Traditional food products
Food is a direct emanation of life; it summarizes the distinctions of a culture and gives the most authentic vision of people’s lives. Eating local dishes, we acquire knowledge and deepen your perception of the culture of the area. In this context, the field study performed within the project “The Tastes of Yesterday” showed that in the past, in the populated areas on the territory of LAG Rakovski people and their environment were complementary in terms of production and consumption of food. This is quite a logical connection taking into account the impossibility to store food for a long time in the warm seasons or the lack of technology to enable agricultural production out of season. Eating has constituted a support element not only for the survival of individuals and the economy of the territory, but it also has been an essential component to express social relations, gaming activities, the attitude to the divine, whose image has often accompanied the procession that finally reached to the tables laid for religious feasts. Thus, food products emerged as a result of the efforts of people to preserve milk, meat, fruit and vegetables, and meals – as diverse ways of using the food products. They show the direct connection between culture, religion and way of life of the local community.
Here it is necessary to open a bracket and to mention the danger of the food market globalization, which seriously threatens local production, traditions and knowledge. This process is particularly dangerous for Bulgaria, where depopulation of rural areas, abandonment of land, seizure of land for non-agricultural purposes and the aging of the population in the villages have their acute exacerbations. Therefore, the implementation of the project “The Tastes of Yesterday” attains a special significance, as it aims to perform joint activities in connection with the recovery of the knowledge of eating as a gesture by which the cultural content of the rural community on the territory of LAG Rakovski was expressed. At the same time, one should not go to extreme and aspire for remaining with the eating habits and culinary at the existing or earlier level because the world develops and this process cannot be stopped.
The typical and traditional food products for the region of Rakovski are cheeses, sausages, round loafs, desserts, beverages and pickles, which are a way of preserving and using primary products (milk, meat, fish, cereals, fruits, etc.). These numerous products are a result of the knowledge passed down through the generations in different parts of the world. They are the result of the ingenuity and skills of the local community, and for these was said enough in the study of the cultural aspects of the local cuisine of Rakovski Municipality (The Tastes of Yesterday Project), which analyzes the cultural and ethnic aspect of the local cuisine. The experts had the opportunity to taste typical products and meals of the local cuisine.
The study of local products showed that the way of processing the raw material may result in a large difference in the final product – different types of cheeses, sausages and the like. Handicraft practices allow for such unique products. They succeed better than raw products to tell stories and reflect the local culture. Originally they have occurred as a result of the efforts of people to ensure livelihood and survival of the offspring and later have changed to meet the needs of the market or to adapt to the changing climatic conditions and production technology, the change of seasons. The specific local product called ‘matan’ can be given as an example.
‘Matan’ is a refreshing beverage similar to buttermilk, which is made of yogurt. It takes about 10 l of yogurt and water. The sour milk is poured in ‘butalka’ and beaten until butter is obtained on the surface. Gradually cold water is added to gather the butter. With a wooden spoon the butter is separated from the liquid. After removing the butter, the resulting liquid is ‘matan’, which is poured into pitchers or bottles and is ready for consumption.
Foods or so-called ‘dishes’ from the municipality of Rakovski also deserve attention. Typical and traditional local dishes from the past, much more than now have been prepared from produce which had cyclic production and were dependent on the alternation of the seasons, which in turn determined the cooking of meals associated with the seasons in the year. These factors inevitably dictated the composition of the dishes. Thus, typical of the region proved to be basic products such as cabbage, rice, pork, pork fat, milk, flour. Traditional also proved to be the link between the diet and holidays, mostly religious, when the days were really exceptional, different from everyday life, and all, even the poorest, were preparing a festive menu. Starting from specific meanings inherent to each holiday, the most outstanding were Christmas, Easter, Shrovetide, and the days of the various saints. Always complying with what the field has provided in the season, in these conditions were cooked special dishes, which in themselves dictated the taste of the feast, whose flavours were spreading in the house already during cooking and to this day can provoke in people emotion that animates those much awaited for days, beyond the food per se.
In this connection may be mentioned dishes like ‘Boliarski sarmi’, beans with leeks in baking tin, ‘mominska kirosiyka’, soup with leeks, pork with pickled cabbage brine ‘Brezovska baking tin’ and many other where rice, meat and cabbage are widely used. Here we will only provide the recipes for ‘Boliarski sarmi’ and beans with leeks. The appendix “Recipe Book” to the above-mentioned study of culinary traditions is richly illustrated and provides diverse, traditional dishes for the area of Rakovski.
‘Boliarski sarmi’ is made with pork, raw sausage, rice, onions, mushrooms, pickled cabbage, butter and spices. The leaves are separated from the cabbage, the hard parts are removed and the cleaned leaves are boiled for 10-15 minutes. The meat and the sausage are cut into pieces and fried in a pan. The minced meat is added. The onion is chopped finely and stewed; the rice and stewed mushrooms are added. Everything is mixed and spices – black pepper, cumin, paprika are added. The cabbage leaves one by one (if small- two or three may be used) are put on a flat plate; stuffed with the mixture and rolled. The stuffed cabbage leaves are put in a baking tin, a cup of broth or hot water is poured, pieces of butter are added; the dish is sprinkled with paprika and baked.
Beans with leeks are logically cooked from beans, leeks and spices. The dish is prepared as follows: The beans are boiled. The leeks are cut into small pieces and fried in heated cooking oil. Then paprika is added. Once the leeks get fried well, the beans are poured and sprinkled with mint. The dish is left to simmer for a while; salt and pepper are added; then everything is poured in a baking tin and baked until browned.
There are several features that are important for the image of local products and dishes of Rakovski municipality. Firstly, it is the diversity of natural food products as a result of the favourable geographical location and climatic conditions. On the territory of Rakovski are easily grown a variety of fruits, vegetables and cereals, and livestock and poultry are bred. Yet, it can be said that the most respected to date are rice, cabbage, pork and bakery products.
Another feature that is left from our past and is traditional for the local cuisine is the strong seasonality of food. In summer and autumn there are plenty of vegetables and fruits, while in winter their range is limited to a minimum. In winter, in the past and today at home, home-canned food is widely used – flat sausages and salted bacon are made; fruits and vegetables are dried, jams, marmalades, compotes and pickles are prepared. The autumn season is the most favourable in terms of eating. Then there are plenty of various fruits and vegetables which, for the territory of Rakovski, include almost all known fruits and vegetables for Bulgaria.
Characteristic of the local cuisine is also the technology for making traditional dishes – old cooking techniques are used, such as fireplace with live coals, hot clay plate, earthenware for cooking. This of course requires a longer process of meal preparation. Boiling, stewing and baking are applied more often, while frying or frying in egg and bread crumbs were taken up at a later stage. Products poorer in water, such as cereals and meat are usually boiled; root crops, vegetables from the cabbage family and vegetables with pods are stewed and water-rich vegetables, pome fruits and meat of young animals are baked. The technology for cooking a traditional dish requires in these cases more careful combination of vegetables, meat and spices, agreement between products in terms of colour, fragrance, flavour and nutrients. Lamb is cooked with parsley, spinach, onions, rice; pork – with beans, pickled cabbage, etc. Mainly animal fat – lard and pork fat – is used. Typical and still preserved tradition is to prepare meat dishes without adding fat and use of more fatty meat that is smothered in its own fat with some water. Meals cooked this way are much tastier, more attractive and bring out the specific fragrance of the meat. Their nutritional value is much higher than that of the meat dishes cooked with addition of vegetable oil, not to mention the modern food with palm oil. No fat is added when cooking pork with pickled cabbage and rice, boiled mutton, fat chicken or turkey with cabbage, etc. Dairy butter began to be used much later. With dairy butter are prepared some dishes of vegetables, trahana, polenta, pancakes, etc. Milk (milk and yogurt) is rarely used for cooking, but dishes with spinach must always be served with yogurt. Here besides gustatory improvement is achieved also a healing effect because in certain seasons of the year certain products, including milk, correct the changed proportions of the necessary nutrients.
It should be mentioned that along with being definitely delicious, traditional local dishes are healthier than the contemporary. The boiling of products, ‘simmering’ in earthenware, boiled sauces and thickenings, and smothering in its own sauce with spices and vegetables is far healthier than the processing of products at high temperature, heavy roux and frying with eggs and bread crumbs. Not to mention cooking in thin walled trays and pots with pouring off a large amount of water, which takes away the taste of the dishes and they become a kind of the familiar from our recent past ‘canteen food’. Instead of the traditionally established in the past animal fat, used in accordance with the meat that is being cooked, today usually is used vegetable oil. In the past, vegetable oil was used mainly for salad dressing, it can also be used for stewing vegetables, but when frying, it obtains acrolein derivatives, which besides the irritating effect on the secretor apparatus of the mucous membranes of the digestive system, have a harmful effect on the whole organism by helping to accelerate atherogenesis and carcinogenesis, leading in turn to serious diseases. In this sense it is impossible not to mention the observance of fasting associated with our major religious holidays which helps the body to purify and dispose of accumulated toxins. Today, when religious celebrations are associated only with lavish meals and holidays, and the consumption of meat is a year-round and daily, higher rate of morbidity and mortality of the Bulgarians and is recorded. The achievements of medicine are not sufficient to avoid the fatality of poor eating habits, it is necessary to understand and make sense of the forgotten knowledge that our ancestors have put in preparation of their food.