From Orpheus’ mountains

The Rhodopes mountain – the heart of the Balkan peninsula

Blanco kaart Europa met RhodopenThe Rhodopes is a mountain connected with the very first records in the history of Europe. This is where the mythological Orpheus sang his songs and Dionysius drank his wine. Nowadays the Rhodopes is still a magic mountain in the south of Bulgaria with beautiful nature, rich culture and friendly people. The Western Rhodopes are higher, wetter and cooler. The Eastern part of the Rhodopes is much lower, warm and dryer. The whole region is ‘cut’ by the river Arda, which valley opens straight to the south and this way causes the strong Mediterranean influence. It ensures the soft wet winters, warm springs and autumns and long, hot and dry summers giving the spring and the summer flowers a strong and intense aroma and nectar.

In the past the region was economically supported by the government. That was ‘the communistic border region economy policy’. Today all this is over and the people have to find their way to survive and earn some money.  The smart way is to use the local specifics – so they do. Rivier Arda bij Madzharovo (Foto: Henk Sierdsema)They grow vegetables, herbs, sesame, produce honey, jam, collect mushrooms and sell them after drying, take care for cattle, sheep and goat in an extensive way – as has been done for centuries.

So here we present you some of these local products. All the products are produced in a responsible manner and selling them helps the local economy.

The honey
This is a spring / early summer honey. Because the temperature in this season are between 25 and 35 degrees, it has an overwhelming  sunny taste of a summer bouquet. It is a very pure product and as you know the pure honey will crystallize in a half a year or earlier if kept at low temperature. The crystallization doesn’t changes the qualities of the honey. You can ‘melt’ it in a au bain marie pan, but the water should not cook, but be just well warm. Tahini producentenHigh temperatures destroys many of the honey nutrients and therefore it is not recommended to put the honey in hot coffee or tea.  Just wait till it has cooled somewhat.

Mixed with tahini it is a healthy and delicious bread spread.

The sesame
The sesame seeds were thought to have first originated in India and were mentioned in early Hindu legends as a symbol of immortality. Nowadays, the sesame is grown and processed in the Eastern Rhododpes in small family workshops. This tahini is produced in a responsible manner (growing, drying and grinding) and is one of the nature–friendly  livelihoods that helps the local people and economy. The quality of the product (the sesame pasta = tahini) is a matter of family proud.

Thanks to its nutrient qualities, the tahini  is considered an excellent healthy food. It can be a good substitute of the peanut butter, especially mixed with honey. It can be well combined with fruit-pastry and souses.

The Rhodopean tea
Bergthee (Sideritis scardica)This tea is another absolutely pure product. There are no colours, aromas or whatsoever added.  These packages contain the following herbs: Oregano (Oreganum vulgare), St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Thyme (Thymus), Rhodopean tea (Sideritis scardica), Mint (Mentha pulegium, Mentha spicata s. Viridis), Elder  flower (Sambucus nigra), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).  Most of these herbs are collected wild in the mountain. One of them (the Rhodopean tea or Mursalski chai) comes from plantations in the mountain, because it is protected and forbidden to collect in the wild.

This tea mixture needs more time for extraction. It is recommended to use a glass/porcelain teapot and can be extracted 2-3 times. It provides wonderful rich aroma, a bit sharp taste and gives a warm feeling every time.