Home grown soup: Craftsmanship and livelihoods Romanian style

One of our favourite family pastimes is to imagine our lives ‘in the event of …[insert major catastrophe]’ asking ourselves what would our lives look like if the national grid went down? How would we manage without electricity? How would we feed and heat ourselves and what skills would we need to learn to survive. Would we cope?


We have always been interested in craftsmanship, in making and doing things that have a tangible link to our survival and we are drawn to people who have practical and useful skills. Whereas modern Western living can feel very far from that type of existence, the country of Romania is abundant with these skills! 

Baskets of every shape and size in the Chiscau museum, Apuseni Mountains
Craft skills bring us closer to that ‘survivalist’ existence, being as they are, geared towards making things that are both ‘beautiful and useful’. 
We were attracted to Romania because of the craftsmanship and authenticity evident in the everyday living there. There, at least in the countryside where we were staying, fruit, nuts and vegetables are home grown, most families keep chickens and other animals for milk and cheesemaking as well as meat and the locals work to a 'make do and mend' philosophy, that we have largely lost in the UK.

Spoon carver at Sibiu market
Our assessment of how well the Romanians might cope in the event of modern world collapse would therefore be ‘very well’! They have the essential skills of survival in abundance. To most of the Romanians we met on our trip, raising all of their own food and eating only very locally grown produce was very much part of everyday living. They did not seem to consider this way of life a craft or a skill; simply how they did things and we loved this!

Happy home grown chickens in Romania
Travelling around Romania, we stayed mainly in rural Pensiuneas, where you can get a spotlessly clean room and bathroom for the night for around £25. In one village, the owner and cook showed us a bag of mushrooms she had collected that afternoon on the mountain, before explaining that everything we saw on our plates had been raised in her back garden. And it was truly delicious; you could certainly taste the difference and we returned home full of plans as to how we could make our own lives in the UK more self-sustaining, healthy, and nutritious. 
One of our favourite places was in the Apuseni Mountains in a village called Chiscau, where you can walk inside a massive ancient cave to marvel at cathedrals of stalactites and cave bear skeletons from 25,000 years ago. 
In the middle of the village of Chiscau, we came across a private museum of rural life, a treasure trove of basketry, weaving, metalwork and textiles from generations past. We saw lots of horses and carts going about their business and people hand scything in the fields, so the whole countryside can feel like being in a time warp! 

Loom from a Weaver's house at the Muzeul Astra near Sibiu
Passing through Sibiu, we stopped off at the Mezeul Astra, an open-air museum of Romanian life, where we could wander among 300 or so replica homes and buildings from Romanian civilisation.  This huge park celebrates traditional folk civilisation and we enjoyed visiting the homes of blacksmiths, weavers and potters and admiring the resourcefulness of the people who once lived in them.  
Home grown chicken soup 

Home grown Romanian chicken soup
“Eat bad in Romania and get fat as a cotton ball.” 
So says our hostess and cookery tutor as she explains that home grown meat and vegetables is so much healthier and tastier. I was delighted to receive a couple of recipes from her with the struct instruction that the main ingredients must not be shop bought. 
Whilst the ingredients we use for the chicken soup below are not many, you can’t easily get them, as the chicken must be free range and home reared, the vegetables home grown and the noodles handmade. 
The soup we make is a very simple Banat Chicken soup , with home made noodles . While the pot is boiling, we chat (via Google translate) about their land and livestock and way of life. 
What we are making today is called ‘Supa’ in Romain, which translates as soup but we realised is really more of a ‘broth’ whereas if they refer to ‘Ciorba’, this is more of a thick soup, full of hearty ingredients. 
Ingredients for the chicken broth: the liver is removed once boiling
Our hosts keep around 30-40 chickens, who wander around the very large garden along with a band of friendly dogs who do the important job of keeping the foxes away. Every so often they kill a few chickens, pluck and freeze. 
Ingredients: Romanian chicken soup with noodles 
Parsley root 
Chicken liver 
A chicken rooster – ideally home grown 
Vegeta stock 
Peel and make cross cuts into the root vegetables and place in fresh water with the carefully washed chicken carcass and onion. 
Rinse and cover with fresh water and place it all together in a pressure cooker.
Add 1 heaped teaspoon of salt. 
Wait for it to boil, take the liver out and put the lid on. 
Boil in the pressure cooker for 30-45 minutes. 
Strain the meat and vegetables out (keeping them for another dish). 
Add one heaped tablespoon of Vegeta stock powder. 
Add simple homemade noodles (eggs and flour). 
In just a few minutes the noodles will be ready (don’t overcool or they will thicken the soup too much). 
When you see the noodles soften a bit in the broth, turn off the soup and taste test with a spoon.

Replica of a textile traders home at the Muzeul Astra, Romania
All around Romania are living examples of craftsmanship; most notably for us was the animal husbandry and home grown food. Home-made honey and preserves, cheese, sausage, fruits and nuts are sold everywhere by the roadside and taste utterly gorgeous. We brought many goodies home as well as a really fabulous cookbook ‘Carpathia’ by Irina Gorgescu, originally from Transylvania but now living in Wales like us!

Collection of Romanian embroidery at the Muzeul Astra, Sibiu
Romania was an adventure, one that fulfilled and even exceeded our expectations. It was surprising and yet had a familiarity about it that was both comforting (yes we could probably survive post-catastrophe), and thought-provoking. Anybody who has reservations about going should put them aside and embrace a truly fascinating and welcome change from the Western norms we all take for granted.

You can purchase Irina's book 'Carpathia' from WoB
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