November 7, 2008
Cyprus Delight. Doesn’t the name conjure up mouthfuls of delicate sweetness, rosewater, pistachios, and mint? Then again, maybe it doesn’t, since it’s probably not as famous over here as it’s twin Turkish Delight, though those Southern Cypriots wouldn’t thank me for saying so.
My box (you notice how possessive I am) comes very much from the Greek region of the island (from Larnaca airport actually, where I wiled away my last minutes and euros. And did you know that it’s one of the few remaining airports where people still dare smoke, openly, without shame and in the kafeneio, as they down thick sweet cups of black coffee – you ask for glyko, unsweetened is sketo –rather than outside the airport in the rain?)
Or instead of Turkish or Cypriot Delights we could call them lokum. The word may derive from an Arabic phrase meaning ‘contentment of the throat’. It just about sums them up. Exotic, intensely sweet – maybe too sweet for some people’s palates. Certainly not for mine.
This box, pictured above, comes from a quaint village, Lefkara, on the slopes of the Troodos Mountains. The name means ‘white hills’, white because of the limestone. I’ve never been there, but I’m sure it’s full of fat and smiling villagers wandering about in clouds of icing sugar.
In his Narnia books, C.S.Lewis used lokum as one of the charms by which the White Witch beguiled the treacherous Edmund. The Turkish Delights she offers him are enchanted ( of course they are and you’d have thought he’d have realised that. After all she is a witch). “At first Edmund tried to remember that it was rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat…”
It sounds like any one of us aficionados. It’s a known and probably well-documented fact that it’s impossible to eat just one. They give you a little prong in the box, like a forked toothpick, so you can eat them daintily, if you want to, but after the first 3 squares stick together you’re bound to decide to use your fingers. Once you’ve gone down that route it’s only going to be extreme willpower (or other people’s aghast faces) that will stop you tilting back your head and emptying in the entire box. And then licking out the icing sugar.
As you can see, I happen to like Cyprus Delight.
What I want to know is why sweet things are considered sinful? They make you fat of course, which may be a sin in some people’s book, and in that sense they lure you into the ways of the flesh, but then so does mashed potato with onion gravy.
It’s not the same for other religions. In an Indian ashram free boiled sweets are given out, or better still those Indian sweetmeats made from a whole lot of sugar, milk and ground nuts, steamed away until they form compact balls, dense and sickly-sweet. They’re called prasad, which is blessed food, offered to the Gods and then given (free) to the faithful to eat. Symbolically I suppose it’s food which is as good for the senses as the guru’s teachings are for the soul.
Which makes me think that maybe I’m not so bad for wolfing down Cyprus Delight while lying on my bed on a cold grey day in November. Certainly there’s not much else to do. And just maybe I’m also nourishing my soul. Maybe I am allowed to have my lokum and eat the whole box too.
I have found a recipe, from the queen of cookbook writers, Claudia Roden. However, on second thoughts and serious contemplation, I’m not going to give it to you. You can look it up yourselves if you’re that desparate, but my advice is don’t. Please don’t make it. Don’t make your own lokum. Anything concocted by amateurs like us is not going to be a patch on the real thing – and if it was, what a calamity! There would go all the mystery and romance. And don’t buy them in your corner shop either. They’ve got to be shipped over from abroad or found in a bazaar, wrapped up in that ornate box with the fancy writing, still smelling of lemons and almond flowers and sin.