Madara Horseman

A day trip from Wild Thyme Eco Retreat

Just over an hour’s drive from Wild Thyme is the archaeological site of Madara.  It is the unique carving of the horse and rider that has earned world heritage status for this site, but there are many other archaeological treasures here.

The Madara horseman is a stone carving high up on the cliff face and is surrounded by Greek inscriptions commemorating the victories of three Bulgarian Tsars from the 8th and 9th centuries AD.  The ruins of their capitals at Pliska and Veliki Preslav are just down the road but here at Madara was their cult centre.

There are temples and other ritual sites which date from the old Bulgarian period just before the conversion to Christianity. It was already a special place before this time and the eerie rock face and caves were used by the Thracians for temples.  The museum exhibits some of the Thracian finds which includes a marble slab carved with the signs of the zodiac.

Later on, the cliff face was peppered with caves used by Christian hermits and the plateau above the cliff was the site of a medieval fortress.  Occupied over so many centuries, it is easy to see why Madara has earned the title ‘the Bulgarian Troy’.

You can drive yourself to the site or join a Wild Thyme guided archaeological tour.

Tall Ships Varna

The Tall Ships are coming to Varna between 30 April and 3 May 2014.  We missed the event in Derry, my home town, a few years ago so we're excited about it coming to Varna, only 2 hours from Wild Thyme.  The Black Sea is a beautiful stretch of water with an amazing coastline, wonderful nature and historic cities with interesting archaeology.

There will be 50 Tall Ships taking part which will be an amazing spectacle.  From Bulgaria, there will be Kaliakra and Royal Helena and Mir, Kruzenshtern, Sedov and Nadezhda from Russia.

 

Curing hams

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We’re making our first attempt at curing hams.  There are 3 stages to the process.  The first stage to submerge the whole of the back leg in brine for a week to 10 days.  The brine is a sweet one which includes salt, sugar and saltpeter.  The room should be about 8 degrees centigrade.

After the 10 days, we washed the hams thoroughly to get rid of all the salt and hung them up to dry.  It is very important that they are totally dry.  The saltpeter has been absorbed by the meat and now they are now in a fridge to ‘equlaise’.  This means that in the next 12 days the saltpeter will continue to cure the meat.

Watch this space for stage 3….

Sowing tomato seeds

Growing tomato plants from seeds

Our first seeds of the season are tomatoes.  Growing tomato plants from seeds takes a little bit of care but once established tomato plants are fairly hardy.  We have them all wrapped up in a blanket and plastic covering by the wood burning stove.  Tomato seed germination occurs at a fairly constant temperature of 21 degrees.

They don't want to be too wet so we watered the soil and left it for a few days by the stove to warm up.  Then sprinkled various varieties on top, including cherry tomato seeds, and covered with a sprinkling of dry seeding composting.  Finally a sprinkling of water.

Saving tomato seeds from last year's crop is the cheapest and best way to get your seed.  Most of these are ones we saved from organic varieties we bought previously and others are from tried and tested varieties our neighbours gave us. 

Homemade Scotch Eggs

Scotch eggs recipe

Our favourite recipe for making our own scotch eggs:

Ingredients:

1kg sausagemeat (seasoned with salt, pepper, sage, nutmeg)

150g dried breadcrumbs

10 hard boiled eggs, with shells removed

Beat 2 eggs with a tblsp of water

Dip hard boiled eggs into the beaten egg and cover them with a coat of sausagemeat. Roll the covered eggs in the beaten egg and roll in breadcrumbs. Dip fry in hot oil until golden brown.

A good tip is to keep the layer of meat quite thin and make sure the oil is not too hot, otherwise the breadcrumb coating burns before the meat is cooked.  Time the frying of the first batch of eggs and cut one in half to see if the meat is cooked.  Then adjust the timing accordingly.

Mini Scotch Eggs

Recipe for homemade scotch eggs

Scotch eggs are not found in Balkan cuisine but our friends Toi from Spain and Borislav from Bulgaria were intrigued when they saw them on our blog last year.  So they had a go at making their own versions of Scotch eggs and sent us some photos:

‘Here there are the pictures of Scotch eggs. There were delicious although  it was not that easy. We wanted the eggs not to be hard, but medium or soft inside, so that when you cut it all the yolk spread over the meat.

After several tries we got it but it was very difficult to wrap it with the meat because it was very
soft.’

Making scotch eggs with quail eggs

‘The small egg  is a quail egg with a piece of my home made focaccia. The quail egg was very difficult to peel so that
we decided it was not worthy to make it with such a small egg.

These 6 Scotch eggs took us more than 2 hours but we enjoyed it very much.’

Balkan Cuisine

Bulgarian cuisine: Stuffed cabbage leaves

One of the joys of living in Bulgaria is learning the traditional village recipes.  A favourite winter dish across the Balkans is stuffed cabbage leaves. Having preserved cabbages through lactofermentation (see our previous blog), this is a delicious and healthy way to eat them up.  The soft texture and tangy flavour of the lactofermented cabbage gives them a unique taste sensation!  This is a traditional recipe which involves stuffing the leaves with meat and rice.  I make a vegetarian version swapping the meat for peppers, courgettes or whatever vegetable is available.  This recipe comes from The Melting Pot: Balkan Food and Cookery by Maria Kaneva-Johnson.

You'll need:

20 sauerkraut leaves with thick central rib cut away; 2-3 tblsp of sauerkraut liquid (very good for the digestion); 1 tbsp veg oil

Stuffing:

400g pork finely minced; an onion finely chopped; 2 tbsp veg oil; 50g round/short grain rice; black pepper

Mix stuffing ingredients together and moisten with a little water.

Lay leaf on flat surface with vein facing up.  Place a ball of stuffing on the vine leaf.  Fold over top of leaf and then sides and roll up tightly.

Put the oil in shallow pan and cover with a few loose cabbage leaves.  Pack stuffed cabbage rolls on top in a single layer. Place a plate on top to hold them down and cover in a mix of water and sauerkraut liquid.  Put a lid on and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender.