Well, I know that the heat of summer will hit us and trying to keep cool is not easy. I have a cooling drink to share with you, a watermelon sherbet that is sometimes served alongside of Turkish coffee, as it is sweet and cold. Having introduced you to a coffee house, I beckon you to join me once more in the delights of the hamam (baths) or better known as the "women's coffee house".
I look forward to the time spent in the hamam each afternoon, for it is a religious obligation in which the ritual washing and purifying is an essential part of our lives. The steaming, scrubbing and massaging goes on for hours. The total experience leaves one exhausted and in need of relaxation. After this stage, I find my way to the tepedarium, where I am massaged, scraped (all body hair is removed even from the nostrils and ears), pumiced, rinsed and perfumed. Then I retire to another room, where I am wrapped in warm cloths and allowed to relax on couches, while attendants will braid my hair or henna my body as I am offered coffee, sherbet and sweets by the passing merchants. Here, I am in the company of friends, where the gossip flows as thick and freely as the sweets we consume.
One of the serving mistresses offers her sherbets to me; I gladly choose one. The atmosphere is rather like a faire, many merchants pass by hawking their wares. My attendant is bubbling over with things to tell me. She overheard the other women planning an excursion in the Grand Bazaar tomorrow evening. Images of the gentlemen I saw in the coffee house fill my mind. The opportunity to slip away with a lover is more real than ever before. She asks me if I might wish to join them, too. I beg of her to pass my mendel, with a message to my lover, by way of the serving mistresses. Exhausted and relaxed as she gently works my hair, I close my eyes and dream for a while.
The Chinese passed on their frozen dessert to the Arabs/Turks. The Turkish harem beauties were known for consuming sherbets while relaxing after a visit to the hamam. Slaves were sent to the mountains to bring down snow in order to prepare the sherbets. The Arabic translation of sherbet simply means "a drink". Sherbets were concocted from fresh fruits, honey, snow and natural essences like flower-scented water. Melons, and especially watermelons, have grown around the Mediterranean countries for time ever more. They were enjoyed just as a fruit and more than likely, prepared into frozen sherbets.
The recipe I am presenting is actually a Sicilian ice/granita, but with no doubt it was adapted from the Arabs. A granita is closest thing to the original ices/sherbets. Those of us fortunate enough to have a supple of clean fresh snow can experiment with this recipe. Now, to really get in the spirit of harem life, may I make a little suggestion. Call upon your personal slave/s (a willing spouse will suffice), and have them prepare you a nice bubble bath, complete with incense, a soothing Middle Eastern ensemble and a sherbet. Let your thoughts drift away into a dreamy adventure.
Remove seeds and rind of the watermelon. Puree the flesh in a food processor. Mix together the sugar and 2/3 cup of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, orange-flower water, and cinnamon. Let cool. Combine the cooled syrup with the watermelon puree. Pour into a mold and place in the freezer. Stir the mixture every 15 minutes for 2 hours, then every 30 minutes for another hour, or until the granita has nearly frozen solid but still has a slightly slushy consistency. Serve, or leave it in the freezer longer; remove it an hour before serving so that it is not set solid. Rose water could be substituted for the orange-flower water (both are available through Middle Eastern suppliers), or try a substitute, using 1 tsp. orange extract.
Forever shimmying ~