My mother used to refer to an ice cream she called Dondurma. Are you familiar with this? Have you ever made it. Once, when I was a small child my mother took me somewhere in Brooklyn to eat some and it was divine. My mother was from Monastir, now known as Bitol. Our food were greatly influenced by the Turkish. — healthgal
Well, healthgal, this is a good example of a food that isn’t Sephardic per se but which, as a Turkish delicacy, was – is – consumed by Sephardim along with everyone else in that part of the world. Your mother’s city was within the Ottoman Empire, thus the Turkish influence on her food. Manastir, today called Bitola, is a city in southern Macedonia that lies roughly mid-way between Puglia (the southeastern spur of Italy) and Salonika.
Dondurma (don-DŌŌR-mä), is simply the Turkish word for ice cream, although the similarity pretty much ends there. Elastic, dense and slow to melt, dondurma is made from a mixture of milk, mastic resin and salep. Mastic is an ancient Mediterranean evergreen in the pistachio family and salep is a flour made from Turkish wild orchid tubers of the same name. Salep Dondurma – orchid ice cream – is only about 300 years old; the conventional wisdom is that it was invented in a part of southeastern Turkey where all three key ingredients were plentiful. Dondurma is made by beating the ingredients into a smooth, elastic mass using a long metal rod. Fresh dondurma is draped on large hooks and dense enough to eat with a knife and fork. It is eaten cold, but not frozen. Unlike other ice creams, if allowed to freeze it turns rock hard and brittle. Today, it is impossible to make dondurma outside of Turkey; mass production has so seriously depeleted Turkey’s supply of wild orchids that there’s a government ban on their exportation.
While investigating dondurma it struck me that the texture, if not the temperature, might be reminiscent of Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, a favorite candy of my childhood. Lo and behold, the Bonomo Candy Company was founded in Coney Island in 1897 by one Albert J. Bonomo (Benhamou, I presume), a Sephardic immigrant from Turkey. Apparently, the Bonomos of Brooklyn loved dondurma as much as your mother did, or at the very least understood its appeal; it was Albert’s son, Victor, who invented “Turkish Taffy” in the 1940’s. How do you like that.