Tag Archives: turkey

Evil Eye Talisman

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has kept an Evil Eye talisman hanging from the rear-view mirror of her car. During a celebration for my mother’s birthday, I pulled my grandmother aside and asked her the Evil Eye’s significance, following which she explained:

“Many years ago, two of my friends spent some time in Turkey. When they came home, they brought me an Evil Eye as a gift. All over Turkey, they put them outside of their door or inside of the car, and it is meant to ward off spirits by scaring them away. The superstition is that you cannot throw it away after someone gives it to you, that would be like inviting the evil spirits in. I have been in my car before and had people stop me and give me praise for keeping the Evil Eye visible, then show me where they keep theirs.”

I was somewhat familiar with the superstition surrounding the Evil Eye before talking with my grandmother, and knew that belief in the protection offered by one was prevalent in Greece. Hearing that her Evil Eye is from Turkey and that many other Americans have commented on the object (the informant, my grandmother, is from northern California), leads me to believe that this superstition is present in a great deal of cultures. Offering the object to someone as a gift encourages them to engage in the superstition surrounding it, because the object will remind the receiver of the giver while also supposedly serving as protection. Even if the owner of the Evil Eye does not necessarily have a deep-rooted belief in spirits, the object is significant in that it can offer a sense of comfort for the owner to suppress any worries that the spirits do exist, without the owner having to do anything more than keep the talisman somewhere close by. I myself am considering asking my grandmother for one to keep in my car, just in case.

Turkish Marchen and the Nasreddin Hoca

Informant C is 20 year old and studies Journalism. She is half Turkish and speaks Turkish as well. Her mom is Turkish and is from the Eastern Turkey area, about 200 miles west of Syria. Her entire family is scattered over Turkey and have resided in Turkey for many generations. Many of them are involved in agriculture.

So a lot of fairy tales were actually made to teach kids lessons and to scare them, Turkish folklore is very much in that vein. It’s very much a country where the society is built upon kids being pretty obedient. They don’t have very much independence really even in college, especially if you’re a girl. You live in your parents home really until you get married or you move in with a different family member. It’s a pretty restricted society for kids. So a lot of stories tend to be kind of negative and ‘You shouldn’t do this’. And Gypsies are a big thing in Turkey. Any story that teaches kids a lesson, in these stories there’s usually this interesting character, they call her a hoca which is like a teacher. There’s always this like old man who will impart some wisdom on to the kids. And the guy always appears to be really stupid and then he turns out to be the smartest one. The Nasreddin Hoca is the guys name and he appears in a bunch of stories, and Nasreddin is his name and Hoca means teacher. So one day Nasreddin’s neighbor asked him, ‘Teacher do you have any 40 year old vinegar?’ ‘Yes I do’ answered Nasreddin ‘Can I have some I need some to make an ointment’ said the neighbor. Nareddin answered, ‘No you can’t have any. If I gave my 40 year old vinegar to just anyone I wouldn’t have had it for 40 years would I?’ So this is kind of a joke but kind of not, and they just tell these stories to people.



Informant C tells here about how in Turkey they use fairy tales to teach lessons to children and how to behave. In this story the neighbor asks for some vinegar but gets turned away. Although this story may seem harsh, it effectively teaches children that you have to be prepared in case something goes wrong and you can’t always rely on strangers to help you through. This story may reflect the values of self sufficiency and hard work in Turkey, and the importance of teaching children these values.

For this story and other Nasreddin Hoca stories see

Stories from Nasreddin Hoca. (2005, January 1). Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://www.sivrihisar.net/stories.htm

Turkish Marriage Ritual

Informant C is 20 year old and studies Journalism. She is half Turkish and speaks Turkish as well. Her mom is Turkish and is from the Eastern Turkey area, about 200 miles west of Syria. Her entire family is scattered over Turkey and have resided in Turkey for many generations. Many of them are involved in agriculture.

So every region of Turkey kind of has its own folklore and I like the Black Sea’s folklore and there’s a region called Trabzon in it. Its kind of seen as the more wild and I don’t want to say less domesticated, but there’s just not as many people living up there. We have some relatives that live near Trabzon and there’s this really famous town named Çarşıbaşı. And when someone gets married to test to see if the marriage is a good idea, they come to the house and you know how like in some places you have to carry the bride over the threshold, there’s this vine that you break into 3 pieces and you plant them into the ground. And if they sprout that means the marriage is going to be successful and if they don’t you’re kind of doomed. People in Turkey are very into agricultural rituals, folklore, and even mysticism.



Here informant C tells about an agricultural ritual that predicts if a couple will have a successful marriage. Marriages are very important and the entire community always wants them to be successful and will often perform rituals to see if this will be so. Because the area is so agricultural it follows that their marriage ritual would also be agricultural. Rituals are also often performed at liminal moments, such as when a couple gets married.  Growing of the vine may symbolize growing of a marriage and with it, prosperity.  In this ritual like many others, we see an emphasis on the number 3.

Turkish Fortune Telling

Informant C is 20 year old and studies Journalism. She is half Turkish and speaks Turkish as well. Her mom is Turkish and is from the Eastern Turkey area, about 200 miles west of Syria. Her entire family is scattered over Turkey and have resided in Turkey for many generations. Many of them are involved in agriculture.

Fortune telling is actually a big deal in Turkey. They do it with Turkish coffee, which is really like fine ground black coffee and its very dark. You get in a little tiny cup and you have a saucer and you flip the cup over onto the saucer and all the little grounds trickle out of the cup and you can read the different things. My mom and my grandmother can do it really well, like everything my grandmother says comes true. She said that I’ll find a tall blonde guy whom I’ll really like, which is true, and then that there’s one class I’ll really like and one that I’ll have to work really hard in. And she said about water she said something you love like the ocean could turn dangerous for you but then it’ll come back and be really good for you. So me and my little brother were surfing over Presidents Day weekend and he actually got caught in a rip current which was kind of scary and luckily he got out but he’s like 14 so he’s pretty little. But then after all that happened we ended up having a really good day surfing and he actually just got his lifeguard certification which is really cool. And I kinda think a lot of it is made up but I don’t know I’m actually starting to believe in it a bit more. And my family really believes in it.



Informant C tells here of a traditional Turkish custom and folk belief that her family participates in. The fortune telling is an entertaining way to bring the community together and connect generations all over Turkey, while for many providing an insightful view into the future. H says she may have participated in the fortune telling just to bond with her grandmother and mother, but then she adds that she is starting to believe in it more.  For many, knowledge of the future is valuable, and something like the more chance based way the coffee grounds are running down the cup provide a good medium for this fortune telling.

Babies and the Moon

Informant C is 20 year old and studies Journalism. She is half Turkish and speaks Turkish as well. Her mom is Turkish and is from the Eastern Turkey area, about 200 miles west of Syria. Her entire family is scattered over Turkey and have resided in Turkey for many generations. Many of them are involved in agriculture.

People are very mystical about the moon. If there’s like a really really bright moon its considered really good luck especially in the country where you can see the stars and everything. So if the moon outshines the stars that means one of the best things that’s going to happen in your life is going to happen soon. The moon is so mysterious and unknown, and it probably represents something for everyone. So people in Turkey are also really fascinated with babies. And if like a really little baby is born, they’ll like put the baby on the shovel and put it out in the moonlight. And they say like ‘Make my baby stronger’ and it’s like a whole kill the baby or make him stronger. They think that the moon is like curing this baby, it is bizarre. It’s such a strange area. And another thing like if you put the back of a shovel in the moonlight and if it reflects a certain way then you’ll have this many more days of good crop. There’s so many things with the moon. They truly believe it and really do the shovel thing with the children.


Analysis: Here informant C tells about some of the rituals that involve the moon in Turkey. She says that the moon is mystical and mysterious and that inspires the large amount of folklore about it, as is also seen in other cultures. Also in Turkey, the people are prized for being strong and independent, which explains why the parents would want their babies to be big and strong, so they put them out under the moon. This is similar in some ways to older customs in Sparta where children were required to prove their strength from a young age.  She also talks about how the moon inspires some agricultural predictions about how the crop will be, since agriculture is so important for this area.

For more about Turkey’s Black Sea region and their folklore, including placing a baby on a shovel, see

Wise, L. (2013, February 23). Folklore and Superstitions of the Black Sea. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/social-studies-help/15017-superstitions-and-traditions-in-turkeys-black-sea-region/

Thanksgiving Tradition: “Trashcan” Turkey

Informant: “It’s from the Florida Keys, I don’t know how old it is. I don’t think it’s that old. It might only go back to like the 50s and 60s. But, it’s a way to cook food for a bunch of people quickly and easily because the trash can turkey is all about 2; a 20 gallon trash can, metal of course, a 20 pound turkey, and 20 pounds of charcoal for 2 hours and anybody who has ever roasted a turkey on thanksgiving knows that doing one in the oven takes a damn sight longer than 2 hours. But in the trashcan oven you can do it in 2 hours and it comes out really good. It holds in the moisture and the bird comes out pretty tender and every time I’ve ever done it, it comes out good. But basically what you do is you take the bird and you have to stand it up, sort of, and so in the true red neck fashion that started this whole thing, you use a jack stand from a car, you know like you would jack up a car and then put a stand underneath it so it will stay there. So, you take one of these things and cover it in tinfoil and basically set the bird on top of it so he is sitting there sort of with his wings up and his legs down and this thing is sort of up the cavity of the dressed bird. So anyways, then you set that on the ground, on top of another piece of foil, and you set the metal can over the top of the bird and then fold up the corners of the foil, and in some cases, they say you seal it up with sand. And then, you take your 20 pounds of charcoal and then you spread it around the bottom of the can and take half a dozen or so briquettes and set them on top of the can and you use a charcoal lighter, and because you don’t actually expose the bird to the charcoal lighter flame, you don’t get any charcoal lighter taste in the bird. So, you cover the briquettes, you light them off and then, just like you would a charcoal fire in a grill, you let it go. And, of course, that stuff burns pretty hot and gets the inside of the can really hot and it roasts the bird and, you know after that, after about 2 hours, maybe a little longer, but around 2 hours, the charcoal is pretty much all reduced to ash. There may be some red cinders inside it, but it’s mostly ash at that point, you’ll take the can off and the can is freakin’ hot so be careful, and then be careful not to get any of the ask on the bird, but you will find the bird inside golden brown and really moist and so there you go redneck trashcan turkey.”


Interviewer: “And who did you learn this from?”


Informant: “My redneck parents. (laughs) My parents retied to the Alabama coast or what my father affectionately refers to as, he lives in LA, Lower Alabama, or otherwise known as the Redneck Riviera. So on the Alabama coast, apparently they learned about it from some other retired friends of theirs who apparently spent quite a bit of time in the Florida keys and they learned about cooking the turkey in the trash can and of course I didn’t believe this at first but my dad came over and showed me and I found, how about that, it actually works.”


Interviewer: “And you like this folklore because the end result tastes good?”


Informant: “Oh yeah, and its easy, its really easy. All you’ve got to remember is 2. 20 pounds of turkey, 20 gallon trash can and 20 gallons of charcoal for 2 hours.”

The informant is a middle-aged man, who grew up in East Windsor Connecticut with his parents and two sisters. From there he attended the University of Connecticut and then lived in France for about a year and then in Montreal for about two years. From there he moved to California where he lives today. While the informant was in college his parents moved to Georgia and then to Alabama where they currently reside. Both the informant and his parents enjoy cooking.

Every year the informant’s parents visit him and his family, occasionally the informant will travel to Alabama, usually around either Thanksgiving or Christmas. The informant learned this folklore when he and his family visited his parents in Alabama. The informant’s father had learned the recipe from a friend and practiced the technique to use for Thanksgiving. The informant then decided to continue using this technique for Thanksgiving back in California because, as was stated in the interview, the end result tastes good and doesn’t take nearly as long to cook as other turkey recipes.

Because I have had the opportunity to try a “Trashcan Turkey,” I appreciate this lore. It is interesting to see this lore in action because it is literally a trashcan with charcoal on top of it (see images below). In addition, there are a few requirements to cook the turkey properly. Most importantly, there needs to be a place where the turkey can cook; this is usually over a small pit of sand or dirt. Also, achieving the proper cooking conditions can be difficult because rain or excess wind can blow out the flames and prevent the turkey from cooking. In addition, if you have pets, you need to make sure they stay away from the flames.



Tradition/Foodways – Thanksgiving Dressing

Thanksgiving Tradition/Foodway – American

“I have a grinder that we use once a year to make the Thanksgiving dressing. I helped my father make it when I was little.. so, um, he left it to me when he died. When I started making it my sons would help me and we use the same grinder, and now my grandson helps his father and I do it. So when I go to the happy hunting grounds, I will leave the grinder to him. The traditional part is, uh, that the boys come to the house and stay over the night before Thanksgiving. We get up very early in the morning, before the sun, and grind the ingredients together. And we always do it outside because it’s messy, and we attach the grinder to a table. We mix the boiled onions and stale bread together with the grinder. And another thing is that the bread has to be really stale.. I start that part two days before we grind. I put the bread out two days before and flip them every once in awhile to get them really stale. The day before Thanksgiving I peel and boil the onions. Then the boys come, we get up early, and grind the bread and onions with seasonings, eggs, and butter.. and then stuff the turkey. There is no recipe.. we just do it by taste. You know when it’s done because of the taste. This has been going on for six generations at least.. it started in Manchester, England, where my father’s ancestors are from. I don’t think there is any real reason behind which child it gets passed to, but it usually alternates genders every generation…with the exception of this one. It’s like ‘the gender switch.’ My dad was the forth child of ten, so there’s no real reason it was him.. I guess he just showed interest.. like I did over my brother. The grinder is still in the same box from when it was bought in the early 1900’s. I think this is just a way to pass down our heritage… a way for the adults to teach their kids about our ancestry.”

I agree with the informant’s analysis for the reason behind this tradition. It teaches children how to cook and uphold ancestral traditions that have been passed down for generations. It contributes to their perceptions of cultural identity, but also teaches them about the turkey tradition that comes with Thanksgiving. The only inconsistency I noticed with this tradition is that it supposedly began in England, yet it is in celebration of a decidedly American holiday: Thanksgiving. I mentioned this to the informant, and she seemed a little confused, as though she had never thought about it. She came off as a little defensive, as though I was questioning the validity of her story. She responded that the dressing recipe has been passed down from her ancestors in England, but that it was adapted to the American Thanksgiving tradition. I’m not sure how valid this is, as I’m not quite sure how much turkey they eat in England. I highly doubt they ate much turkey in England six generations ago, at least not enough to justify a custom such as this one. Nonetheless, this tradition is obviously extremely important to the informant, as is the story that goes along with it. It provides a method of connecting generations of family members, which after all, is the point of traditions such as this.


The tale as told by Ahmet:   “Nasrettin Hoca goes to his neighbor’s house to ask to borrow a pan.  A week later when he returns it, he returns it along with a smaller pan.  His neighbor says, ‘What is this other smaller pan?  This isn’t mine.’  Nasrettin Hoca says, ‘Your pan had a baby.’  The neighbor’s quite confused but, whatever, he takes both the pans.  Time passes and Nasrettin Hoca goes back to borrow the pan from his neighbor again.  When he returns it, the same thing happens again, he returns it with a smaller pan.  His neighbor asks, ‘What is this other smaller pan?’  Nasrettin Hoca says, ‘Oh, your pan had another baby.’  So, uh, the neighbor takes both pans.  Again, Nasrettin Hoca comes back to borrow the pan and this time a few weeks pass and he doesn’t bring it back.  So the neighbor goes to Nasrettin Hoca and asks, ‘Hey, where’s my pan?’  And Nasrettin Hoca says, ‘I’m really sorry, but your pan passed away.’  The neighbor says, ‘That’s ridiculous, pans don’t die.‘  Nasrettin Hoca says, ‘What do you mean?  You believed me when I said your pan had a baby.’”

Ahmet informed me that Nasrettin Hoca (pronounced “hoe ra”) is a common character in Turkey that is used to tell stories that teach some sort of lesson.  He said that there are several different stories that involve the character, and all of them have some obvious moral purpose.  He said that these stories are typically told to children, and that this one was always his favorite because it’s slightly ridiculous and funny.

Ahmet said that he learned this story from his parents when he was younger and living in Turkey.  He doesn’t exactly remember how, when or why he heard the story, but he knows that it has stuck with him since he’s been a child.

Ahmet said that he thinks this particular Nasrettin Hoca story means that people sometimes tend to believe certain things only if they benefit them.  This story is supposed to teach people consistency.  The neighbor believes that his pan had a baby which is absurd and ridiculous, but since he’s getting an extra pan he doesn’t say much about it.  But when the time comes and his pan is missing and he hears the absurd excuse that his pan died, then he’s angry because he obviously lost something.

I think Ahmet pretty much nailed the reason behind the story’s existence, as it seems to be teaching the lesson that people should be consistent and that they should not accept wrongful or unusual occurrences only when those occurrences benefit them.

Also, I think Nasrettin Hoca probably shows up in many different stories that each teach a different moral message because he’s a likable character that kids can trust.  Because kids already know Nasrettin Hoca from other stories, they’re more likely listen to the moral messages delivered by the character in future stories.  This is a clever device used by parents and adults to teach children specific lessons.