Sunday, 20 August 2017

Brown Fingers’ Season in Bulgaria

Text by Albena Shkodrova   
Every September, expats and attentive tourists in Bulgaria notice the coming of a kind of local fashion wave – people with brown fingers come out on the streets. The first explanation that comes to the observers’ mind is that Bulgarians, traditionally more sensitive to the Arab world’s influence, have started to use henna. On a more careful inspection, however, they notice that the fingers are nightmarish, with yellow and green merge into one another to make a sinister brown, with black lines along the skin’s cracks.

The key to this ugly mystery is but an innocent one: walnuts.

September is the beginning of the season in which true connoisseurs of heavy autumn wines gather in front of their fire places, in their hand – a glass of mavrud, a unique red wine common only to the region of Thrace in Bulgaria. There, they start peeling the still fresh walnuts that they have just shaken down with a stick from the tree in front of their house.

First, they remove the green peel which causes the permanent colouring, then they break off the still-soft shells before reaching the bitter flakes. Without paying attention to the iodous spots on their hands and clothes, they carefully peel the nuts and line them along a wooden board.

After that, they use their fingers, stained for the month to come, to pop one of the white, soft walnuts in their mouth, swallowing it down with large sips of wine, thus tasting one of the biggest autumn pleasures.

Unfortunately, one of the shortest lasting too. The walnuts picked before they are ripe in Bulgaria are called “fresh” and they only stay that way for about a month. Afterwards, their high moisture concentration (up to 20 per cent) disappears and they turn into regular walnuts.

The problem with fresh walnuts is that the only way to clean them without getting stained would require doing that with a space suit. Some Bulgarians have come up with the extravagant measure of washing their hands off with tomato juice, but most don’t care and prefer to walk around brown-fingered for several weeks – after all, in September that is the sign of gastronomes.

Read more about another peculiar gourmet autumn experience in Bulgaria and the region on
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