I haven’t written much on the countryside of Bulgaria recently. The colour pallette of this wonderful countries hedgerows is moving from the blue of cornflowers and white and yellow of Chamomile to the deep crimson of Red Hot Pokers. The heat this year cut short the sunflower season and before their beautiful yellow heads could be seen rotating with the rising sun they turned brown and sad. Whether this equates to a good harvest or not I don’t know but I missed their particularly beautiful rays of sunshine adorning the fields.
These beautiful images were shot by my older brother Mark Collier and was taken in June in the Gradishte graveyard and on top of the Devetaki mountain top. The whole of the country was alight with crimson this year throughout June. Mark, an avid photographer, was wont to suddenly slam on the brakes, leap out of the car and disappear into the hedgerows and fields to take his wonderful shots.
The harvesting season is under way and driving just about anywhere in rural Bulgaria means circumnavigating enormous agricultural dinosaurs trundling along both sides of the road and making no adjustment for oncoming traffic. Harvest time is very important in Bulgaria so when I encounter one of these I take the time to enjoy the scenery around me until I can find a spot to safely overtake. Of course the Bulgarians simply drive up the grass verges not even slowing down for the manoeuvre. If you are ever in Bulgaria check out the semi circular scars along the rural roads! The vineyards now have impromptu tents, folding chairs, barbecues and rows and rows of collapsible boxes stacked in seemingly endless rows. The grape picking season is almost upon us and whole families camp out with hired help in order to reap the harvest in a timely manner and of course to ensure their produce is not wafted away by those looking to make a quick buck. In North Central we are expecting thunderstorms tomorrow but it is also a Sunday which I believe is the day when the grapes should be harvested. It will be either a very early or a very late start for the pickers tomorrow.
The fresh produce market stalls are positively groaning with tomatoes in every shape and type, beautiful egg shaped San Marino tomatoes favoured by the pizza industry and for canning, light pink meaty Rosavi tomatoes with a lightness and fragrance that make them the nations favourite salad tomato, there’s the shiny ruby Kallinoffs and an absolute plethora of other types, too numerous to mention. Sweet peppers, red and yellow to a verdant green and chilli’s; long, short, hot and medium hang from almost every stall. Watermelons the size of toddlers can be bought on almost every street corner for 35 stotinkies a kilo. Soft velvet peaches nestle with their smooth skinned counterparts; the nectarine and the early harvest of predominantly green, sweet, eating grapes provide colourful relief. Leeks as tall as I am stand proudly like soldiers in a parade often dwarfing the stall holders. Pyramids of goose, duck and chicken eggs vie for attention with glistening jars of golden honey and home pickled turtsi; a mixture of all the above veg in brine and much revered during the cold months of winter. Chilli features heavily to ward off winter chills and to warm the cockles on ones soul. Herbs are being collected and hung to dry and potatoes and onions are being stored in the basements of every home in our village.
Everyone is waiting for the bulbs, trees and fruit bushes to make their appearance at the market. As soon as the ground has cooled it will be planting time again. Onion sets and shooting garlics will be planted soon alongside lettuce seeds. They appear miraculously from the snowy blanket of Spring with their green shoots intact and none the worse for wear. Gardeners will be buying lawn seed before the deadline of November is reached so that a verdant carpet will await them in the Spring.
Homemade Raki (firewater alcohol) made from any fruit whatsoever is being distilled all over Bulgaria and provides a good income for those brewing this national aperitif and that extra money often equates to buying wood for the winter. Our good neighbour Ilia is a past master of the art and will not be seen for a good couple of weeks as he fulfils orders for a good percentage of the villagers.
School doesn’t restart until 15th September and on any scrap of green kids from 5-18 congregate for football games and generally shooting the wind. It is also calving season so heavily pregnant cows can be seen all over the common grazing grounds that pepper the villages. That means by the New Year the male calves will be up for slaughter. We already have our order in with Mekhmet the local dairy herdsman. It also means that raw milk is available for cheese making. Before 10 am there is a constant flow of village ladies toting water bottles still warm with the best tasting milk I have ever tried. Jars. lids, butter paddles, yoghurt pots, enormous saucepans and oversized gas burners stand outside every shop and in the markets. Because of the bounty of the garden produce jars of produce are sealed in layers of 10 jars in boiling water, often 30 jars at a time! I was totally unprepared for this and when I look at my UK pots and pans, even the stock pots and pasta pans they are risible in the face of the sheer volume of jars we use over the winter. We are definitely living and learning!
Well the thunder storm I mentioned earlier in the post turned out to be biblical in it’s force. I was mid kitchen deep cleanse, the weather was hot and humid and the skies clear. In a second and I kid you not, a tornado like gust of wind slammed all doors and windows synchronously, the garden furniture took flight, the gazebo frame lifted and travelled across the garden and there was so much dust that I thought I’d been transported to the depths of the Saharan desert. Bodie, panting hard and with saliva dribbling generously over my clean floors took herself to the downstairs bathroom and laid in abject misery on the tiled floor. In a spit second the sky became black, the sun disappeared with the daylight and someone simply unzipped the heavens. In the time it took me to baton down the doors and windows in the house there was at least 8cm of rain collected outside of the kitchen door. Rabbie and Vinnie ran from window to window watching the chaos outside destroying the garden. What was quite perturbing was that 10 minutes later the sun was shining again and the skies blue. There were two further occurrences of this meteorological phenomena both knocking out the electric and internet. I wonder how the grape pickers fared? If they did not manage to bring the harvest in I am presuming that the fruits took a pretty hard battering. What sits nagging quietly at the back of my mind is that this all happened in the wake of Kim Jung Uns’ underground nuclear explosion that caused a manmade earth quake of 6.3 on the Richter scale. In terms of the chaos theory it seems to me a possibility that these forecasted storms were magnified by the movement of the earth in Korea. Very sad and worrying times. I might add that Terry was not here for any off these weather deviations. These freak storms apparently travelled across the countries microclimates and he just happened to be travelling ahead of or in the wake of the resultant chaos.
Terry has bought another van and a cracker of a bargain. It is an LDV 2004 plate with a roof rack as well. He set out at 19:30 last night with Yorkie to drive the two hours to a village the other side of Popovo to view and then buy the van. On the way out he was ahead of the storms but on the way back he encountered the aftermath. It was past 22:30 when they headed back and the drive was interspersed with avoiding the numerous trees lying across the roads and aquaplaning on the rain soaked roads. It was a hairy experience not improved by the fact that as he drew up the 8 foot gatehouse steel doors had both been wrenched of in the gale force winds. Meanwhile the animals and I sat by candlelight and I shot backwards and forwards to the kitchen where my blessed gas range provided the power to cook up a joint of lamb and some of our potato crop. I studiously ignored/was oblivious to, the extent of the damage in the garden. When Terry and Yorkie finally arrived in the house we sat and ate at midnight, all safe and all absolutely shattered!
On a final note here are our mutts sat patiently waiting for breakfast toast crusts from Terry team of builders. It’d be no point waiting for me because as Joey from Friends said “I don’t share my food” and I eat all my crusts!