Unleavened Barn Raising

“Unleavened Barn Raising”

Only five months later can I comprehend the shock that overtook me when we arrived in Turkey. Had we first stopped in Istanbul, the landing might have been softer and felt more gradual in terms of West-to-East, but since we flew straight to Cappadocia (one hour flight from Minneapolis to Chicago; ten hour flight from Chicago to Istanbul; one hour flight from Istanbul to Kayseri; one hour shuttle ride from Kayseri to Goreme) with only small lulls in between each leg, we showed up in this Land of the Past feeling tired, excited, expectant…and found the place vibrant and laid back and full-of-more-yet-less and crazily-foreign and HOOOOOOOOOOT.

Indeed, I only feel just now that I’m recovering from that August heat and the weird, off-kilter sleep deprivation. It’s like the 110 degree temperatures, unrelieved by air conditioning, sauteed any rational or predictable reactions. Even now, still in the midst of the experience, I can look back on August and think, “Who was that woman, stumbling around the broken cobblestones, attempting to orient herself and hone in on some sort of context while mopping the sweat out of her armpits? She was a leeeetle bit scary.”

In significant ways, I’m still that woman, but at least now I’m wearing long sleeves and the odd pair of mismatched socks. Perhaps more importantly, the sleep deprivation has eased since I generally wake up for about half an hour with the first Call to Prayer and no longer have to count myself as Awake for the Day Starting at 4:30 a.m.

But here’s the part of the process in which I’m reveling: we’re at the point of acculturation where we can say there are things in the villages of Cappadocia that we know we’ll miss intensely once we return home.

Trust me, the Call to Prayer at dawn is profoundly not one of them. Nor are the aggressive flies that triangulate their trajectories straight towards our retinas.

However, we’ve come attached to this volcanic, tufa-rocked, accordion-pleated, beige, hollowed-out landscape in ways that alter our heartbeats. We’ve had our breath arrested by the beauty that lives inside simple souls who may struggle to write their names but who would never leave us standing on the sidewalk in the rain, waiting for a ride that isn’t going to show up. We’ve seen our historical compasses become re-aligned around a region that has been more continuously inhabited than most others, that has hosted Hattians and Assyrians and Hittites and Phyrgians and Lydians and Persians and Romans and Seljuks and Ottomans and Turkmen. We’ve felt the whap of our jaws hitting the ground as we’ve peered into the thousand-year-old cave rooms beneath our 400-year-old Greek home. We’ve felt our knees weaken from the basket-view of several hundred meters high, inside the vantage point of a hot air balloon.

We’ve eaten fifteen kinds of peppers. We’ve seen women in their fifties who only recently have adopted a head scarf as daily wear–because they are certain, under the current government–that their sons in the military may live to see another day if they, as Mothers, adhere to conservative Islamic notions of dress. We’ve seen families making pottery in the same shops as their great-great-grandfathers. We’ve been touched by the attentive way young men in their twenties take stock of who is stepping onto the bus, hyper vigilantly moving their seats so that women and older men are assured of a place to sit down. We’ve spent long stretches of time in the nut and dried fruit shops where the owners scoop out sample after sample, insisting that we have at least a taste of every single of the seven varieties of hazelnuts. We’ve stretched our arms to the ceiling with delight when we step into one of our two heated rooms and feel the warmth smother the chill of the kitchen tiles.


We’ve grown a little addiction to a thing called yufka.

Circular, several feet across, thin enough to see through, yufka is an edible purse. Fill it with cinnamon, sugar, and walnuts, and it’s breakfast. Stuff it with cheese, and it’s lunch. Roll it around ground beef, and it’s dinner. Swipe in some Nutella, and it’s dessert.

Swaddle an infant in it, and he sleeps through the night.

Oh yea, it’s amazing stuff. Along the lines of phyllo-meets-tortilla, yufka is a versatile staple of village cuisine. It can be bought factory-made, in a package, or from a specialty shop where capable men wielding long wooden dowels roll the stuff out and sell it by the kilo.

But it’s best of all when made by the village women themselves, which we found out first hand one Sunday afternoon when we stopped by our friend Christina’s house. Her courtyard was full of women—her landlord’s family plus neighbor ladies, all working together for several days to lay in the year’s supply of yufka, stacks a few meters high—

Rolling, patting, clacking, chatting, stoking, cooking, flipping,

and sharing.

By virtue of standing around and watching, we each scored a huge, warm, hot-off-the-griddle piece of yufka folded into a wad of newsprint.

Moments later, though, back to tending their fires and sharing gossip, the women swirled around their communal task, hardly noticing us in the corner,

wiping the melted butter off our chins.








10 responses to “Unleavened Barn Raising”

  1. alwaysinthebackrow Avatar

    It sounds a bit like Turkish lefse-or would lefse be Norwegian yufka? What is it made of? It looks and sounds amazing. Can you bring some home with you to keep Turkey in your tummies, perhaps?

  2. Nora Avatar

    It sounds absolutely delicious with that melted butter.

  3. kmkat Avatar

    They make a year's supply? Really? How hard and stale is it after 11.5 months? But fresh yufka sounds delightful!

  4. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar
    Jenn @ Juggling Life

    I love cooking with girlfriends or my kids–I would not be down with the headscarf, but the rest of the experience looks like something I would really enjoy.

    And anything with Nutella is a little bit of heaven.

  5. diane Avatar

    Jo, Just popping by to say Merry Christmas. Hope you have a nice one.
    The Yufkas sound yummy, wish I had one right now. xo d

  6. actonbell Avatar

    Yufka-sounds like something that desperately needs to be imported.
    (too bad it's not a Scrabble word)

    Merry Christmas! These posts are so interesting. I love your title for this one.

  7. Deborah Avatar

    O Jocelyn, I love who you are. Love what matters to you, and love how you write. This is a beautiful piece, full of what makes you such an interesting, curious, willing, thoughtful, perceptive and multi-layered person.
    Yes, yufka sounds wonderful, and makes me want to come and have some myself (wink,wink)but you could write about dried horse turds and I'd probably have the same reaction.

    Now to catch up on the one before this, and maybe the one before that. I may be slow to get here, but tardiness only gives me more of you at once.

  8. Pearl Avatar


    I'll take two.


  9. Midlife Jobhunter Avatar
    Midlife Jobhunter

    Seems every culture has their own style of lefse, tortilla, pakora, on and on. Sounds like this thin piece of Turkish bread brings comfort to your family. I'm thinking the Nutrella added. I looked at that in my cupboard tonight thinking it might be time to indulge.

    A calmness in this piece. Perhaps after all the hoopla of preparing the house, traveling, freaking out at "what have we done?" you have reached a new plateau in your adventure. Comfort food aids, I'm sure.

    And you don't have to put on Christmas this year with the lights and trees and all that jazz. Amen to that. Take good care and enjoy.

  10. monica Avatar

    sounds like the sort of stuff I could be an addict of too… mmmm…

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