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"Let's talk sweeter than candy": Reflections of a Local Culture

Modern times have turned our daily life into a ball of confusion. Although we pride ourselves on living more comfortably, we are not even aware that we have actually lost many values. For many of us in Turkey, the joyous voices of children going from door-to-door collecting candy on holy holidays in the recent past are almost perceived today as scenes from fairy tales.

We are sharing with you an interview we prepared in regard to akide (sugar) candy that once was indispensable to holy day celebrations in Turkey. In this interview made with "Confectioner Cafer Erol," a tradesman who still maintains that former warmth on his countertops, you can both find first-hand information regarding this deep-rooted tradition and learn the story behind the extremely interesting appearance of akide candy.

We understand from our interview with Cafer Erol that respect for the Prophet was not limited to religious ceremonies, but also appeared frequently in the fine details of daily life. Giving happiness to children with candy wrapped in handkerchiefs out of respect for Muhammad is just one small example of this. It was not for nothing that hundreds of years ago Seyyid Hamza, when mentioning anecdotes of the Prophet, said, "Let me speak sweeter than candy..."We understand from our interview with Cafer Erol that respect for the Prophet was not limited to religious ceremonies, but also appeared frequently in the fine details of daily life. Giving happiness to children with candy wrapped in handkerchiefs out of respect for Muhammad is just one small example of this. It was not for nothing that hundreds of years ago Seyyid Hamza, when mentioning anecdotes of the Prophet, said, “Let me speak sweeter than candy…”

 

You are helping to convey a culture from the past to the future with your products. Can you tell us the story of akide candy and the establishment of your business?

The foundation of Confectioner Cafer Erol was laid in 1807 in the area now called Tahtakale by Confectioner Mehmet Efendi. Beginning to gain fame in confections during that time, Confectioner Mehmet Cafer Erol suspended his confection business due to the First World War. His business was reopened after the Second World War in 1945 by Cafer Erol, grandson to founder Mehmet Efendi. As son of Cafer Erol, I (Nurtekin Erol) am trying to continue this business now. We are still pursuing our mission of carrying over former tastes to today.

Two stories are told about the first production of akide candy. According to the first story, the Janissaries, happy with the wages paid by the sultan, boiled the candy in their big pots and offered it to the sultan. Each kind of candy represented the satisfaction of the Janissaries. The other story is in regard to an old tradition that began with a meal given at the palace on the day when wages were distributed to the Janissaries. The Ottoman sultan and the royal council would taste the food of the soldiers. Then candy would be served to them on their plates. Thus, the loyalty of the soldiers to the sultan was demonstrated in this way. The Fetih Surah would be recited after this ceremony. Due to this, akide candy became a symbol for the contentment and welfare of the people.

What do you think the role of your products is in the conveyance of our traditions, particularly the celebration of "candle" holidays, from the past to the present?

We are living in a fast-paced time. Everything is speeding... However, technological development is the cause of the disappearance of some of our values and harm to them. Most people remember that it is a holy holiday when they read about it in the newspapers. Plus seeing the special holiday simits (small bread rings) made for that occasion displayed in our shop windows also reminds them. If we look from this perspective, then a surprising mission appears for these simits and candy we make that is distributed at mawluds. For this reason, as Confectioner Cafer Erol, we prepare the items we produce for the "candle" holidays in light of this spiritual mission.

What kind of differences have appeared in the types of candy desired to be distributed on religious holidays during the past century?

During the Ottoman period only akide candy was put into handkerchiefs and given to children coming as guests. Akide candy, along with some sherbets, was also offered to adult guests. Today it appears that simits have taken the place of this custom. Also there is natural mawlud candy. While formerly there were just a few kinds of akide candy, today there are many kinds of candy. There is a broad range of flavors from raspberry to banana.

What kind of requests do you get on mawlud holidays? Are there special requests? Can you say that customers make conscious choices?

On mawlud and other religious holidays our simits and mawlud candy attract a lot of interest. In order to make a pleasant jest for guests at mawluds recited at mosques or at home programs where the Quran is read, mawlud candy is passed around. This, of course, reminds them of former customs.

I can say that our customers make conscious choices. They behave in such a manner when they choose us. They choose us because they know what they want and they know our quality. For this reason we understand each other very well.

You prepare candy in special packages for mawluds. Can you tell us about this?

We are living in a time when packaging is given priority. In addition to the quality of the product, people want to get products pleasing to the eye. We have close to ten types of separate packaging in mawlud candy. Also we can personalize products and their packaging  according to taste. We can provide products according to desired tastes and packaging.

In addition, we have close to 20 kinds of akide candy, depending on the season. For this reason, people do not just ask for akide candy. A broad selection is available. At the same time, there appears to be an important rise in demand for our selection of sweets. Especially there is a demand for our famous desert, "Ottoman tulumba" and lokma. We only prepare lokma upon special request, because it carries a special meaning and it must be consumed quickly.

Thank you very much...

 

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