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The History of Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight or lokum rahat, to give its correct Turkish name, to this day still creates an air of exotic mysticism. Many peoples’ childhood memories are coloured with Christmas memories of icing sugar dusted cubes of sweet, chewy jelly. The history of Turkish Delight carries mysteries of its own, with one of the more romantic stories involving Sultan Abdul Hamid about 500 years ago, who wanted to keep the women in his harem quiet and happy. He called his sweet-makers together and ordered them to each make a new and delicious sweet. Sampling their efforts later the Sultan tasted a tray of soft, flower-scented Turkish Delight. He was so pleased with the delicious flavour and texture that he immediately appointed the man as his chief confectioner. His harem was subsequently served the sweet daily, living happily ever after.
Other accounts sound slightly less like a sales pitch when you understand that when translated, lokum rahat means ‘throat’s ease’ in Turkish. Consequently its history is more likely associated with Arab apothecaries sometime around the ninth century as a cure for sore throats.

Turkish delight is made all over the Middle East, Russia and still has a strong following in Greece, where it is served at the end of dinner with coffee. Like many Middle Eastern sweets Turkish Delight is made from cornflour, which is mixed and heated with sugar syrup or honey and flavourings. Poured into trays it is allowed to set before being sliced into cubes and coated with either nuts, such as roasted sliced pistachio or rolled in icing sugar.

It was imported to Britain from the late 19th century where it was first introduced as ‘lumps of delight’.

References in Charles Dickens’ last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, have the character Rosa Bud telling Edwin:

“I want to go to the lumps of delight shop.”

“To the?” He replies.

“A Turkish sweetmeat, sir.”

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