountain snow

01 September 2020

Çamlıyayla is a small town nestled high in the Tarsus mountains, a long range extending along the coast of south-central Turkey, separating the Mediterranean Sea from the Anatolian plain.

It’s a quiet place, though in the summer the population swells with families escaping from the heat. It’s also home to one of Turkey’s best-kept culinary secrets, karsambaç: a dessert made from the snow of the mountain itself.

As part of our video series How It’s Made, a collection of videos showcasing all the traditional knowledge that is integral to local food cultures around the world, we present Resul Kök, a snow-harvester and Çamlıyayla native who travels alone up the mountains on horseback to gather this precious ice, bringing it down to the town where sweet syrups are added; a natural ancestor to granita and snow cones.

Karsambaç

Karsambaç is very special for the people of Tarsus, as it has been for a very long time. In the past, it was stored in the same jute bags like the ones I use to harvest the snow in cool places, but nowadays it can be stored in freezers for longer time periods. But traditionally it is a spring and summer dessert.”

It looks like hard work. Could it be another example of a deeply-rooted gastronomic tradition that risks disappearing because the young generation don’t pick up the mantle? Resul doesn’t think so. “There are only a few people doing this job nowadays, because it’s very tough. But at the same time, karsambaç is still a very trendy dessert for the local people in Tarsus, and there are people who want to carry on the tradition.”

Freshly-prepared karsambaç. Photo: Slow Food Tarsus

Earth Market

Resul is also the leader of a Slow Food community, too, called Preserving the Food Heritage of the Tarsus community. Last year they founded an market in Tarsus, and have begun the process of turning it into an Earth Market, which will make it the 4th such market in Turkey and the 70th in the world. The market will act to cement and restore the important bond between producers and consumers; cutting out the middle-man is a key part of saving traditional, local food cultures. 

As you may imagine, there’s a great diversity of foods on offer at the market in Tarsus, where the mountains meet the Mediterranean sea, from tomatoes, olives and grapes, (including the Sarı Ulak olive and the Patkara grape, both on the Ark of Taste) to breads made with heritage wheats and dairy products made from goat milk by nomadic peoples. But for those with a sweet tooth, the undisputed champion of the local desserts is karsambaç, the sweetened snow freshly-cut from the nearby mountains by a small but determined set of harvesters on horseback.   

How It’s Made is a new format for Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2020. The full episodes will be made available—free of charge—on October 9, so long as you’re a registered user.

by Jack Coulton, info.eventi@slowfood.it

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