C.S. Lewis’s oh-so tempting Turkish delight

Iconic Literary Food Moments

One of the most powerful iconic food moments in literature is in C.S. Lewis’s children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is the moment in which Edward betrays his family, even his own soul, in return for the addictive Turkish delight offered him by the White Witch.

I read this when I was seven, and have never forgotten it. They say the strongest memories are attached to the greatest emotion, and this was my first taste of betrayal. Perhaps it was also because the memory was formed so young, and in a world that was so vivid and strange. Or perhaps it was the notion that something so harmless could be so dangerous. Regardless, I cannot countenance the words Turkish delight without recalling this scene.

This vignette, set within the broader Christian framework of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, operates on so many levels. It echoes the apple in Eden and the fall of Adam and Eve, and later the salvation of Christ; it warns against talking to, and accepting sweets from, strangers; it recalls the shortage of sweets in World War II, and asserts the criticality of war-time loyalty, as well as the broader concept of loyalty to one’s family, tribe and religion.

Turkish delight proves the ultimate temptation in Narnia and its very power lies in its apparent harmlessness: innocuous yet deadly. This was the religious Lewis speaking on the nature of sin and temptation to a post-World War II generation of youths, warning them to stay on guard. Temptation was a predominant theme in his writings, which he cleverly articulated in novels for adults such as The Screwtape Letters, which are well worth a read for insight into Lewis’s beliefs, or into the broader concepts of temptation and sin.

Similarly, the deceptive Turkish delight appears a simple dessert but is not as easy to make as one might think. We have included a recipe here from Taste that you can test your metal on. Good luck, and don’t eat it all at once! Remember what happened to Edward!

While he was eating the Queen kept asking him questions. At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive. She got him to tell her that he had one brother and two sisters, and that one of his sisters had already been in Narnia and had met a Faun there, and that no one except himself and his brother and his sisters knew anything about Narnia. She seemed especially interested in the fact that there were four of them, and kept on coming back to it.“You are sure there are just four of you?” she asked. ‘Two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?” and Edmund, with his mouth full of Turkish Delight,turkish-delight kept on saying, “Yes, I told you that before,” and forgetting to call her “Your Majesty” but she didn’t seem to mind now.

Ingredients
  • Olive oil spray

  • 4 cups caster sugar

  • 1 litre water

  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

  • 3 tbsp gelatine powder

  • 1 cup cornflour

  • 1 tsp cream of tartar

  • 2 tsp rosewater essence

  • Red food colouring

  • 2 cups icing sugar

Method

Spray a square 20cm (base measurement) cake pan with olive oil spray to grease. Line the base and side with non-stick baking paper, allowing the sides to overhang.

Place the sugar and 500ml (2 cups) of the water in a large heavy-based saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Place a sugar thermometer in the pan. Increase heat to medium. Cook, without stirring, brushing down the side of the pan occasionally with a pastry brush dipped in water, for 25 minutes or until the sugar thermometer reaches 125°C. Stir in the lemon juice.

Meanwhile, place the gelatine, cornflour and cream of tartar in a large saucepan.

Use a balloon whisk to whisk in a little of the remaining water to form a paste.

Gradually whisk in the remaining water. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture boils and thickens.

Gradually pour the sugar syrup into the cornflour mixture, whisking constantly (if the mixture becomes lumpy, pour through a fine sieve into another saucepan).

Reduce heat to low. Place the sugar thermometer in the saucepan.

Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture sticking to the base of the pan, for 1 hour or until the mixture is light golden and sugar thermometer reaches 110°C.

Add the rosewater and a few drops of the food colouring and stir until well combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Set aside to cool to room temperature and place in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight until firm.

Pour the icing sugar mixture onto a large chopping board. Turn the Turkish delight onto the icing sugar and use a lightly greased knife to cut into 3cm pieces. Toss in the icing sugar to coat. Serve.

Image credit: Levan Ramishvili, Flickr Creative Commons, Public Domain

Recipe credit: Taste