Gutuia or “Quince” is a fruit that is difficult to find in the United States. It is hard to bite into or even cut with a knife. Its aroma combines fragrances of apples and pears. I used to eat it raw.
However, I had to slice it in small pieces and take a break between bites because I felt like I was going to choke. Gutuia is a fall fruit. My mom used to shred and boil it to make jam. The jam had a beautiful light orange color.
Even though the fruit was prepared it was still firm. Not one part of it got thrown away. The leftovers from making the jam were boiled with sugar and drained making a very thick clear orange gel that could also be considered jam. The Romanian name is “peltea”. Another way of eating quince is “mincarea de gutui”. I consider it to be too sweet for a main course. I never liked it because I thought it should be more of a dessert.
Caise or “Apricots” are some of my favorite fruits. They can be found in any supermarket in the United States. However, I don’t think that too many people bothered to crack their outer woody shell pit to find out how the seed tasted like. When I grew up in Romania, we were always saving the pits from what we expected to be apricots.
I used a hammer to smash them and then ate the seed inside the pit. It looked like and had the size of an almond. If it had a sweet taste it meant that I ate a real “caisa” or apricot. You could easily recognize real apricots by their larger size, softness, and fresh delicious taste when they were ripe. If the seed had a bitter taste it meant that I ate a version of an apricot or a wild apricot that was called “zarzare”. These fruits are usually smaller and sometimes have some greenish color on them.
The ones I tried so far from the supermarkets in the United States are not real apricots. “Caise” and “zarzare” can both be prepared in jams together with sweet seeds. However, you can tell the difference in their taste. The overripe apricots could not be used in jams. My mom was using them in compote. My sister used them in cakes. I loved the upside down cakes with fresh apricots and whipped cream.
Visine or “Sour Cherries”
Sour cherries are hard to find in the United States. Sour cherry trees could be found in colder areas. They have a short growing season and are more fragile than the sweet cherry trees. Sour cherries are slightly smaller than the sweet cherries and have a very bright red color. Their color fades quickly and don’t last very long once they are picked. That was why, when the sour cherries were in season, the farmers would bring them to the market right away to preserve their freshness. People stayed in line for hours to buy as many as they could carry to last them for an entire winter. I remember my mom filling up all her shopping bags with sour cherries. Once she brought them home, we washed them, took out their pits, and placed them right away in large pots to be boiled in water and sugar. Everything people made out of sour cherries was considered a delicacy. She made dulceata de visine, that was a more dense type of jam , and kept in small jars inside a cabinet in our living room. When someone came to visit us my mom took a spoon and scooped out a few cherries from a jar, placed them carefully on a very small glass plate, and served them with a small cup of Turkish coffee.
I remember my grandmother had a huge sour cherry tree right in front of her house. We used to eat in the shade under that tree when we were kids. I loved the smell of its flowers in the spring. Once the sour cherries were ripe they needed to be picked right away so the birds would not ruin them.
I couldn’t eat a lot of fresh sour cherries because of their acidity and bitter taste. Prajitura cu visine or “Sour Cherries Cake” was very tasteful when the sour cherries had been freshly picked. It was delicious and one of my favorite desserts.
Because the sour cherries are juicy and have a distinctive wood taste, people make Visinata. It is a popular Romanian homemade drink that contains sugar and alcohol. It has a beautiful dark burgundy color, dense texture, and unique cherry taste and smell. It is served in small glasses usually at special occasions.
Afinata is another homemade drink native to Romania. It is actually a liqueur made with real blueberries. Afinata is also considered a delicacy because blueberries are found at higher altitudes and are pretty difficult to pick. It is sweetish in taste and has a bluish red color. My sister made it a couple of times.
Socata or “Elderflower Cordial” is a Romanian refreshing drink that uses flori de soc or “elderberry flowers”. They are light yellowy clusters that grow in bushes.
They have a floral and summery smell. Around the months of May or June, my mom made enough of this drink to last for the entire summer. She used to bring me a glass whenever I was taking a break from studying for my college exams. The taste is difficult to describe if you never smelled this flower. It has a very distinctive sweet and aromatic taste. The drink has some acidity and people add lemon slices to it that makes it even more acid.
Cow and goat milk and cheese could be found in any supermarket in the United States. However, I never tasted cheese as fresh and soft like the cheese I ate while I grew up in Romania. Sometimes the cow cheese could be found in any market. The goat cheese could be only bought from people that had goats and usually lived in the mountains. The only time I bought fresh goat milk and cheese was when I had to take a course in college in Muntele Paringu Mic.
Miere de padure or “Natural Forest Honey” is honey that bees make on different types of fir trees in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains.
This honey has a dark green and even black colors and smells like pine trees. My dad used to bring us large jars of this honey every time he traveled to different towns in the country that were located at higher altitude.
Capsuni or “strawberries” were not as big as the ones I found here in the supermarket. Even though they were smaller they were juicier. My mom bought them when they first came out usually in April.
She cleaned them right away and made jam. We kept some fresh ones to eat. We spread some fine sugar on top and placed them in the refrigerator. Because they were so juicy they formed a delicious and fragrant syrup that we used in refreshing drinks combined with mineral water.
Pepene rosu or “Red Watermelon” always had big black seeds. It was very sweet. The watermelons came out late July or August. The farmers used a knife to cut a small triangle inside the watermelon. If the watermelon was not red and ripe or as you liked it you could refuse it. They would cut out another one for you.
Rosii or “tomatoes” were as big as the beef tomatoes I found in the United States but juicier. They smelled as fresh as their leaves. I used to spread some salt on them and eat them like I was eating apples. None of the tomatoes found in the supermarket or even grown “organic” by different farmers here in the United States could be compared as far as taste with the ones I ate when I grew up in Romania.
My mom loved the fresh salads with tomatoes, cucumbers, cow cheese, oil, vinegar, and fresh bread. I still make this salad. I add Kalamata olives and fresh dill. I use feta cheese, olive oil, and lemon juice. During the summer, my mom and my sister stocked up for the winter and made tomato juice and tomato sauce that they were using in soups and other dishes.
Apa minerala or “Mineral Water” – Romania has 60% of Europe’s mineral water reserves (Rio Bucovina) and just a 20% of the springs are exploited (http://www.watercoolerseurope.eu/). The best and well known mineral water is “Borsec” that is called “Queen of Mineral Waters” in Europe. My dad loved the mineral waters. Whenever he could he would buy a few bottles at the time. Sometimes we used it to make soft drinks with natural juices from different fruits.
I don’t think a lot of people know that Romania makes very good wines. My mom used to buy homemade red wine to stock up for the holidays.
Nowadays, you can find all kinds of food products made in Romania at different local stores or online. However, they will never taste as good as the ones that are fresh or homemade. These are the best tastes I will always remember from the time when I grew up in Romania. So far, I have not found them anywhere else.