A Turkish sweet treat, reminiscent of fruit roll ups
They are the hallmark of parental cosmopolitanism; a school playground snack goal; a school child’s sassiest form of sustenance. Who needs whole fruit, they ask, when you can enjoy fruit leathers? Bought or—if you’re the sort of super parent who has the time and the energy—made from scratch, out of pureed fruit, patience, and sugar. They’re fairly new to this country, having made their playground debut only around the late 1980s and early 1990s, but pureeing and drying fruit has been common practice in Turkey and surrounding areas for many years—as a treat, and as a valuable means of preserving fruit surplus so it can last them year round.
Cue pestil: “It’s grape molasses boiled down into a gum and either rolled, or sold in sheets,” says Graham at The Turkish Deli, whose pestil hails from an area of Turkey famed for its vineyards. The use of grape molasses, therefore, is not just a means of preservation, but a delicious way of reusing the waste generated by viticulture. “In other areas they make pestil with apricots, it really depends which fruit is most abundant in the area,” says Graham.
His pestil are not flat sheets but—in a marked improvement on the fruit leathers of our school days—rolled up and stuffed with ground hazelnuts and sugar (“a bit like praline”). As with the fruit, though, the nut stuffing varies according to the part of Turkey in which the pestil are made. “In the Gaziantep province, it’s crushed pistachios.”
The Turkish Deli stocks three varieties of hazelnut-stuffed, grape-based pestil: a cigar-like roll and two samosa-like triangles, one of which has been covered in ‘kadayif’, the same shredded dough you get on baklava. “It sticks easily. This is quite a sticky product.” He’s not wrong. It takes a strong cup of Turkish coffee to wash these down and counteract the fruity sweetness, but it’s worth it for the crunchy, crystalline hazelnuts, the satisfyingly chewy gum and the Proustian flashbacks to fighting over the swings in year four.