In Bulgaria the four seasons are very different. There is a vast difference between the hot and dry Mediterranean summers and the snow covered -20°C winters. Whilst we relished the chance to experience ‘proper’ seasons in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, we had become used to the all-year-round availability of fruit and vegetables in UK supermarkets. Large scale commercial foods are well known for lacking quality in taste and nutrients and it was our first visit to Bulgaria that made us realise just how delicious vegetables should be. We instantly understood why this country’s restaurants always had 2 pages of salads on their menus. The tomatoes were so tasty we stopped buying them back home and only ate those I grew in my garden.
Generally, the UK supermarket tomatoes suffer because they are picked early in order to travel a distance. Sun has a lot to do with ripening and Bulgaria has the most sunny days in Europe. Also pesticides are forbidden in these mountains as they are protected reserves. Supermarkets are also guilty of wasting huge quantities of veg by only buying-in perfectly shaped specimens. An odd shaped tomato in Bulgaria tastes just as delicious and potatoes with a few blemishes or holes made by critters gnawing, confirms to me they haven’t been covered with pesticides.
When we made the decision to move to Bulgaria we knew we would have to adapt our diets to more seasonal food. A small price to pay but our palates have not suffered. Following local customs, I have managed to keep a wide variety of organic produce available throughout the year using different storage methods. Fresh is always best though and spinach and lettuce are the easiest to grow in winter though surprisingly I’ve succeeded in growing some out-of-season plants indoors. Currently, tomatoes are swelling on the vines!
Nutritionists tell us how a varied diet gives all the nutrients our bodies require but it also makes food interesting. As evidence of this I only have to observe my animals. They have their favourites of course but too much of one thing can be detrimental to health and also creates boredom. Simple ‘hay’ is very bland and weeds like chickweed, clover, dandelion and poppies, actually make a much more appetising meal. We have a large meadow garden, full of many different kinds of wild grasses and flowering plants, which are a major attraction to a multitude of butterflies and botanists. However, when the growing season is over and its time to harvest the hay for winter, I no longer despair at the wild pea that snakes through the grass as my rabbits love eating it, fresh or dried, including the pretty purple flowers and especially the seed pods.
In preparation for winter, to supplement my reserves of hay and increase the choice even more, I collect and fill lots of sacks with fallen leaves. My rabbits enjoy leaves from all the fruit trees and the donkey loves the walnut leaves from our huge tree. And they also enjoy stripping the bark off branches as sweet sticky sap (the tree’s life blood) is below. So when I trim back tree branches growing too close to electric lines, balancing high up in treetops wielding long-handled loppers, they are welcomed by the animals and later, when all the bark is stripped, become kindling for our woodburner. I never like to see anything wasted and to achieve several good results from my one daredevil endeavour makes me feel very happy indeed 🙂
Something else I learned from my animals was one day, watching the donkey as he grazed our lawn, he moved under a plum tree and sought out old fallen fruits. Hardly any flesh left on them at all, very dry and he crunched the stones well before swallowing. We are warned by health bodies not to eat fruit pits and not to give to animals because they contain a very small amount of cyanide. However all fruit seeds also contain B17 and there are many reports of the anti-cancer benefits of this vitamin. Many like plum, apricot and peach seeds have kernels inside the stones, with high concentrates of B17, and taste like almonds or marzipan. Easier to obtain without the hard stone to crack are apple, pear and quince seeds. Also strawberries, mulberries and raspberries though less amounts of B17 so a lot more are needed. However all must be chewed to release the goodness. The good news is a small number (1 peach kernel or 5 apple seeds) won’t cause you any problems. Many times when I give apple to my rabbits, they eat all the fruit and but not all the seeds. They seem to know they should be eaten according to body size. Every time I eat an apple, I seek out the seeds and crunch them too. With other fruit I store the stones in the fridge for cracking later and have been doing so for over 3 years. So the donkey showed me this is not a crazy thing to do and I think we should take heed of animals more often.