June 25, 2015

Paprika: A History

When it comes to Romanian cuisine, paprika is a staple spice.

However, paprika and the plant that it is derived from, is not indigenous to the region, or the continent of Europe.

So how does a spice from another country become a cultural staple? The plant family that the chillies that Paprika derive from (Capsicum annuum) are native to North and South America.

The chili pepper, in its various colors, sizes and heat have been used in the Americas (North, Central and South) cuisine since 7500 BC.

The introduction of the spice to Europe happened in the early 1500's by Spain and Portugal.

Over the course of this post I will look at the connection that would bring a plant that originated in North and South America come to grow in Spain and Hungary, in turn be introduced into Romanian cuisine.

The original expedition that Christopher Columbus took in 1492 he was looking for a way to Asia for the spice trade. The Silk Road had become too dangerous after the Ottoman Turks invaded Constantinople. They looked to the sea to sail around all the danger on land.

In 1493 Christopher Columbus encountered chilies when he landed in the Caribbean. Columbus was also the first to use the term "peppers" as they were similarly used like black and white pepper from Europe.

However it was Columbus' physician Diego Álvarez Chanca, that brought the plant to the Old World and studied their medicinal purposes. Columbus returned to Spain in 1504.

Chilies plants were brought to various monasteries and were grown in monastery gardens throughout Spain and Portugal as curiosities. It was the monks that experimented with the chilis and found that they could be a substitute for black peppercorns that were exceedingly costly.

map dated 1519
map c. 1500s
When the chilies spread from Spain and Portugal, they made their way through to India where there was a large population of Portuguese in the region of Goan. It was from Goan that the chilies made there way through Asia, Turkey and into Hungary.

Once Hungary started growing their own plants, paprika was added to their culinary soups, stews and meat dishes.

With Hungary and Romania having had poor relations since the middle ages, the food and the spice spread with the invading parties.

With the Ottoman wars in the 1500's battling over land, Hungary and Transylvania, borders have been drawn and redrawn for 150 years. With the land dispute and the insurgence of Hungary into Transylvania and Romania, this brings paprika into the Transylvanian and Romanian dishes that are a part of their culture.

The cultural food of Romania is influenced by Hungarian, German, Serbian and Bulgarian, not only brought in from conflict but from their common borders that they share.

With time, paprika evolved. Modern day paprika is sweet, but it wasn't always so. The chillies had a spicy taste and heat, that is associated with chilies, to them until 1920.

A farmer in Szeged, Hungary found that one of his plants produced sweet chillies. This lead to the sweeter, and more recognized, and wider used paprika today.

Paprika does still come in various heat levels. But when looking at traditional Romanian dishes (Papricaş, a goulash dish served with rice and Piftie, usually an appetizer, a gelatinous like form that is made with meat and seasonings as examples) will let you know how spicy or sweet that the paprika needs to be for the dish to stay authentic.

Today, with the surge of home cooking back in style, websites and cookbooks are now looking back to cultural and heritage dishes being made once again.

For example, 70 Classic Recipes From Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia & Slovenia by Lesley Chamberlain and Trish Davies range in price from $11.99 on Amazon.com to $13.99 on chapters.indigo.ca was just released in 2014.

There is even apps for recipes, Recipes of Romania Pro for Android is free and RomCook on the App Store is a full color, interactive app that not only had recipes but traditional folk music to listen to. There is a cost to RomCook, it's $1.19, but if you are trying your hand at a family favorite for the first time, getting an app would be fast, easy to use and little monetary investment.

Gătit fericit! (Happy cooking)

June 15, 2015

The Future of the Romanian Royal Family

Since 1947, there has been no monarchy in Romania.

Romanian Royal Family
Royal Family of Romania
King Michael of Romania, was king twice in the history of Romania.  He had fond memories of being with his grandmother, Queen Marie of Romania in Bran Castle, where she had a royal residence. King Michael is also one of the last monarchs, politicians or military commanders who were leaders during the Second World War.

He is personally seen favourably by many Romanians, but the future of the Romanian Royal Family is uncertain- and their role in Romania.  He has changed the House laws so that four of his five daughters can claim the headship of the Romanian Royal House. His eldest daughter, known as the Crown Princess of Romania, is not as respected as her father.

King Michael of Romania
Michael of Romania
The Crown Princess is active in Romania, but when the population is asked about her as a future monarch, people say they do not respect her as much as they do her father.

This is, in many respects similar to many long reigning monarchs the heir is not as respected as the current monarch.  It is similar to the role of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and her son, the Prince of Wales.  Come September of 2015, she will become the longest reigning monarch in British history.  Her son, the heir, is the longest to wait for the crown.

Also, the future lies with the Crown Princess's sister and nephew.  Prince Nicolas of Romania, lives in Romania and he is third in line to the defunct throne of Romania.  King Michael is the glue, and there is another family issue at stake here.

Without King Michael, there will be less unity within the family.  As with many Royal families, both on the throne and off, there are more than simply one pretender to the throne.  In this case, this is due to the first marriage of his father, King Carol II who married a Romanian commoner, and had a child with her.  This was against the constitution of Romania, and the child, a son, was not allowed to be a part of the Royal Family.  Michael is the only child and son of Carol's second marriage to Queen Mother Helen. Carol's first child was a son, Mircea, who was not allowed to be King or have any royal titles.

Later he would be called Prince Mircea of Romania, but born as Carol Lambrino, was the eldest son, and did not contest the throne of Romania, but his eldest son has.  This is where the potential problems lie in the future of the Romanian Royal family. King Michael is still popular but is not as needed as the Romanian Royal House cares to think.

It is not as needed as natural resources in Romania, the royal family has been without a throne in Romania since the forced abdication of King Michael.  The future of the Royal House depends on the people after a well respected former monarch.

June 10, 2015

Natural Resource: Romanian Salt

Is Salt a Natural Resource in Romania?

Natural Resource Transylvania
Salt Mine of Saline Turda
Salt is probably the last things that you would think is a historically significant resource since the post about Gold in the Carpathian Mountains. However, the salt mine, Salina Turda, located in Durgău-Valea Sărată area of Turda has been a tourist destination since 1992.

But before being reopened as a place for tourists to see how salt was mined and to relax in the theme park like environment, this mine was providing salt as far back as the antiquity (not able to pinpoint and exact date, however we are talking in the BC years).

In the middle ages it provided table salt, 1075 was the earliest written mention of the mine, up until 1932 when the mine was closed. The salt deposits themselves, date back to approximately 13.5 million years ago. The mines where all carved by hand and machinery, never once using explosives.

When the mine was first written about it was under Roman occupation.

The exploitation of the Romans in the Salt quarries were rectangular and with upturned steps. Once they hit a depth of 12-15m and it was too deep to get the salt up the inclined planes at one of the quarries end the site was abandoned and another one started.  

After the Romans withdrew from the area and then up until the 11th century there were no longer evidence that the salt was being exploited by an outside influence. Its then believed that the salt was then used for the countries internal needs and then exporting it to the neighboring countries as needed.

The salt mine in Turda made mention in another document dated May 1st, 1271. It was offered to the Head of the Catholic Church of Transylvania.

It did not say of what purpose of the offering or if the Head of the Church accepted. The salt mines dropped out of the historical spotlight but resurfaced in 1552.

After a decrease in the mining rhythm, royal inspectors were sent to report back on the quality of the salt, the method that is used to remove the salt and the quality of the workers. In the 17th century the salt was in growing demand which increased the importance in the mining of the resource. So important that the salt mines were controlled directly by the Imperial Court.

In 1690 mining began around the perimeter of the actual salt mine. Wells named Theresa (Terezia) and St. Anthony (Anton) were opened.

Not until 1867, when Johann Fridwaldsky a mineralogist, published a book "Minerlogia Magni Principatus Transilvaniae did the world really see the scope of the salt mine. Johann Fridwaldsky presented the mines in great detail, the way they were built, salt conveyance, how the workers avoided getting water and the condition of the miners themselves.

Within the workers he also detailed which one were trades people and which ones were "unqualified workers" and to which mine that they worked on.

All extraction of salt was stopped in 1932 (however, after searching multiple sources I can't find the reason why they stopped).

After being closed down the mine had other functions before turning into a tourist attraction that it is today. During World War II the mines were used as bomb shelters and the humidity was just right for storing cheese. Theresa mine is still in use today as part of the attraction. At 370 feet deep, visitors can rent boats to take a tour of the mine, along with many other fantastic places.

Pictures of Salina Turda are breathtaking, a complete marvel of engineering for the time.

But until I get over my claustrophobia, pictures of the cramped hallways are the closest I'm getting to the mine.

June 2, 2015

Transylvania Legend: Haunting of Cârţa Monastery

Before we dive into the haunting of Cârţa Monastery we must first know of the building and it's inhabitants.

The Cârţa Monastery
The Cârţa Monastery
The Cârţa Monastery was built circa 1206, exact dates are a little hard to pinpoint. Several documents point to dates for the completion of the monastery. Some dates set completion of the first building as early as 1204, but for the most part, 1206 is the date that comes up most when I research. Built in the Ţara Făgăraşului region, located in Southern Transylvania. It now houses a Lutheran Evangelical church however when it was built it housed the Cistercian Order, a mix of Catholic and Anglican monks and nuns, also known as the Benedictine order. The monastery was built first by the Cistercian Order, using materials that would return to the earth, like wood. This would be the first building that would have been erected. A few years later a stone chapel was built close to the to the original chapel.

They were referred to as the "white" monk's because of the white choir robe that they wore over their habits. The monastery, at times was overcrowded with the Monks, sleeping many more in the rooms than designed for.

Poor living conditions the monks seldom lived past the age of 40. They were then buried in the yard of the monastery. Also, in modern times they buried soldiers from the First World War.

Upon excavation of an area of this site there were remains of two men found.

The oddity of it was that both men were over 6 and a half feet tall. Now the average height of men hasn't changed too much, even since the middle ages, only a few inches. But since the time period was not kind to people who were visually different, they were sent to live in monasteries.

It was in the cellar that these two bodies were uncovered. The same place that strange things have been observed by the priests that serve there. Chairs move on their own and the walls seem to vibrate.

Upon numerous searches I couldn't find much about the hauntings there, however because of their ghosts people flock to it every year. Not only to take in the paranormal but the architecture as well.

The monastery is located 43 Kilometers from Sibiu. It attracts thousands of people every year for the legend that it is haunted by the monks that resided there in medieval times. But what is truly interesting is that this monastery has some unusual ties.

Sigismund, The Holy Roman Emperor, issued a document about the monastery in 1418. Sigismund founded The Order of the Dragon, described in an earlier post to protect Christianity in Europe.

Also, Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary, disbanded the monastery in 1474. Matthias Corvinus was the King that impression Vlad the Impaler in 1462.

Vlad the Impaler was also a part of The Order of The Dragon and the inspiration for the monster Dracula.

An interesting place to visit not only for the chance ghost sighting but the place it hold in Romanian and Transylvanian history.