When asked to describe themselves, Bulgarians will say they are close to nature. For those living in all but the biggest cities this is certainly true. Those in the cities, do what they can with whatever land or pot of soil they have to stay connected, but it cannot replicate life in a small town. As I walk through our town of about 10,000 people, most with their own homes, I love and admire their gardens. It is rare to see a yard with grass, as all available space is planted either with flowers or fruits and
vegetables. Even the trees are producers of fruits, nuts, and blossoms for tea or honey. Backyard chicken coops are a mainstay of the landscape. Many families have land outside the town proper where they will have a second larger garden, and grazing goats or sheep. At this time of year they are always busy working at any number of things to prepare for the winter. The cycle is old and repetitive. We missed the preparation of the land and the planting of the gardens, but that work is beginning to come to fruition.
It seems like something new and different is being harvested and preserved everyday. The strawberries that did not make it past the mouth of those harvesting them or onto the table have been boiled into a sweet drink called compote or preserved as jam and put into cold storage. Before that the cooks in the house got creative with the abundance of wild mushrooms harvested from the woods at just the right time. Fresh peas made a brief appearance, and the vines are growing heavy with the mainstays of the Bulgarian diet, cucumbers, tomatoes, and green peppers.
For the past few evenings my family has been busy making their own cheese from the sheep milk collected by dayado (grandfather) . He disappears often on his motorcycle and I’m never sure what he will return with. Today it was the first raspberries. Foods just seem to appear. Earlier this month there was a Christian holiday for which special foods were prepared. One of them was a desert made with barley, nuts, honey, lemon, sugar etc. From some secret hiding place appeared walnuts harvested last fall. We did not use all of the cache, and they disappeared with the same stealth as when they appeared. The cherry trees and another that bears a fruit somewhat like a dewberry have been littering the walkways. The fruits of the apple, pear, apricot and plum trees have taken shape and are growing.
The grape vine that somehow produces a leafy ceiling for the entire terrace grows forth from the most unlikely of places. It hugs the foundation of the house, its roots topped by the cement blocks of the sidewalk. The vino made in the fall will be added to the cold storage room, which I’ve yet to see, but know sustains life throughout the winter.
Stacks of wood are also appearing on sidewalks, along foundation walls, under cover of an overhang or tucked into protected crevices. All of this work is long and hard, as there is very little in the way of technology to make it easier. There are no log splitters, roto-tillers, or electric milkers to lighten the work. Most often I see elderly people bent in half preparing and working the garden with an old hoe. I am anxious to watch this cycle of plenty come full circle, and am saddened knowing I will be a city dweller forced to rely on others for my sustenance.