What remains of herbal teas brought back from Romania last summer, foraged by my ‘honorary grandmother’

I began to appreciate herbal teas only due to an experience during my second year in Romania, 1994. They are relatively little drunk in Britain, at least by the general population, compared to Romania and, I know now, Latvia.  The Romanian experience changed my view and what followed changed my life.

I’ve posted before about how I began to teach in Romania (due to mistaking the word ‘marfă’ for ‘mafia’). I’ve not posted before about two life-changing experiences. The first was an introduction to herbal teas; the second, in the same place, was when I say I was ‘born again’, half Romanian.

Introduction to herbal teas

The ‘county’ inspector for English, who persuaded me to stay in Romania to teach English in a top high school when my planned six month stay finished, invited me to accompany her on a visit to a village school, in a village called Sadova, not far from the town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc. I was feeling really ill with a dreadful cough, sore throat and high temperature which I had not been able to shake off as I usually could. I almost called the visit off.

At some point we visited the house of a/the young English teacher. I  was clearly suffering and struggling to eat something (obligatory when visiting any Romanian home). She asked to be excused, went out the back and climbed a little way up the steep grassy slope to the forest, seeming to be picking flowers. She returned with a handful of leaves and flowers. She boiled some water, poured it on the plants, added some honey and after a few minutes gave me a mug full of the brew to drink. A strange taste for me then but it seemed discourteous not to drink it.

An hour or so later I felt completely well!

I’ve no idea what those plants were – at the time my Romanian was sparse – but now I’d call the brew ‘ceai de multe plante’, ‘tea of many plants’.

Born again in Bucovina

View of Sadova and surroundings

Sadova

The second experience I find impossible to describe adequately. I was back in Sadova but alone. I cannot remember how I got there but I climbed up the steep slopes through the forest and came across a grassy clearing, sun filtering through the tall fir trees, the air full of the scent of them, so sat to catch my breath. An extraordinary peace came over me and the light seemed to change to what I can only describe as magical. The cynical might say I hyperoxygenated from the climb. I’m sure that is not the explanation. I’ve no idea for how long I sat but when I left I felt a different person and I still have that feeling every time I cross the border into Romania, more so when I enter the Bucovina.

I say I was ‘reborn’ there and have been in love with the Bucovina ever since. Several years later I managed a project there with egg decorators, made many friends, and now visit the region and those friends every year.

Romanian herbal ‘teas’ – collecting romanița

I said above that I was introduced to herbal teas in Sadova. That is not quite true though that was the first time I drank one. In the first couple of months in Romania I collected ‘romanița’ (chamomile) beside the impressive river Prut in a little village called ‘Broascăcești’ (which no one I tell of it believes exists – maybe it’s a local popular name – my translation, ‘village of frogs’). I was taken there by my wonderful host family, at or around Easter 1993, to visit relatives. A lady, perhaps I met her/danced with her at a wedding, persuaded me to collect romanița with her the following day. My memories are fragmented but I do remember the village was flooded when we arrived and we had to abandon the car (ubiquitous Dacia, one of only two makes of cars seen 25 years ago, Romanian Renault 11) and take to a cart pulled by a bullock.

Now we bring back to UK ‘teas’ gathered by my ‘honorary grandmother’ each year (those remaining from last year are pictured). More recently I’ve learned about many more from my good Latvian friend Ilze, from her blog ‘a day in the life of a latvian mom’, along with fungi (‘mushrooms’) of various kinds, vegetarian recipes, about her fascinating country (of which I knew little) and much more.

Romanian foraged ‘herbal teas’ I know (I may not always spell correctly):

Those brought back to the UK
Păducel – Hawthorn
Ceai de tei – Flowers of the Linden tree
Mentă – Mint
Salcâm – Acacia (also my favourite honey)
Soc – Elder flower
Gălbanele – Marigold
Cimbru de câmp – Wild thyme
Coada soricelului (mouse tail) – Yarrow
Sunătoare – St. John’s-wort
Trandafir – Rose

Others I know
Romaniță (mușețel) – Chamomile
Coada calului (horse tail) – Field horse tail
Patlagină – Ribwort plantain
Bradul – The fir tree
Leurda – Wild garlic (we collect in UK for salad)
Osul iepurelui (rabbit’s bone) – Restharrow
Țelina – Celeriac
Urzica – Nettle (we collect in UK, young, and use like spinach)
Vișinul – Sour cherry (my favourite fruit, especially in Romania)
Zmeurul – Raspberry (another favourite fruit)

There are good reasons to bring back herbs and fruit even if available in the UK: both soil and air are cleaner in the Bucovina, truly ‘organic‘ (a stupid term, all food is ‘organic’ – recently adopted ‘bio‘ is as bad – but you’ll know what I mean).

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Daniel’s cafe/bistro Ilkley is not run by Daniel but by his daughter Miruna and her husband. The name is a tribute to Miruna’s father who runs a hotel in our other favourite place, the Romanian Bucovina, specifically in the spa town (a bit like Harrogate) of Vatra Dornei.

We decided to visit this small but cosy coffee shop by day, a ‘bistro’ in the evening, yesterday afternoon. The cakes are ‘interesting’, yesterday’s were with butternut squash or pumpkin, but neither is ‘my cup of tea’ as we say so I opted for the Romanian sponge with apple and plums, the only truly Romanian cake on offer. With the first taste it took me back to my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc, about 30km from the spa town, where we twice stayed for a while during our summer break. She makes an identical ‘cake’ (in fact it’s more like a pudding).

If a new visitor to Ilkley don’t stop at the Cow & Calf rocks and a walk on Ilkley moor but continue on the moorland road for some wonderful views. Here’s as we decend into our village

Romanian chocolate cakes

Unfortunately, not liking anything with fruit Petronela settled for just one of the excellent coffees. It’s a pity there are not more Romanian cakes, particularly chocolate cakes of which there are many: chec negru (black cake), amandine, mascota and others. All excellent and any one of them would have suited Petronela. There had been brownies, sold out, but for me the Romanian version is better: boema, chocolate cake soaked in a caramel syrup and topped with a ganache and ‘frișcă’ – sweetened whipped cream. It’s certainly more indulgent for any chocoholic.

But the main reason for a visit to Daniel’s if you are in Ilkley is the Romanian (more exactly Bucovinian) welcome. You will not find a more hospitable, friendly people anywhere and it hasn’t been diminished at all by being transplanted in Yorkshire.

Something I particularly like is Miruna’s tribute to her father, posted on a window. That also is very typically Romanian. Having been lucky enough to meet him on a previous visit, we can confirm he’s a great guy.

Daniel’s cafe/bistro has a website:

https://www.danielscafebistro.co.uk/

Don’t miss it (not open every day – see website) if you visit this lovely small Yorkshire town. If you’re lucky Miruna will have taken my hint and have more Romanian chocolate cakes!

As so often in Romania, things are not as they seem nor as you have been told.

The necessary legal documents to buy the ‘dream house’ (see previous post) were not in order as we had been assured they were and, more important, the elderly lady – D-na Saveta – owning it has two daughters, one of whom was keen for her to sell it but the other – who wasn’t answering the phone or communicating in any way – didn’t want her to sell it at all it turned out. She needs ‘permission’, and a legal agreement, from both to sell it.

We haven’t yet given up entirely but it seems unlikely; to get the documents in order would take at least a year (though that time scale would not be a problem for us).

Tomorrow we’re hoping to have another chat with D-na Saveta after erecting the tents in the garden here to dry as we packed them rather damp in Săliște. It should be sunny here tomorrow morning.

The route back – first part

Map of route we aim to follow from Campulung Moldovenesc to Budapest

So, we are back in the Bucovina having spent about a week in Săliște, Sibiu, returning to Iași on Thursday. The villages and small towns around the city of  Sibiu are quite wonderful with their multi-coloured, well maintained saș (saxon) architecture. I put a few pix on my Facebook journal, Dusty2Romania, but Petronela has put far more on her Facebook. Having ‘done’ the spectacular ‘Transfagărășanul’ last year we thought we’d try Romania’s highest main road – Transalpina, 2,145 metres – this year. I wasn’t so impressed though it seems extremely popular with motorcyclists and occasional cyclists.

Very noticable throughout Romania was a massive increase in the number of cyclists – lycra, helmets and all – not only foreign tourists but many Romanians.

Back in Bucovina

We arrived at my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house, just 7km before Câmpulung Moldovenesc, a couple of hours ago. We will leave most probably on Monday to follow the route shown above rather than the way we came, via Baia Mare, Sighet and Borșa, so then skirting the Ukrainian border. There is camping at the spa town of Marghita (not named on the Google map above but the last thick black circle before the Romania/Hungary border I think) so we aim to spend a night there then on to Budapest, where we have selected another campsite.

We will then go through Budapest, hopefully avoiding the M0 motorway around the south of the city which is a really scary drive – maniac Hungarian drivers sticking 2 metres from your boot at 90mph – on the way to Austria then Germany but haven’t decided on a route yet. So far we have seen four bad accidents this trip, one on that Budapest ring road and one today on the way here from Iași which, to get round it, took us on what was really a forest footpath – fun in other circumstances.

We fancy trying to pick up the Rhine valley which we really enjoyed in the classic mini in 2006, where there were some excellent campsites. I’ll probably be able to do another post somewhere along that route.

My love affair with Romanian entered a new phase a few days ago when we visited friends in the Bucovina town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc. These friends knew we were looking for a house in the region with idea of moving from the UK to Romania to live. At that time we were not thinking the chance of moving was better than 50/50; there were, and remain, many questions to be answered.

A traditional Bucovina timber house

Traditional Bucovina timber house we're considering

The friends, Cătălin and his wife Carmen, knew also that we were looking, for preference, for a house in traditional Bucovina style, with a reasonable plot of land, at a price we might be able to afford. We also wanted it close to a major tourist route for Maramureș and Bucovina, two regions of Romania where Romanian traditional culture is best preserved.

When we arrived they told us they might have found the house we wanted, a few minutes on foot from where they lived. For me, it was particularly interesting as it was basically built of timber. We set off to see it, noting the location was just what we wanted, on the major route but far enough from the road to not hear the traffic, on the edge of the forest but only a short distance to the town centre.

Crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a stream then walking a short distance along a ‘street’ of grass, we looked over a fence to see a house from a fairy tale. Built from substantial timbers, infilled with clay, it has none of the environmentally unsound characteristics of houses built of ‘modern’ materials. As I said recently on my ‘journal’ of the present trip to Romania – Dusty2Romania – I can sense immediately I enter a house built of timber, the only other form of construction giving the same sense of peace and well-being being a strawbale house, and there are few of those in Romania.

Preserving a 100+ year old house

This house has stood for more than 100 years and will probably, with care, stand for another hundred, certainly for far longer than I or Petronela are living. Most Romanians would, unfortunately, demolish it and build a concrete, brick and plastic monstrosity in its place. If we are lucky enough to acquire it, we would preserve the existing house, only building a sympathetic extension on the rear.

Today we made a second visit, measured the rooms, outbuildings, examined the legal documents of title etc and, most important, talked a lot with the 85 years old present owner, leaving already calling her ‘Bunica Saveta’ – grandma Saveta.

Maybe we are a step closer to realising our dream.

We’re not likely to do much today as it will be so hot but this evening we will meet up with the former ‘county inspector of history’ who had and has a high regard for Petronela as a teacher and has now become a friend. She wanted to meet in an excellent restaurant “to eat fish”; we agreed to the location but will settle for an icecream or sweet of some kind. As I said on my Facebook ‘diary’ yesterday, I did nothing of note so it seemed a good idea to write another post on grumpytyke after about a week here in Iași.

A picture of some small carp in a bowl, prepared for cooking

Small carp

Today many Romanians will eat fish. A high proportion of the Romanian population are practising Orthodox Christians so follow rules of ‘post’ (ie , fast) laid down by the church and today is a day on which they can eat fish but not meat.

Post (fast) in Orthodox Romania

When I first came to Romania I lived for six months with a Romanian family and although something different would have been cooked for me I preferred to go along with whatever they were eating so became used to not eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays and for longer periods at certain times of the year (eg pre Easter, and now). As it seemed a good idea, for health reasons, not to eat meat for a couple of days a week, and for longer periods a couple of times a year or so, I’ve followed this ever since and having a ‘schedule’ makes it easier though I don’t do it for religious reasons. In fact, according to the rules of  ‘post’ it’s not a matter of not eating meat but of not eating animal products, so ‘vegan’. We don’t do this; we often eat eggs, cheese etc on ‘post’ days but sometimes ‘vegan’ meals, eg a kind of ‘baked beans’, ‘borș cu fasole’ – bean borsch, or ‘tocănița cu cartofi’ – potato stew, which are three favourites of mine.

Pește, fish

There’s not a day each week when it’s ‘allowed’ to eat fish but in periods of post there are days where eating fish is allowed and today is such a day. So, as Petronela’s mother follows post pretty strictly today we have fish on the menu. However, because most Romanians (at least in this part of the country) will eat fish today it was difficult to acquire it unless you’re an angler. So Petronela’s father stood in a queue for 1.1/2 hours in the market yesterday to buy the preferred fish – carp.

The carp bought yesterday are extraordinarily small (see picture). I’m more used to them weighing several kg but none larger were available.

(As an aside, I was amused when UK anglers were horrified when east europeans expected to eat the carp they caught. Equally, the east Europeans  were perplexed by UK anglers putting back the carp and other fish they caught; it seemed a pointless activity).

In the UK we usually eat fish on Tuesdays. There’s no link with the church in that, it comes from my ‘honorary grandmother’ in the Bucovina, but that’s another story. Again, having a schedule ensures we eat fish at least once a week.

Mujedei (garlic ‘sauce’)

Obligatory with fried carp is a raw garlic sauce, ‘mujedei’ (pron mooj-day’). This can be simple crushed garlic with water, with sunflower oil, with milk, with a combination of the latter two, or other variations. I prefer it simple with oil, particularly as carp, like tuna, is more like a beef steak with little fat.

To accompany the carp we’ll have ‘mămăliga’ – a kind of cornmeal hash similar to ‘polenta’ but far better if made with the cornmeal from the countryside here; I think this is because a proportion of ‘tăriță’ (chaff) is left in it and probably also because it it is grown on the smallholders’ lots so truly ‘organic’ – a ridiculous term but you know what I mean. (Big Romanian food producers or Western invaders have invented a new one, applied to many packaged, branded foods which, of course, have preservatives, etc: ‘Bio’ is now plastered over packets of such products – more crap!)

Crap

Crap in Romanian is, of course, carp in English, a source of great amusement to Petronela’s students in the UK and to my fishmonger in Leeds Kirkgate market where I buy it, particularly for New Year when it is a traditional Romanian dish. His come from France so not as good as those from Romania, but OK.

WordPress app “beautiful new editor”

I’ve always ignored the WordPress suggestions to use the “improved” editor or the WordPress app. They have always been crap (in the English sense) compared to the traditional desktop version so I use that on both the Macbook and the iPad (as now). Most recently there was a notification that the app had a “beautiful new editor” (or was it “lovely”?) so I had a quick look.

Again complete crap!

In my experience, apps are almost always rubbish compared with the desktop versions, including Facebook, with the exception of Messenger which works very well. The Twitter app is also good. Of course many of the small specialised apps, for which there is no desktop equivalent, are very good. An example is a thermometer app which I’m using to report temperatures on my daily Facebook ‘diary’ – Dusty2Romania.

If the day ever comes when WordPress withdraw the traditional editor interface, as they once threatened to do but relented after a scream of protest from long-term bloggers, I will look for another platform or cease blogging altogether.

Why so many developers insist on fixing things which ‘ain’t broke’ I don’t know; maybe they have scores of programmers sitting around with nothing to do.

The moment I cross the border into Romania I feel better, particularly if I cross in the north east of the country. This route takes me most directly to where I say I was ‘reborn’ – the Romanian Bucovina – via Maramureș, the two areas of the country where tradition is best preserved. They border the Ukraine, the part which was Romania until Churchill and Stalin gave it to the USSR. I’ve been there when I was chucked out of Romania for some minor misdemeanor (probably not renewing my visa in time, but that’s another story). It’s still very Romanian and I found most people spoke Romanian as well as Ukrainian.

In the past, when I lived in Romania, in the early years I had to leave Romania every three months then come back to renew my visa. Usually I chose to go to Budapest and crossed the border at Oradea, a busy crossing. Since returning to the UK I’ve preferred, when driving, to cross in the north east. Two years ago I crossed at Valea lui Mihai, a quiet crossing point.

The route

Google map of route from Petea to Iasi

This year I chose a crossing a little further north, at Petea, taking the 19 from the M3 from Budapest, well signposted for Satu Mare and Romania, as although it seemed to be a bit busier it was quite a few kilometers less to get onto the 18 road taking us through Maramureș and Bucovina – not the quickest route to our final destination, the city of Iași, but the most spectacular. Via Bistrița would be quicker and we’ll almost certainly return on this route knowing of the roadworks on the 18.

The Romanian border police have an excellent website which shows the actual waiting time at each crossing.

We did get ‘lost’ a couple of times negotiating Satu Mare to get to Baia Mare. The first was in Satu Mare itself, as so often the case, having been well signposted suddenly you reach a T junction with no sign. We turned the wrong way. Second, after leaving the town there was a sign indicating the route for heavy vehicles so we didn’t take it. When we reached a village with a typical Romanian country road it was clear we should have done. No big deal, it just took a little longer.

Roadworks

The road works on the 18 mountain road, which began on the climb to about 1,000 metres then descent (I think 26 hairpin bends) of the Gutai pass on the 18 between Baia Mare and Sighet, this year made it all the more adventurous (as logged on my Facebook ‘diary’ Dusty2Romania). At the top of the pass is a ‘han’, an inn, Pintea Viteazul, good for a break and something to eat. We ate a ‘ciorba’, a soup. Later I saw that this renowned inn is for sale, for €300,000.

For kilometer after kilometer there was a giant hole about every 100 metres, to take a very large ‘tube’ (1.5-2m diameter) to take water from the mountain under the road, rather than washing the road away as in the past. Some of these holes would have accommodated the Dacia Duster.

The right ‘lane’, which we are on, has been excavated to put a layer of stones then asphalt. The left ‘lane’ has not. Often it was a single ‘lane’, sometimes with traffic lights, sometimes not. More fun, especially when some drivers ignored the red light.

 

As I wrote in the ‘diary’, roadworks like those between Sighet and Cîrlibaba in UK would surely have led to the road being closed. In Romania no, particularly as it gives the only access to many villages along it. It was always an ‘adventure’ to take this road but at the moment more so. When complete much of the ‘adventure’ will have gone, though it will still be a spectacular route.

Camping Borșa

We camped for the night in the village of Borșa on a small campsite (Camping Borșa – they have a website) at the base of northern Romania’s highest mountain – Pietrosul Rodnei, 2,303 metres.

A few kilometres more and there’s the Prislop pass, 1,416 metres high. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it when we traversed it in the camper two years ago, in fact we slept a night at the top, but it had been dug up this year.

Continuing to Iacobeni you meet the major highway E58, a good road immediately climbing the Mestecăniș pass,1,096 metres, then down through the town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc to Gura Humorului, where you’ll find two of the famous ‘painted monasteries’, Voroneți to the right as you enter the town and Humor from the town centre to the left. In and around Câmpulung and Vama we have many friends, mostly deriving the projects I did in this area in the 1990s. We did not stop as we’ll be going back there.

The E58 goes to Suceava city but shortly after Gura Humorului we take the 2E towards Fălticeni but bypassing that we turn south on the E85, the major north-south highway from the border with Ukraine at Siret (where I spent my first 6 months in Romania in 1993). I drove this road many times, to the capital București, in my first six months in Romania. After several kilometres we turn east at Moțca, another good road, the 28E through Pașcani to Târgu Frumos, where we pick up the E58 again all the way to Iași.

I can’t explain why I feel so much better after entering Romania. Although the hot weather has something to do with it, it’s not just that as it was similarly hot in Hungary. It’s something spiritual.

If you celebrate Easter then every good wish for that. If you do not, I just want to wish you a wonderful weekend. Here are some Romanian ‘Easter eggs’, from the Bucovina. They were made for this, 2017, Easter by my friend Violeta Macovei in the village of Paltin.