Culinary Anthropologist


  1. Quince jelly

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    Of course, you could use whole quinces for this, but it works just fine with skins and cores left over from other quince recipes, a tip I picked up from our jam-making friend Eduard Dumitrescu in Romania.  (After all, that’s where all the pectin is.)  In fact, our jam and jelly discussions with Eduard and his wife Anca lasted long into the night, as we traced the etymology of Romanian’s many words for ‘jam’

    smquincejelly0001.JPGThis is a standard jelly recipe, so you could use cooking or crab apples instead, or half apples and half hedgerow berries – rowans, rosehips, sloes, blackberries, elderberries and haws all work well.  It helps to squish the simmering fruit with a potato masher once or twice, to ensure all the flavour comes out.  You can also flavour such jellies with a little spice or herb, by adding these to the simmering fruit at the first stage.

    The secret to a good quince jelly, I think, is to simmer the fruit a long time so it reaches a beautiful pink colour.  Like crab apples, quinces turn pink as they cook, but they take a lot longer to do so.  Your jelly will be delicious with roast pork, lamb or duck, or just on toast or rice pudding.


  2. To Romania in a spoon


    Smspoonberries0001.jpgWhile staying in the Carpathians with our friends Anca and Eduard, we had a lot of conversations about jam.  I don’t possibly have space here to tell you about everything we learnt (although I’m sure Anna will try soon) – but here’s two things.  First, Romanians have a lot of words for jam.  Second, two of them, dulceață and șerbet, are things we don’t really have in the UK, involving interesting ingredients like green walnut and aubergine, and mysterious old social rituals involving teaspoons and glasses of water.

    It’s often tempting to try to make what you see fit with what you already know.  So, given what we already knew about Ottoman influence on Eastern European cuisine, we quickly jumped to the conclusion that this must be a Turkish phenomenon – șerbet is a Turkish word, after all.  And when we reached Turkey, we did indeed find delicious walnut and aubergine jams.

    But something didn’t quite fit.  Why use a Latin word – dulceață – for something Turkish?  And although we saw plenty of şerbet in Turkey, we never got offered it in spoons or water.  Well, now that we’ve arrived in Greece, we’ve realised it’s much more complicated than we thought …


  3. Ottoman or not?

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    Now that we’ve spent some time in Turkey, some in Romania and Bulgaria before that, and now some in Greece, it’s been interesting to try to spot various culinary connections between them.  It’s not all pleasant, but they have a lot of shared history via the long presence of the Ottoman empire in Eastern Europe.  Greece was under Ottoman control for hundreds of years; and while Romania (and especially Transylvania) was nominally independent for much of that time, the word “nominally” should be stressed.


    Ottoman chefs: could they tell their
    aubergines from their tomatoes?

    In some cases, of course, there are clear similarities in techniques and ingredients, but there’s really no way to know whether Romanians influenced Turks, or Turks influenced Romanians, or whether they both just thought that spicy meatballs tasted nice.  But in others, you can get some help from the language: if a stuffed vine leaf in Greece has an originally Turkish name, the odds are that it has at least some Turkish origins.

    But sometimes we have to do a bit more detective work.  In Romania, the word for tomato is “red” (roşie), and the word for aubergine is “purple” (vinete): so you might ask your greengrocer for a kilo of reds and a kilo of purples.  This does sort of make sense – tomatoes are red, after all, and aubergines are purple – but why just these two?  They don’t call cucumbers “greens”.  And tomatoes certainly aren’t the only red things in a Romanian kitchen, what with all those peppers around.  Well, a conversation with Anca in the Carpathians, a conversation with Özge in Istanbul, some dictionary work, and all became clear …


  4. Through the kitchens of Romania

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    Smmattsteu0001.JPG Coming to Romania from Hungary was a huge change, primarily because we know lots of people in Romania and speak a bit of the language.   Both of these bonuses, plus the Romanian people’s unrivalled hospitality, meant we could spend far more time inside people’s kitchens learning about the cuisine – either by being invited in or by inviting ourselves in.  And seeing so many old friends really made it feel like a home from home.

    We got straight down to business by heading up into the Apuseni Mountains to sample two stalwarts of Romanian cuisine: ţuică (plum firewater) and slănină (bacon without the meaty bits).  Here we were reminded that it is the grannies who do everything and know everything, from curing your own bacon and making your own cheese to preserving your pig’s stomach in a bucket


  5. Delta fishy deal?

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    Smshinyfish0001.JPGWhy would anyone want to drive for hours through flat soulless countryside, spend a night in one of Romania’s more ugly towns, then six hours on a small, open boat in the freezing cold wind, in order to have one dinner of fish, followed by sour fish soup, followed by fish, in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and a night in a room so icy cold you can’t sleep, then back on the boat, and another night in the ugly town (and all for more Euros than you’d care to mention)??

    Well, despite asking ourselves this question several times, we are extremely glad we spent two days visiting the Danube delta in Romania.  If we hadn’t, we’d never have seen what an incredible landscape the delta forms.  Nor would we have learnt how to make the unusual and delicious, traditional delta fish soup.


  6. Getting bladdered in Bran

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    Smbarnabybrancheese0001b.jpgToday Barnaby went to visit the famous Bran castle in the Carpathian Mountains.  The castle was closed, so instead he found a nice local cheese farmer to talk to.

    Nicu Solovastru has 300 sheep and 10 cows, which spend their summers grazing in the meadows high above the castle.  He is proud of the fact he uses 100% natural products and traditional methods.

    Even the cheese moulds are natural: the smoked sheep’s cheeses (caşcaval fumat), which Barnaby thought tasted not unlike Polish oscypek, are shaped in wooden moulds Nicu carves himself, and the cow’s cheeses (brȃnza de burduf) are aged in either large sheepskin sacks or perfectly round calves’ bladders.

    Smbladderedcheese0001.JPGBarnaby wanted to buy a bladdered cheese but Anna and Matt prefered the smoked cheese so he had to settle for that.  Domnul Solovastru has kindly invited Barnaby to come back next summer to make cheese with him in the mountains, so that will be his chance to get properly bladdered.

  7. Ready salted

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    Smbarnabysaltywell0001.JPGBarnaby was intrigued to find a natural well of salty water in Botiza, a village in the Maramureş region of Romania (where we stayed after we got stuck in the mud).  We watched as one after the other, villagers came to collect a bucket or two of salty water using the long sticks.

    One man kindly invited Barnaby to his home and let him taste the water.  Ugh!  It was really salty.  It’s used to preserve meat, cabbage, cucumbers and other things.  How convenient to have ready salted water on hand, thought Barnaby.

  8. Granny knows


    Thumbnail image for SmAnawood0001.jpg“Bunică ştie” is something you might find yourself observing on numerous occasions while spending time in the villages of Transylvania.  For every grandmother you would have the good fortune to meet would know an awful lot, about everything.  And everybody knows that granny knows (best).

    She knows about looking after animals, and bringing up the grandchildren.  She knows how to milk the cows and turn the milk into butter and cheese.  She knows how to butcher the pig and turn it into bacon, ham, salami and more.  She can make …


  9. Stuck in the mud near Glod

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    Smcarinmud0001.JPGWith hindsight, we can see that we made several less-than-perfect decisions on the day we left Săpântă to go exploring rural Maramureş in northern Romania.  

    Firstly, it was not a great idea to take the cross-country back roads through the hills on the first sunny day after heavy snow, however enticing the little village names looked on the map.  Secondly, we failed to pick up on the signals when several ‘roads’ we tried disintegrated into streams/fields/forests …


  10. Testing the waters

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    Smbarnabyvaltoare0001.JPGToday Barnaby happened upon this whirlpool bath while exploring the village of Săpânta in the beautiful Maramureş region of Romania. 

    At first he thought it must be some kind of jacuzzi for small people like him, and he would’ve jumped in were it not so very cold.

    Later he discovered it is in fact a vâltoare – a cunning eco-washing machine, created by tapping off a stream from the river and channelling it into a large slatted basin. 

    It’s used by the women of the village to wash the rugs they have woven so as to fluff the tassles and tighten the weave.  Each rug has a little coloured thread at the edge to identify its creator.  The women of Săpânta are famous for their rugs, and have been using vâltoare to finish them off for decades, if not hundreds of years.

    Being fluffy enough already, Barnaby opted to buy one of the lovely rugs rather than jump in the vâltoare with them.