Sandwiched between the curves of the Eastern Rhodope Mountain, the village of Rabovo hosted late last week a motley festival dedicated to bread. Visitors could witness authentic harvesting of wild wheat, aka spelt (Limets in Bulgarian) which is one of the oldest cereal crops known to humankind. The forgotten plant has got a chance of a new life thanks to the efforts of a local entrepreneur and the support of a joint project between Bulgaria and the Netherlands in the field of organic farming called The New Thracian Gold. The spelt, which is extremely good for the health, stands a very good chance to establish itself on the organic products market, experts are categorical.
The path of bread from the fields to the bread oven, or how our ancestors used to make their bread thousands of years ago… That process carried out with the help of old technology riveted the attention of bio farming fans and common tourists from Bulgaria and abroad who came over to the pretty village of Rabovo to see a somewhat unusual reenactment. The old fulling mill of the former pilot and current owner of a guest house Petko Angelov could hardly accommodate all the people curious to see with their own eyes what the process of spelt grinding was like in the past. Earlier, people thronged to the field to observe hand harvesting with sickles and swap hooks. The wheat sheaves were carried to a special place where they were threshed as people are believed to have done it 2000 years ago, namely by means of a flint-studded threshing board pulled by horses.
“After that we showed the process of spelt grinding from which flour is made”, explains Petko Angelov. “In that process people would use special millstones that rotate at 30-35 revolutions per minute, which secure the best milling of the cereal crop. The bread is kneaded in wooden troughs. It is left to rise and put in a wood-fired bread oven. This is how, in a single day we managed to show the entire ancient process of making bread: from harvesting the spelt to the baking of the bread, which is delicious. Our guests were impressed by its quality. It tastes more specific, being yellowish and having high energy content. The techniques we demonstrated are antique. Most of the participants in the reenactment were elderly people, some of them remembering the plant. Around the 1950s the spelt gave way to more modern cereal crops. Today we would like to revive spelt production”, Petko Angelov told Radio Bulgaria.
The problem local people face, however, is a low crop yield, as well as a labour-intensive mechanic separation of grain from husks. In the near past, the spelt was used mostly as fodder, but with the spread of modern varieties of barley and wheat the plant gradually disappeared. Today the wild spelt can be found in very few places across Bulgaria. It has got its advantages, though, Mr. Angelov reckons. He has counted that a slice of wild wheat bread contains 3-4 times more calories and microelements than normal bread. Except for having high energy content, the spelt is resistant to weeds, draught and humidity, conditions that might turn out crucial for the survival of humankind in times of global climate change. That’s why the interest in that somewhat forgotten crop is reviving worldwide. The producers of ancient wheat in Bulgaria are very few. For Petko Angelov the plant, which, prima facie, is nondescript, has become his destiny. For a 6th year in a row now, the amateur farmer is growing the crop, extending planting areas and drawing up plans for the future. At present, he is cultivating 4.8 hectares of spelt and is going to replant the crop yield. “Next year we are going to start the production of bread and other cereal crops”, says Petko Angelov. There are businessmen from the Netherlands and the USA interested in the production of boutique spelt beer. In fact, the first samples of beer obtained from the fields of the village of Rabovo are going to be ready this October. Meanwhile, the producer of wild wheat is developing successfully eco tourism in his guest house on the bank of Arda River, where he entertains visitors with reenactments of spelt production.
English version: Vyara Popova
Photos: Iva Toncheva