Eregli is a town on Turkey’s north coast west of Zonguldak and is known as Karadeniz Ereglisi (Eregli on the Black Sea) to distinguish it from its namesake in the province of Konya. The town lies in a lovely setting between green hills and blue sea stretching to the horizon, but it is symbolized neither by green or blue. Instead, it is the red of strawberries hiding beneath their green leaves in the fields of surrounding villages that have been associated with Eregli for the past century.
The strawberries are popularly known as ‘Ottoman strawberries’ was in fact a variety of European origin presented as a gift to Halil Pasa, and came to be extensively grown in Arnavutkoy in Istanbul, where they flourished in the rich clay soil. In the early 1900s, these distinctive pink, oval strawberries with their wonderful fragrance were introduced to Eregli. Here they grew so well that they formed a major source of income in the area until the development of industry in the form of the Eregli Iron and Steel Works.
Today an annual strawberry festival is held in late May and early June to encourage production, but in my view, even this splendid festival cannot match the twice-weekly market held in Eregli. During the strawberry season, the market is at its most lively and colorful, filled with baskets of strawberries being sold by local villagers. The bustling market encapsulates the atmosphere of the region. Here sellers converse with one another in between bargaining with customers determined to buy the best strawberries at the cheapest prices, the cheerful voices of children fill the air, and the strawberries themselves glow brightly in the sun.
Strawberries are not easy to grow and require tending carefully. Apart from hoeing two or three times a year, they must be picked without bruising and handled quickly while they are fresh. They are gathered by hand, packed into small baskets, and taken to market without delay. Most of the baskets hold between one and a half and two kilos, but the strawberries are also sold in smaller baskets known as tingil.
In recent years Ottoman strawberries have been losing ground to modern varieties, but are still preferred by discerning buyers. Their delicate aroma is unequaled, so they are the finest of all for jam making. Tiny wild strawberries picked in the mountains also have a delightful fragrance, but these are only to be found on sale occasionally.
When you enter the town, it is the huge iron and steel works which first draws your attention. Established in 1965, the works have dominated the economy of the town since then. It is Turkey’s largest iron and steel works and the only one to produce rolled steel.
The mill and ancillary industries employ nearly ten thousand people, so putting fishing, agriculture, and strawberry growing in the shade in economic terms. However, strawberries are by no means forgotten, and are as much a source of local pride as steel, forming a striking yet strangely harmonious partnership.
This is symbolized in Yaman Civan’s steel sculpture representing a strawberry which stands at the entrance to the town on the road which passes the steel mill. And the relationship between steel and strawberries does not end there. Many former employees of the works have settled in local villages on retirement and taken up strawberry growing, competing with one another to produce the finest Ottoman strawberries. Thanks to them wonderfully flavored strawberry jam is still a breakfast specialty among the works community and the townsfolk.
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