Everyone is talking about winter and canning (which actually refers to storing produce in any manner). I of course as a green newbie asked how people were canning their produce and if they used a special tool for the process. I had a few sideways glances till I “got it”. So this week I hunted out the plethora of jars and kilner jars I’d been stashing in the UK for a year. I went to the Pavlikeni market armed with some strong bags and shopped. 20 kilos of tomatoes, 5 kilos of red peppers and another 5 kilos of onions. I have all the herbs I can use and our lovely neighbours have supplied bags and bags of apples and an absolute glut of every kind of chilli peppers of all shapes, sizes and strengths. So on Friday morning I cleansed the kitchen, sterilised my jars and got the blender out. I started with tomato passata and whilst that was bubbling along I began my somewhat infamous chilli jam/relish. Tomatoes, onions, peppers, onions, garlic, pimento seed, cardamon pods, cinnamon, nutmeg, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, himalayan salt, cracked black pepper and a generous selection of chilli peppers. I sautéed and simmered till the fiery mixture caused my eyes to water and the dogs to vacate the premises. It will warm the cockles of our hearts this winter. It’s great as a relish for cheese and cold meats or as an addition to soups and stews. The apples were of the sweet variety. I blanched them, bagged them and when cool froze them. And in a true Bulgarian fashion kept the juice for freezing too. The passata and relish has been sealed with a good layer of olive oil and stored in the second larder fridge. I didn’t get through all the apples not to mention the bags of grapes. I’d lost the will to live after a morning sweating in the kitchen in 27 degrees heat. The bags are still staring guiltily at me every time I walk into the kitchen.
Having slaved over this canning debaucherie Terry decided that we’d better get some man food, ergo, meat. We headed out to Gorna Oryhavitsa and the German store Kaufland. We came across fresh, crisp and slimly shlank parsnips. We bagged 2 kilos and moved on to the broccoli, a real treat for me. Then I watched as Terrys faced split and lit up like a halloween lantern. Following his gaze and the fast diminishing sight of the trolley I watched him lift the entire contents of the Heinz baked beans off the shelf and firmly into the wiry depths of the trolley. To be fair it was only 12 cans but I can imagine a fair few ex pats having their noses firmly put out of joint. Despite his very slim frame Terry eats a builders English breakfast every day. We have been experimenting with local baked beans and the experience has not been a good one. The beans are bullet hard and the sauce is as runny as water. I shall, with subtlety, decline to rate the taste for fear of offending aforementioned locals. I have also been trying to convert him to grilled fresh tomatoes but they remain a lonely reminder of rejection on his plate every day. I do feed him healthily for all other meals I hasten to add with fresh veg and salads on the menu daily.
Moving on to the meat counter we surveyed the panoply of meat spread before us. Every single cut of pork, two cuts of beef and chicken in all it’s variations. Sadly no lamb or even goat. We shall have to wait till spring for that joy. I think we will definitely be buying a lamb of the freezer come spring and another to “fatten” for the winter. We both love lamb and despite the wonderful quality of the pork and chicken variety is the spice of life. Ilia casually mentioned that he’s bought 2 lambs and they are in his barn being fattened for the table. However I digress. As the Bulgarians watched in amazement Terry pointed to his favourite cuts ordering sometimes 2 kilos and sometimes 4 kilos of everything from pork belly, to shoulder, shank and fillet. 2 kilos of beef were added to the trolley swiftly followed by chicken wings, whole chickens and breasts. I groaned because I knew I’d be spending an afternoon butchering, packing and freezing this bloody bounty. We ambled around the store packing UHT milk, toilet rolls, butter and anything that would be required for the winter ahead. A large sack of “extra” bread flour was loaded onto the underbelly of the trolley. I also picked up some excellent tree pruners, a sandwich toaster, some study pegs and lightbulbs. I bought across my emergency candles from the UK and of course we have a generator or three for the electric outages that are frequent during the snowy season. Mental note to myself; make sure we have diesel and petrol put by. I’m so glad I car booted 3 of the old fashioned metal cans for just this purpose. The high of such a shopping trip with 2 groaning trolleys soon deflated as we carried bag after bag into the kitchen. I sharpened my two favourite knives, donned the meat apron and with a steaming brew beside me, cut, sliced and cubed and bagged the meaty panoply spread around me. The dogs sat outside the kitchen, their noses pressed firmly to the glass of the door causing concentric steamy circles as they panted their requests for titbits. Suffice to say they ate well that night. The freezer is now quite satisfactorily stuffed with meat. Just as I was about to sit down I noticed the parsnips. In record time I peeled, chopped, blanched, cooled, bagged and froze them before collapsing into the arms of the sofa.
The following day, as I popped into the local supermarket for dog food I espied chicken necks at 1.15 lev a kilo! Chicken stock was my immediate thought. Pumpkins are just beginning to fill the market along with other winter vegetables and of course that made me think of soups. So, ever a gluten for comestible punishment, I put 2 kilos in the trolley. I spent the morning harvesting celery, parsley and fresh thyme from the garden before starting 2 gallons of chicken stock. I remembered an old Jamaican tip of washing the chicken necks in water and vinegar and this meant that their was almost no scum on the surface of the stock. Peppercorns, Himalayan salt, shiny oversized onions and warty homegrown carrots were added to the pot. 6 hours later I had the most wonderful clear, flavoursome stock which I decanted into the plethora of tupperware containers that had been sitting in my drawers and then into the now groaning freezer. There has been a thread on one of the social media sites that the ex pats contribute too that decries these winter preparations as unnecessary. However I would point out that every single Bulgarian I know is doing the same and when in Rome…..! I suppose if you are willing to pay over the odds for out of season veg or live close to the city these preparations might not be necessary but we live in a small village that is regularly snowed in and we are budget conscious. Meat will have a premium cost as the snow falls and supplies are cut off not to mention vegetables.
I have also bought Peach, Apricot, Cherry, Apple, Almond and Pear trees. I did do my research and bought according to whether the trees self pollinated or required cross pollination. I was about to plant them on the south border when Yeorgi popped through the gate to our properties and told me that they’d shade the vegetable area. So poor Terry was dragged out of the roof space and cajoled into jumping on the digger and clearing enough of the west order to start planting. Well that was the plan but with so many trees to remove and many with suckering habits the root work was like a steel mesh. It is almost impossible to remove every single root let alone clear the ground enough to start planting. So Yeorgi got his chain saw and Terry his and so began an arbitorial genocide. Trees were felled faster than prices drop on the stock market. However even after a strenuous mornings work there appeared little difference to the jungle and yet another pile of wood to be dealt with. We are going to have to accept that this isn’t gong to be a quick job. We did get most of the trees planted though. We still need to clear enough space for the apple and pear trees to be planted though. It is becoming a race against time as the lowering skies we saw today gave more than a hint at what’s to come.
Terry has been hurtling along at breakneck speed getting the upstairs extension ready for flooring. A new word has been added to my vocabulary, noggins. Terry talks about them and how time consuming they are. With all my food preparations I haven’t been up into the upstairs extension for some time. Having to ascend a ladder propped against the bathroom wall and then having to jimmy myself through the space between the bathroom ceiling and the landing of the upper realms is part of the problem. However in the spirit of camaraderie and with some curiosity as to exactly what noggins are I made the torturous journey upwards. I was amazed at what Terry has managed alone. The bedroom joists; a grid of chunky wooden beams, are laid out awaiting boards of OSB (also a new word) so flooring can be laid.
I did my bit by clearing the debris of the mud from the cob walls, sawdust and wooden offcuts. I swept and bagged the debris whilst Terry machinated on how we were going to get the huge OSB boards up into the space. Picking up the tape measure I jokingly said we could probably get them through the window apertures diagonally. Of course the scaffolding is now erected at the side and back of the house so I thought nothing more of my throwaway comment. It wasn’t till the next morning when I awoke to find Terry gone and the room strangely darkened and unfamiliar noises coming from outside the bedroom window. A cup of tea had been left on the bedside cabinet so I laid back, the dogs and cat at my feet and made a mental list of jobs for the day. It was only when I heard unearthly groaning that I leapt out of bed, grabbed some trackie bottoms and a t shirt and went to investigate. I actually laughed in sheer amazement when I beheld Terrys solution to getting the OSB boards upstairs. He’d made a tower out of the EPS insulation boards and was attempting to lift them on to the tower and then through the window aperture. Without a second thought I scrambled up onto the makeshift platform and balanced atop the boards he’d placed on top the polystyrene tower to help. It didn’t take long, as a team, to get 25 boards up there. I am amazed at Terrys ingenuity. He is a real pioneer in spirit and Bulgaria gives him a perfect platform to express this skill. Health and Safety back in the UK would be having convulsions!
On a final note as I was walking around the garden this morning I was amazed to see an outcrop of sunshine yellow crocus around the base of the pine trees. The Canna lilly has produced a blowsy sunset orange bloom that matches the orange buds of the rose bushes I planted earlier in the year. It is good to see that whilst the garden is, in effect, a building site that nature has added it’s own little splashes of colour to what is becoming a real autumn palette in both the skies and the vegetation.