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Living Off The Bulgarian Land

The food here in Bulgaria is something else. Every day a new experience is experienced in Bulgarian cuisine. I must say that it helps a lot that my partner is Bulgarian and cooks like an angel, but apart from that, Bulgarian friends and neighbors still tickle my taste buds at every opportunity with their own cooking.

Since I’ve been here, there hasn’t really been a time when I’ve cried out for supermarket name brand food. No Twiglets, Mars Bars, Baked Beans or even Sherbet Fountains with licorice coming out you feel you need or want. In fact nowadays the only thing I can remember from these foods is the horrible aftertaste! Those who have been here eating natural Bulgarian food for a long time will know exactly what this means!

Every few weeks someone asks, “I’m coming, what would you like me to bring you?” It’s very hard to think of anything, even after thinking really hard. So these kind people usually bring along some English tea bags, Cadbury’s custard eggs or a bottle of whisky, thank you very much guys and I mean it, but then they are used for the English visitors who come, so very useful anyway. This is not an outrage, but we are speaking honestly about how things are now.

Back in Bulgaria, most food products come directly from the village houses, most of which are not just houses but small farms. Food from a variety of sources, mainly the land, but also chickens, cows and calves, goats and sheep. Occasionally food is bought from the supermarket, but most of the time from my village shop. These consist mainly of bread and flour, (both made and milled in my village), sunflower oil (locally produced), salt and sugar (although local honey is more often used as a sweetener than sugar), filoyam sheet for Skalitsa banitses, the recipe given below in the book and other pastry variations in it. And of course beer! Can’t say much else is needed. As much wine, brandy and liqueur as I could ever want, they are all homemade.

The sunflower seeds are collected from the field adjacent to my land and as long as it is for personal consumption there is no problem with that, in fact the mice in the field eat more than any villager. They are dried half lightly salted and stored in airtight, recycled plastic food containers. Chickpeas are grown and stored in the same way, sweet corn is grown or again taken from fields and dried but not used for animal feed, (wouldn’t be right if it was taken from cooperative farms) dried and fried in oil Make popcorn, what else delight from the garden flavored with either honey or salt before bursting. So there’s your little assortment of snacks with sorted drinks.

All cheeses and yogurt are homemade. All of these come from natural ingredients. Nuts are collected and kept for a year and used in cooking and stored. Honey-roasted walnuts are another Bulgarian legend in good-tasting food or simply used as another accompaniment to drinks. Almonds are harvested with shells that you can remove without nutcrackers, have you ever tried an almond from a supermarket?

Figs fresh and preserved in syrup, melons in abundance both with honey and water, the latter proving a wonderful jam eaten all the year round. Strawberry jam used in cakes and milkshakes is a summer flavor that has nothing to do with the whole year. Apples, pears, plums, all can be stored in cans or bottles in syrup and kept for up to 6 months. My last apple was eaten in April of this year as well as it was picked in October of the previous year! And it was sweet and tasted like an apple!

Occasionally non-Bulgarian visitors visit and sometimes ‘turn their noses up’ at some of the food on offer from a place that isn’t what you can buy in the shops. You may well be surprised how many people say this! This is the only other reason they frequent supermarkets, to meet the need of these occasions. No offense to that, it’s not their fault, it’s the system they’ve grown to rely on.

Therefore, the non-seasonal production has either been frozen or bottled and our supplies have gone into the winter and spring. This is no chore as the garlic and onions are plated and the tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and pumpkins boil from being bottled in the wood burning exterior. Everything is done slowly and very systematically. When it comes to doing something like this in village life, there is never any panic or rush with the busy day ahead. Why, on the other hand, do we still try and rush things and try to do it as fast as possible all the time?

With all these foods on hand, including most meats, a range of poultry and dairy products, you can make whatever you want out of the ingredients. Even beef can be farmed, bought or traded in the village. Everything and more is grown here than in the UK, so what’s the problem there? Nothing, it seems, the problem in the UK for many is the culture of buying convenience food rather than growing their own. How many have a garden where produce can be grown, most. The climate here helps a lot, but what makes it work here and not there is the lifestyle and local food culture that left the UK about 40-50 years ago. You come to Bulgarian and take a big step back in time.

Last night it hit me once again how the simplest of ingredients can become another memorable meal. Just a young marrow sliced ​​fresh from the garden dipped in flour and fried until golden, then served hot with homemade yogurt. It was so simple but the result was something very special.

Every day, another flavor or recipe is presented and enjoying it is really like going back to the basic ingredients and enjoying them as they are. How often is this forgotten bowing to commercially processed foods made for you from a place of convenience and laziness? Conveniently, the process compresses the taste of natural foods into chemically enhanced products as a replacement, and this becomes the “taste of the norm” for weekly consumers.

Food regulations don’t help and to be fair the argument will always be health first which I have to agree with. But I must add a summary of the situation at this point by saying that this is perhaps too much in the regulations. Perhaps this is an unfortunate phrase, given that the artificial preservatives and enhancers that are ironically forced into processed foods for health reasons defeat the purpose.

It is very strange that most of the villagers have no choice to shop for food than to grow their own food, they simply cannot afford it. If they could afford it and had a choice, convenience foods are there, waiting in the wings ready to skyrocket profits, which is the name of the game. The new generation of Bulgarians are heading there to become part of the American and Eurozone fast food brigade gardening activities that are done as in villages across Bulgaria may be limited to commercial dimensions just like in the UK as they were years ago . It is a grateful thought and a privilege that right now the opportunity is here to experience Bulgaria as it is now.

Just one point I should mention as I keep hearing stories about this and it is an ‘old wives tale’. Eggs! The chickens I keep are completely free range with access to all natural feed in the large yard and green from wasted organic vegetation, with a supplement of natural wheat to call home at night. Nothing could be more free range than these chickens. So when someone says, “Oh, I tried some free range eggs and the yolk color was so deep, almost orange!”

What are you thinking right now? Do you have that image of that seemingly fresh free range egg now revealing its sensuous rich orange yolk waiting to melt in your mouth after being lightly fried in a little oil and laid on a bed of the softest white buttered bread you could imagine? It looks good? It tastes good? I doubt! This is not true, the color of free range eggs is a very pale yellow and just yellow at best!

Instead, Dear Watson – Battery and commercial egg producers (besides the chickens themselves of course) put color additives in the feed to produce a deeper yolk, which is what the consumer wants and gets – supply and demand. Market research found that pale yellow yolk does not sell well, so they artificially change the color. Next time you go to a city supermarket and buy the cheapest mass-produced eggs, look how orange the yolk is – you know why now.

Finally, and this is not true for many people who come here, but some, it is so trivial when I hear complaints about Bulgarian food from non-Bulgarians. Comments include, “it has no flavor” or “it’s bland” or it’s boring. Well, these feelings are carried back to thinking that it is not the food but the people who complain that it has no taste, is bland and boring. . In many cases they simply haven’t even tried Bulgarian food! I just remember a quote from someone talking about Bulgarian food, saying: “I hate Bulgarian sausages, I’ve never tried and I never will!” Of course no names are mentioned here, but this comment speaks for itself.

Back to the Bulgarian pitches – still a lifetime away from bringing my products up to the standards of my Bulgarian neighbours, the learning curve continues all the time. With a previous life in the UK weaned on convenience foods with no time to eat due to work constraints, it’s like being reborn here in Bulgaria. In Bulgaria I found one thing that is true, food grows faster than the pace of life.

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