Sugar in a Jar

Dear Reader,

Let me show you an ancient sugar jar I found in my Wallachian village of Bregovo, located in the north-westernmost corner of Bulgaria: 

The inscription says CUKR, which is Sugar in Romanian, Who knows where this has been bought...at a village fair or perhaps someone brought it as present from Romania?
The inscription says CUKR, which is Sugar in Romanian and resembles ZUCCHERO in Italian. Who knows where this had been bought…at a village fair or perhaps someone had brought it as a present from Romania?

I took it not because I intend to actually use it – its lid does not fit tightly, and I do not use much sugar anyway. But I liked it for being old and mysterious and appreciated it as a decorative item too.

This is the jar on my cook book and knick-knack shelf in the kitchen.
This is the jar on my cook book and knick-knack shelf in the kitchen.

Since it is late and I am in a reckless mood, I might just as well tell you that I consider sugar the top alimentary scourge of the present day, responsible for many of the so-called “lifestyle diseases,” affecting populations in developed and emerging economies alike. 

In Bulgaria at least, sugar gained popularity and mass availability after WWII, when it became synonymous with healthy, modern and nutritious food, necessary for repleting one’s energy needs. 

I like filling this sugar bowl with honeycomb. Honey is still sugar, but a bit, early in the morning, with walnuts is delicious and healthy.
I like filling this sugar bowl with honeycomb. Honey is still sugar, but a bit, early in the morning, with walnuts, is delicious and healthy, because of the wax.

My mom, who was born in 1962, tells me that when she was a small girl, sugar was sold in packets on which the following inscription was printed: “Sugar Gives You Health! Sugar Gives You Strength!”. A typical communist propaganda-style slogan, by the way…Plus, the communists used to publish books and brochures boasting how they had increased the per capita caloric availability and intake of the population after the war-time starvation imposed by the “fascists”… Sugar is energy-dense, so perfect for such kind of statistics…:). 

The widening availability of sugar as well as its palatability and diversity in application, have somehow managed to convince people that it is healthy or at least innocuous. Not so, in addition to its being highly addictive, but I am not going to lecture on health here. 

Would you like to sty some?
Would you like to try some? 😉 This amount usually lasts me for a week to 10 days.

Instead, I thought to show you the shop window of the traditional candy shop of open-air 19th-century crafts museum Etara (Етъра), accent on the first E, near the central Bulgarian town of Gabrovo in the Balkans, which I visited at the end of May.

Entrance to the Etara.
Entrance to the Etara. The museum is designed as one long street in the mountains, with shops and craft workshops on both sides, like in a 19th-century village.
A river flowing through the Etara. This river plays a vital role in powering many of the craft machinery.
A river flowing through the Etara. This river plays a vital role in powering many of the craft machinery.

An occasional treat from a place like that won’t kill you, I am not as extremist as that…:) Still, when you habitually don’t eat sugar, you don’t crave it and if you bring yourself to actually taste one of these treats, you find out that they look much better than they taste. Meaning that by just looking at them you have already got the better part of the experience. 🙂

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People queuing in front of the candy shop. Items for sale include various types of Turkish delight, halva, coloured candy, merengues, a very dense prune jam that can be cut with a knife, and crispy walnut-and-eggwhite cookies.

Etara was designed as an open-air museum in the 1960s, to showcase the crafts Bulgarians engaged in during the 19th century. The original idea was for each hut to showcase a craft and have an actual craftsman working in it according to the technology of the times for the tourists to see. Nowadays, however, actual work is done only in textile spinning and weaving, bread baking, candy making, icon painting and copperware production.

There were craftsmen making wooden bowls too but the items for sale also included IKEA-style bamboo bowls, which are as light as a feather, don’t smell of wood and are somehow plastic-y to the touch. It is obvious they had not been produced in Etara and I found it offensive that they were on sale there. Anyway. 

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The merengue photo did not come out very clear but look at those merengues…They are made like a sandwich, with a walnut and lemon zest filling in between. I adored merengues as a child. And I used to make a terrific lemon merengue pie back in the days when I made sweets. 🙂
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How about some halva? These do look delicious. I did not taste them though. I remember when my son was a baby, I used to make home-made candy – boil sugar while measuring the correct temperature with a thermometer – all the bells and whistles. I once made delicious butterscotch candy, which I took to my aunt as a present when I once visited. There, her father, who was about 80, tasted it and was just saying how excellent the candy was , when one of his false teeth stuck to the sugary mass and he had to pay for dental work to have it repaired…So easy on the chewy stuff 🙂
This is a traditional box for halva of the Communist times
This is a traditional box for halva of the Communist times. I took it from the village I described in the post titled Oblivion. As I age, I have to pay attention to not become a Plyushkin – this is a character from a book by 19th-century Russian novelist Nikolay Gogol, who in Bulgarian is used as a synonym of a hoarder – a person holding on to everything and not throwing anything away. 🙂
The halva box showing the inscription.
The halva box showing the inscription.

Speaking of halva, in that candy shop which claimed it was a replica of one that existed in 1860, I bought something which was not locally produced (the candy shop guys, similarly to the woodenware ones, have obviously been outsourcing :)).

It was a concoction titled A Healthy Halva, which wasn’t bad actually. It was still sweet, so do not indulge too much if you decide to try it – I’ll list the ingredients in a second. If not you, your children might benefit from that, they are growing and need their energy. We, who are midway upon the journey of our life, as poet Dante Alighieri puts it, are a different story. 🙂

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Tag says, A Sugar Workshop, 1860.
The healthy halva was called Balance :)
The healthy halva was called Balance 🙂

The ingredients are: rolled oats, oat bran, olive oil, whole-grain breadcrumbs, honey, sunflower seeds, cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, wheat bran, pumpkin tahini, sunflower tahini, sesame tahini, flax seed oil, unrefined sunflower oil, cornmeal. It had a crumbly structure and had to be eaten with a spoon. It is eatable, I promise. 🙂 

The menu of the traditional coffee shop. I wish I had that for the <h ref=
Coffee shop menu.
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Interior of the coffee shop, where the coffee was prepared. Just look at that great copper kettle! This would look great in my kitchen. 😛 Or in the bathroom as decoration 🙂 The roses above the sink are adorable too.
Coffee shop interior again.
Coffee shop interior, different angle.

The prices at this shop were exorbitant by the way…And the coffee – way too thin for my taste, which was a surprise, as Turkish coffee in a cezve is supposed to be thick… The coffee shop owners, like many of their colleagues across Etara, were cutting corners too! Except for the prices. I’ve never seen anyone cut corners about the prices.

So the menu included: Coffee boiled on hot sand; White jam (I wrote what that is here); Fruit juice; Mineral water; Soft drinks; Fruit liquor of an unspecified variety; Nut-and-eggwhite cookies; Shortbread cookies; Merengues; Turkish delight on a stick; Small assorted cookies and Pestil, which is the very thick prune jam shaped as a cuboid (a rectangular prism) and cut with a knife.

Turkish delight with walnuts and roses. I occasionally have a bite of the rose-flavoured one, I love it.
Turkish delight with walnuts and roses. I occasionally have a bite of the rose-flavoured variety, I love it.
A charming old-style balcony at one of the houses at Etara.
A charming old-style balcony at one of the craft workshops at Etara.
I want such hooks in my kitchen too, so that I can dry herbs on them. :) Oregano, peppermint and lemon balm for tisanes, drying and scenting the kitchen, how nice is that?
I want such hooks in my kitchen too, so that I can dry herbs on them. 🙂 Oregano, peppermint and lemon balm for tisanes or cooking, drying and scenting the kitchen, how nice is that?
These are two types of rose petal jam - I am a fan of those too. The darker one is Greek, it also contains honey and cold from the fridge is absolutely awesome. The rosier one is from Koprivshtitsa and smells of rosa damascena through and through.
These are two types of rose petal jam – I am a huge fan. The darker one is Greek, it also contains honey and tastes absolutely awesome cold from the fridge. Higher temperatures blunt its taste. The rosier one was bought in Koprivshtitsa and smells of rosa damascena through and through.

Finally, something posher and more hipster-style:

Bulgarian hand-made, vegan, organic and whatnot dark chocolate with rose water.
Bulgarian hand-made, vegan, organic, raw and whatnot dark chocolate with rose water. It was rather expensive, about BGN 3 (EUR 1.5) per 27 g. I have been bringing my own lunch to the office for months, so I can afford to occasionally splurge on such silly things. But rarely, I would much rather splurge on books. 🙂 Or clothes. When I imagine an ill-fitting piece of clothing, my desire to splurge on chocolate vanishes right away. 😛
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Last week I went to the prophylactic medical examinations graciously provided by my employer, and I bought the above book, alongside two more, from the hospital book pavilion. One was for my son, but the other two – for me 🙂 The one pictured above is a student’s book called Bulgarian Symbolist Poets. As you know, I adore poetry, but some of the verses in this selection are of such a nature that would hardly help anyone’s convalescence… I found that amusing.

As a musical complement to this post, please accept Metallica’s cover of traditional Irish song Whiskey in a Jar – a great piece for driving and cooking. 

Despite my love of classical guitar and music, deep down I am a heavy-metal gal, you know? 🙂

Just please disregard the video – it is horrible and I do not approve of it :).

Really, play at top volume but only listen…I love James Hetfield’s voice by the way. He mostly shouts, but is so macho 😛 And I like his power stance and large white teeth too 😛

And since we talked so much of roses of late, let me show you what a rosy damsel I once was…

Oh, that's kind of at my wedding...So long ago! But the dress still fits me. That's because, at my home, sugar rarely leaves the jar :P
Oh, that’s kind of at my wedding…So long ago! But the dress still fits me :)) That’s because, at my home, sugar rarely leaves the jar 😛