A Recipe for Pastourma

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 252-253, 263-264:

It was the first time I had tasted pastourma, an Asia Minor version of pemmican or biltong. (A couple of months later, I asked a Greek refugee tavern-keeper from Iconium how this amazing stuff was made. His eyes sparkled. ‘You get a camel or an ox, but a camel’s best,’ he said with elliptic urgency, ‘then you put it in an olive press, and you tighten it up till every drop of moisture has been squeezed out. Every drop! Then cut it up in strips and salt it, then lay it in the sun for a month or two – best of all, in the branches of a tree, so that the wind cures it as well – but in a cage, of course, so the crows can’t get at it.’ Then it is taken down and embedded in a paste of poached garlic and the hottest paprika you can find on the market, reinforced by whatever spices of the Orient are handy. When this has again been dried to a hard crust, it has nearly the consistency of wood: it keeps for years. Thin slices, cut off with a razor-sharp knife, are normally eaten raw; occasionally it is cooked, when the aroma, always unmanning to the uninitiated, becomes explosive. The taste is terrific and marvellous, but anathema to many because not only is the ordinary smell of garlic squared or cubed in strength – breath emerges with the violence of a blowlamp – but a baleful redolence of great range and power surfaces at every pore; people reel backwards and leave an empty ring around the diner, as though one were whirling in incendiary parabolas.)

As I grew better acquainted with the taste of pastourma, a specious and flimsy theory took shape about its origins. Turkish cooking, like Turkish architecture, is really a coalition of the civilizations of the races they invaded and conquered on their journey to the West: nearly everything can ultimately be traced back to the Persians, the Arabs and the Byzantines. Perhaps pastourma is the last culinary survivor of the days before the Turks irrupted into Western history. Dried meat is true nomad food, a primordial technique developed, perhaps, in the steppes of the Ural and the Altai, where camels were numbered by the hundred thousand: imperishable, palatable and sustaining.

‘I say, what have you been eating, old boy?’ Mr Kendal, halfway across the room with welcoming hand outstretched, stopped dead in his tracks. On the way from Mesembria, still unapprised of its social backlash, I had cut up the last slices of the pastourma the Turks had given me and eaten it under a carob tree, looking down at the low marshy country and the salt flats, and the far-off moles and cranes of Burgas. Now here I was at the British Consulate, whose windows commanded an enlarged version of the ships and the long mole I had seen from afar….

He sniffed. ‘I’ve got it! Pastourma! It’s the strongest I’ve ever smelt.’ A little later, in the living part of the house, Mr Kendal handed me a drink, saying he was a hero not to be using tongs.

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Filed under Britain, Bulgaria, food, travel, Turkey

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