Festive fare for hard times? Bottle it

Tue Dec 22, 2009 8:22pm EST
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By Irina Ivanova and Anna Mudeva

ORESHAK, Bulgaria (Reuters) - In a dimly lit cellar festooned with cobwebs, Sando and Lilyana keep enough home-made food provisions to survive whatever may befall their mountain village, be it recession or cold.

Regardless of living standards and social status, there is hardly a Bulgarian family which does not store at least a jar of home-made pickles, personal favorites with late communist dictator Todor Zhivkov and present Prime Minister Boiko Borisov.

The 7.6 million people of the Balkan country, where food bills consume 40 percent of wages, produced some 208 million jars of various provisions or an average of 100 jars per household in 2008, data by independent pollster Mediana shows.

"Nothing compares to home-made food," said Lilyana Trencheva, 60, opening a bottle of tomato juice and a jar of gherkins for reporters to sample.

"We only buy cheese, oil, sugar, bread and Coca Cola from the shop," said her husband Sando, 60, cracking open a dusty bottle of home-made plum rakia brandy.

Winter provisioning -- known in Bulgarian as "zimnina," derived from the word for winter "zima" -- is a centuries-old tradition entwining necessity, family bonding and a national passion that reigns over culinary tastes.

The practice helped people in eastern Europe survive decades of communist austerity, years of post-communist economic crises and hyperinflation in the 1990s.

For many Bulgarians, whose average monthly wages of 300 euros ($430) and pensions of 80 euros are the lowest in the European Union, it remains a lifeline particularly as recession puts an end to 12 years of growth.   Continued...

<p>Sando Trenchev, 60, shows a bottle of homemade plum rakia brandy in a cellar in his house in the village of Oreshak, western Bulgaria November 23, 2009. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov</p>