By Irina Ivankova
The Chinese have given us their tea ceremony, which gives birth to the most delicate of feelings. The Japanese, in turn, have turned tea drinking into a strict ritual, while the English say ‘everything stops for tea’ — which is traditionally served at 5pm.
Residents of the village of Klyastitsy, in the Rossony district, have been sharing Belarusian style tea drinking, with local collectors of wild herbs and berries promoting Belarusian herbal teas. Their national gastronomic recipes are being celebrated as part of the Slow Food international movement — an organisation set up in 1986 in Italy to counteract the domination of fast food. The idea is to shift from eating quickly on foot to taking the time to relish each mouthful or sip. Simultaneously, we are encouraged to preserve the traditions of national and regional cuisine. The official website of Slow Food details projects which aim to protect small producers, preserving traditional manufacturing methods. From the post-Soviet space, only Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Belarus are represented.
Belarusian herbs are already known abroad. “We are situated along an ecological route, with our village having six farm guesthouses. Guests always wish to take something traditional home with them; herbal teas — made by ourselves — are very popular as a souvenir and treat,” explains the host of one guesthouse, the Director of the Eco-Rosy nature protection establishment, Alla Khoren. One of the first to become involved in rural tourism in Belarus, she decided to buy a small house near the guesthouse to make her teas when their success really became apparent. The Khoren Herbs Museum is now established there.
“In here, we dry our herbs,” Alla indicates, opening the museum’s wooden door. “John’s-wood, marjoram, meadowsweet, pigweed, blackberries and mountain ash grow nearby, but we usually collect thyme from further away.” The museum appears simple from the outside but smells wonderful inside. Raspberry beetles, marjoram and John’s-wood are drying on a cloth, while the berries from dogrose and hawthorn are dried in a special oven.
Her souvenir herb collection consists of ten elements. “This makes a pleasurable tea which generally improves health; we don’t wish to put the body out of balance,” explains Alla, showing us a small pink bag tied with a ribbon. Its label features the Slow Food emblem. “We use an old grinder on stems,” Alla continues, showing us an iron wheel with a handle and blades. Alla’s family collects herbs, as do neighbours and local schoolchildren, on a volunteer basis; this year, schoolchildren harvested 16kg of herbs.
In 2010, the UNDP assisted the project, helping decorate the museum. Not long ago, herb collectors attended the Terra Madre (translated as ‘mother-land’) conference: held every other year in Italian Turin, under the Slow Food aegis and focusing on ‘correct’ gastronomy. According to Ms. Khoren, the production of herbal tea will never become a major commercial project, since it would then lose its appeal.
Not long ago, a local version of Terra Madre was celebrated in the village, on Mother Earth Day. Schoolchildren came to the museum to drink tea with a jam made from wild berries, and to learn about herbs and the art of enjoying ‘slow food’.