Approximately 10 thousand years ago the seed of the most important nutrition element of our day wheat fell on the soil for the first time. Since that day wheat has been the bridge of culture, tradition and folk on our tables over centuries …
Wheat, the most grown grain of our day was spread world-wide from the Sumerian Prosperous Crescent, our settlement from nomads living hunter-collector life in Anatolia was as a result of wheat. Nomad tribes planted wheat and waited for the harvest which led to abandoning mobility and settling-down… With spikes ready to harvest wheat colored the prosperous lands of Anatolia in gold, prayers just before and songs during harvest, as sweet desserts were made and distributed upon harvest have come to be some of our most important traditions. The planting and growth of wheat in 23 cities country-wide is not limited to planting the land, the cultural events are among links of the whole chain. This is why bread is kissed and placed above the head in Turkey. Both salt and bread are thought to be of value which in return reflects the gratitude for covering basic needs.
A door from the past to our day, from Mesopotamia to the world
Sumerians the society that laid the foundations of civilization, settled in Southern Iraq, long before Christ, in the area known as the Prosperous Crescent which included the Southeastern region of Turkey today where they started settlement and planted wheat. Archeological sources confirm that wheat agriculture started in Anatolia, Azerbaijan, West Iran and South Caucasia. The civilizations that reclaimed grains such as wheat and barley at the time contributed to the journey of grains from the Mediterranean to the entire world. The small and durable wheat grains bear the quality which enabled their transport to other geographies. Transcripts from Mesopotamian civilizations inform that wheat had great influence over trade started between different civilizations of the day. According to transcripts the basic product to be delivered to civilization located in inner Asia, the Gulf, West Asia, Europe and North Africa via marine transport was wheat. In our current day the amount of wheat harvest has increased with the help of technology however harvest times change through the years, in relation to global warming. In the long run the wheat agriculture in Southeast Anatolia is enough to cover Turkey’s national demand however the import of the product is higher than export figures in the sector.
Harvest Rituals: Crop Prayers and Folk Songs
The Hittites one of the first civilizations to have been established on our land had an easy to comprehend language structure based on the prayer which started “You shall eat bread, drink water”.This prayer emphasizes the importance of wheat which was cropped back in the day. On the rock engraving from the Hittites, which reached our day in Ivriz, Konya is the depiction of the Hittite King kneeling in front of the Hittites God Tarhuna, holding a wheat spike in one hand and a bunch of grapes in the other. Harvest rituals still continue in our day. As harvest time approaches the tools and machines to be used are cleaned, maintained and prepared. Locals go out to pray for good weather during harvest time in Tokat, Iskenderun, Kutahya, Diyarbakir, Mus and other places where harvest is awaited. Wheat wort, graft, wheat rice and keshkek is cooked to be distributed to neighbors. There are folk songs, verses dedicated for the wheat harvest in folklore and traditional celebrations. The Harman Dalı (Harvest Spike) in the Aegean, Ellik dance (handful dance) in Tokat province, the folk dances during harvest time in Iskenderun are among regional traditions of harvest. Harvest is so intertwined with the culture, love and life of the people of the region that there is the love story of a young couple in Niksar, Tokat called “Bitter vech field” which is part of the tradition and know by everyone in Turkey…
What do we eat?
Though the answer to this question is so easy it is dashy for wheat which is planted and grown in humble conditions. Wheat, the basic element of Anatolian cuisine and culture was ground to flour for longer-lasting preservation. Wheat enables a whole lot of different dishes ranging from shibit to mince-meat bread, wheat soup to Noah’s pudding. In global cuisine it is among the most used nutritions especially in Asian food. It is of great importance in Chinese food, as the land is rich in wheat agriculture. Especially in the Beijing province among most important nutritions are: wheat, rice and sea food. Flour products are especially valuable in India, where vegetarian diet is common. Roti, chapati of bran flour dough in plain pan and pakhora, fried version of chapati are very famous. Pelmeni, large ravioli, introduced from Asian cuisine to Russia is among current delicacies of the Russian Cuisine. In short there is no end to the riches wheat has brought to our cuisines. While sometimes the harvest is single fold, sometimes harvest is twice the plantation or a hundred fold… Therefore for thousands of years plentifulness of wheat meant richness and surfeit, lack of wheat meant famine and chaos. As a result wheat is not only the reason behind the journey of mankind on earth but also the most significant dynamic of man’s process of settlement. Though its name and shape may differ to culture the blessing which has managed to find its place in every culture is somewhat nature’s embellishment …
In order to make it longer lasting wheat was boiled and dried, the dried material was cracked in different sizes to be called bulghur, fissure, fine bulghur and semolina. Magical hands of women that have been processing, preserving, cooking and producing these products with such talent as that of sculptors for thousands of years have managed to create numerous dishes, dough-delights, desserts, soups, knick-knacks and different edible products.
Is the time when fertilizers high in nitrogen and pesticides have been started to be used extensively in agriculture. This dates back to 1950s. Short wheat have resilient stems and are resistant enabling fertilizers to be used in agriculture which resulted in doubling the harvest through 1961-1985.
The Oldest Wheat Seed Of Mesopotamia
The oldest wheat seed of Mesopotamia ‘Sorgul’, met the earth in a special event organized in Mardin Plain. The joint event organization by the Ministry Agriculture & Livestock and Food, United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and My Life New Spring Economic Development and Social Development Support Association started the project named: ‘From earth to plate; living earth, local seed’. As part of the project in fields around Eryeri village of Artuklu district is aimed to achieve the preservation of plantable land, good agriculture applications, providing local seeds, increasing local seeds and delivering them to next generations, resulting in traditional food production with local products.
Folk songs sung during harvest of wheat:
- Harvest area scattered /Afyon
- Harvest area flattened / Usak
- If Harvest area was flat / Izmir
- If Harvest area was ploughed / Sanliurfa
- Harvest area difficult area / Ankara
- Cleaned the Harvest area/ Kirklareli
- Dug a well for the Harvest / Isparta
- Kept watch of the Harvest / Sivas
- Harvesters harvest and run off / Manisa
- Visited the bride for Harvest / Erzincan
- Harvest stem dance / Aydın
- Was crop became harvest
- Got to mow harvest / Sivas
- Mowing crops /Tokat
Verse addressing wheat:
- Iron wrist falls not
- Wheat plant on rock not
- To be franc out
- Such whims pandered not
By: Melis Çolak
*This article was published in the September – October issue of Marmara Life.