Parallel rows of short houses with colorful shutters and hexagonal facades painted blue, purple and green line the wide dirt roads in the Siebenbürgen (seven villages) of Transylvania. In front of each one is an old pear tree, and just behind the gate is a cobbled farmyard. Further in, there is a henhouse. These villages have been inhabited by the Saxons for eight centuries. Summoned to Romania at the beginning of the 13th century by King Geza II of Hungary to rebuff raiding Muslims, the Saxons settled in this narrow swath of land in the Carpathians. They constructed fortified churches, cultivated the land and spread their culture. With the end of Communism in 1989, most returned to Germany, abandoning everything, including the blankets on their beds and dishes on their tables. Today, Siebenbürgen is a sort of lost paradise, inhabited by Romanians, Saxons, Hungarians and Roma.
Cell phones don’t work in the villages and there are no cars – only horse-drawn carriages, children, elderly people, dogs, cats, flocks of geese and silence. At night, the cows return to the stalls in small groups from the surrounding pastures. Their milk, sold to large companies, is the area’s only economic resource. The few cheeses produced here are mostly fresh and kept for household consumption along with cured meats and numerous fruit preserves. These jams, compotes and dulciazia (a type of very sweet fruit syrup) are homemade with fruit harvested from gardens or gathered from the surrounding woods.
The most interesting preserves are those made with rhubarb, wild fruit (dog-rose, mirabelle plums, strawberries and blueberries) or apples and cinnamon. The use of cinnamon is very ancient and tied to Mitteleuropean traditions, as this region was once a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Women prepare this extraordinary variety of preserves for their families, changing the recipes according to the season in order to make use of their home fruit gardens. Traditionally, the preserves are eaten at breakfast with bread or used in sweets and pastries. The recipes are very simple and consist of fruit, sugar and, in some cases, a small addition of natural pectin (made with unripe apples). The mixtures are cooked slowly over the fire, although not for too long, in order to preserve the taste and smell of the fresh fruit.
The project was made possible through Slow Food’s collaboration with Fundatia ADEPT, which has been operating in Romania since 2004 and has opened a tourist information center in one of the villages where local produce is on sale. A group of women package the preserves in glass jars and sell it in hand-made baskets crafted by one of the local families. A food production unit has been built where Presidium producers will work together as the Tarnava Mare Producers Association. A course on pruning will also be organized in order to help the families improve the yield of their fruit trees.
Saxon villages of Transylvania
Adept Foundation, Transylvania Food Company
Gherda Gherghiceanu Transylvania Food Company
tel. +40 752264580