By Tove K. Danoviech
CASHMERE, Wash. (NPR) — In 1921, an ad in The Seattle Times touted a brand new candy called “Aplets,” a new confection made “from the finest Washington apples and honey and walnuts.” A few years later, Aplets were joined by “Cotlets,” a similar candy made from an apricot base. In most of the world, “Aplets & Cotlets” were based on a treat called lokum, a word derived from Arabic, but the British and Americans know it as “Turkish delight.”
The origins of Turkish delight are a bit mysterious. According to Sweets: A History of Candy, it was “invented by Arab apothecaries some time around the ninth century.” But Sherbet and Spice: The Complete Story of Turkish Sweets and Desserts alleges that it was invented by Ottoman palace confectioners in the 18th century. Versions of the candy are made in the Middle East, Russia, the Balkans and Greece. Though there are variations, the delights are usually made from a sweetener, cornflower starch, flavoring (usually rose or orange blossom water) and sometimes nuts.
The English originally called it “lumps of delight,” a name that was wisely changed by the time C.S. Lewis thought to make it the candy that tempted young Edmund Pevensie to betray his siblings in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. If Americans have heard of Turkish delight, it’s likely because this book, published in 1950, made the mysterious confection seem like the most delicious candy in the world.
Aplets came to America thanks to two Armenian immigrants — Armen Tertsagian and Mark Balaban — who bought an orchard in Cashmere,Wash., and had to find something to do with their excess fruit. Greg Taylor, president of Liberty Orchards — the company that makes Aplets & Cotlets — is the grandson of both founders. (The unmarried sister of one of the men “got sent over to be the wife of my grandfather,” he explains.)
The men met at a YMCA, where Taylor says they were likely “the only Armenian guys within 100 miles.” Together, they started a restaurant, which failed, and then a yogurt business, which also failed. But their fruit business has carried on for almost 100 years — even though the orchards were sold long ago, when the owners realized that producing Aplets from farm-raised apples didn’t offer the quality control needed to make a shelf-stable lokum.