The year of the Rooster

borschWe went to the nearby town to see my in-laws the other day. To mark the beginning of the year of the rooster they bought one. A very much alive one, proud and pleasantly plum. It was bought for good luck – that’s what they told the rooster.
Actually was for the borsch – the local sour soup traditional in these parts of the country. The lucky token ended up in the pot, boiling away for hours because we all know how tough the roosters are. Happy new year!

I am aware where the supermarket meat is coming from but I could never muster up the enthusiasm of killing my own chickens. I know exactly what ‘running around like a headless chook’ looks like – scared but fascinated I used to watch my grandfather slashing the throat of a chicken some Saturdays for the Sunday’s dinner. Here in Romania is still very much the order of the day to grow and kill one’s own chickens, pigs, rabbits. And not only in the country, not just the peasants.

My in-laws are not from the country, they lived most of their lives in communist apartments in a city. Now they live in a house, they have a very small garden and from time to time grow chickens. Not because they have to, the supermarket is minutes away and they are financially comfortable. Supermarket food is not ‘natural’, is tainted with ‘e’s – I am guessing they mean the chemicals added to the food. Everybody here knows how bad the ‘e’s are!

We were amused in the begging by their commitment to avoid supermarket food at all cost. The two fridges and one massive freezer are always full to the brim with meat – half a pig around Christmas, one whole lamb in spring before Easter, the occasional duck, maybe a quarter veal in summer. Always bought from the country only from ‘trustworthy’ peasants. The criteria determining which one is trustworthy is still a wild guess for me.

It stopped being amusing when they came over for dinner and we served  the ‘tainted’ food bought at the supermarket. It was clear I am not a ‘gospodina’ – the exact translation of this word would be ‘housewife’, the olden times kind of housewife.The one that grows her own chickens and vegetables, makes jams and pickles, gets involved in the wine making and her whole life revolves around cooking and cleaning. No, I am definitely not a gospodina!

I have a garden but I waste the land by growing mainly trees and flowers.I have three cats and no chickens. Under no circumstances will I ever attempt to pickle anything and I am happy with the store bought jams and preserves. I prefer good wine so I will never make my own.

There are clear rules from the olden days people still follow..or encourage others to follow.

Only fruit bearing trees should be planted one’s garden, trees are for parks.
Veggies must be planted, rows and rows of onion, garlic, beans and cucumbers and tomatoes. Chickens should roam the backyard, and if one is serious about food, a pig should be fattened for the slaughter before Christmas.

My in-laws don’t have a big garden, no room for fruit trees or veggies, they buy them at the growers markets. The jam making starts in June with the first cherries, overlaps with the preserves making and it ends in October when the pickling commences. All this time one must constantly complain to all the relatives and neighbors about the hard work and effort involved. Tradition must be observed at all cost.

Rows and rows of jars line the cellar shelves, while the floor is taken up by barrels of pickled cabbage, green tomatoes and of course the demijohns of sour cherry brandy and home made wine. This is for two people who’s combined age is 150 years.There is a summer cleaning every year when they throw away the excess, well, most of it unfortunately. They could have bought the finest organic preserves and gorge on it every day and it still would have cost only a fraction. And, certainly, they could have simply wasted less.

I do understand where this mentality is coming from, the communist times were hard and food was scarce. Growing your own food and making preserves for the long winter was a serious matter, there were no supermarkets in Romania and the shops were bare.

That was the past and most old people can’t or don’t want to change and adapt to the times. In the year of the rooster they kill and eat the rooster. They maybe want to hold on to their past using food.

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