As Marco has already told you in colorful details, winter has arrived in Kuterevo. In the Netherlands, winter just slowly comes and life goes on as usual. We simply wear some more clothes and sometimes clean the streets from a few centimeters of snow. But in Kuterevo, you have to prepare yourself for winter. Actually, we have been preparing ourselves for winter all through autumn. In this article I will give you some examples of what we have been doing to make sure that we and the bears will have a happy, healthy and warm winter.
During winter, we cannot grow our own vegetables. We do not want to buy too many products that are shipped from far-away countries, so we have to preserve food that we harvest or collect in autumn. This year, we´ve collected and dried wild mushrooms, we made jam from healthy sour dren berries, we´ve conserved paprika in oil, vinegar and in a very tasty spread called ´ajvar´, and we’ve dried herbs and berries for healthy teas during cold winter days in Postaja.
One bigger ´food conservation project´ was making sour cabbage. Sour cabbage is easy to prepare, it can be kept for a long time, and it is very healthy! Did you know that when Columbus went on long expeditions, he filled half of his ship with sour cabbage, so that his men would stay healthy during the travel?
We bought about one hundred cabbages from a farmer in the next village, and on one evening when we had a lot of guests (helpers) from another EVS project in Croatia, we invited two experienced ladies from the village (Teta Dragica and Teta Kaja) to Postaja, where they helped us with preparing the cabbage.
We cleaned the cabbages and we grated them with a special big cabbage grater (which had to be done with two people together). We put the grated cabbage in huge barrels, together with water, salt and spices, and we crushed them with a big wooden tool. Now, some weeks later, we have an almost infinite amount of healthy and tasty ´kiseli kupus´!
We don´t have gas or central heating in Postaja, so we cook and heat the house with a wood stove. And wood does not come through pipelines… We did not cut any trees ourselves, but we did move a lot of wood around, with tractors, wheelbarrows and our hands, and we´ve been chopping wood into smaller pieces and into fire starters. Eventually we stacked big amounts of wood neatly around Postaja.
Having a wood stove makes you very aware of what you use to create heat. When you have a central heating system, you are very far away from your real energy source, and your energy consumption can only be expressed in abstract numbers. When you heat with wood, all day long you put pieces of trees from the forest around you into a stove, where you see them burn and feel their warmth… It has to be said that burning wood is not the most environmentally friendly way of heating, but I hope that it is also helping me and the other volunteers to become a bit more aware of the fact that we are using energy sources all the time, and that we are thereby having an influence on the rest of the world.
In Kuterevo, making ´rakija´ seems to be almost as essential as preparing wood and food for winter. Rakija is a liquor made from fermented plums or other fruits, and it is very popular in Croatia. Every autumn, many families in the village prepare their own rakija from their own fruits. We have been present at a few rakija making evenings, where we learned about making rakija from people in the village. Basically, after letting the fruits ferment in barrels for some weeks, they are boiled in a pot and the steam is guided through a pipe. This pipe is cooled on one end, and this makes the steam condensate into drops, which flow down into a bucket. This condensed ´fruit steam´ is rakija. We also made some rakija from our own fruits, so now we have a small supply for the coming year.
Bears don´t have to plan things to prepare for winter, they just follow their instinct. In autumn, their instinct tells them to eat as much as they can! We´ve been feeding the bears in the refuge a lot of energy-rich food in the past months, so that they could store enough fat for the cold winter, when they hibernate. Our youngest bear Marko is now almost completely round, very fat and fluffy, and also very cute. 😉
Furthermore, we gave the bears some bales of straw that they could use to build nests from for the winter. The bears seemed to really appreciate these gifts, playing with and even hugging the straw…!
So now it is winter. We have worked hard and now we have food, wood, booze and fat bears, and I feel well prepared. At the moment, we are preparing ourselves even more against the winter cold by insulating Postaja better, to lose less warmth. You can read more about this in Dominik´s article, which will be posted on this website soon.
Kim from the Netherlands