Romania Lime Burn

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Supported through EU Erasmus+ by ARCH in the UK hosted by Satul Verde at Meziad Romania. 
22-27 August 2015

The course included making quick lime with only wood as fuel and then using the high quality product. Lime (calcium oxide/hydroxide) is an ancient product used for maintaining heritage buildings, it is an essential ingredient used for mortars, paint and as a sterilising agent in stables, kitchens etc. In Romania they still make lime in the way the Romans did.

We arrived at Cluj Napoca and for the first two days travelled into the Apuseni mountains to Beius. The mountains are calcareous and have that cultural landscape of high biodiversity typical of limestone grassland and forest. In Romania old style of subsistence farming has persisted on a large scale. Based on family ownership of narrow strips of arable land, not necessarily connected to each other together with common rights to graze certain pastures and open woodland reminiscent of the ways farms were organised in the late middle ages in the UK. Everything the family and it’s livestock needs are produced on the farm and the amount of items of foodstuffs brought in from outside is minimal. We saw this in practice everywhere in the production of hay for winter fodder. On every small field, steep slopes and among the trees and orchards. Even in the garden around the house there were haystacks. The collection of tree leaf hay is still practised in Romania. It is a fall back in case of persistent dry summers leading to poor hay crops. The leaves are collected when green in late summer, dried and stored in barns.

Calareous mountains with old terraces caused by previous oxen ploughing now abandoned and turned over to hay pasture.

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Fodder trees placed close to old farm buildings is comparable to many old farm pollards in Cumbria and Scotland.

During our tour through the Apuseni mountains we visited two churches;

Bell Tower

On the road to Vidra we visited the orthodox church dating from 1712 to see the amazing original iconography and frescos dating 1790. It was a privilege to be shown the beautiful ceiling and wall painting and to see the timber construction from the inside of the bell tower. We discussed the dilemma of the ‘patrimony list’ in a country with poor fiscal resources for maintenance. There had been some water damage but the leaks had been repaired. The damage from the leak was fairly minimal.(Photos above)

Later we saw a similar type of wooden church at Girda De Sus a leaking roof had already damaged the wall paintings and whole sections of the internal wooden walls had been replaced along with many of the structural timbers. The workmanship of the carpenters was of high quality replacing old rotten timbers with similarly crafted new ones,with axe marks visible on the timbers. The church has been rendered using a lime/sand/clay mix. The completed construction will give opportunity for imaginative and equally dedicated new painting in the interior after the construction work is complete. As a green wood worker it is very exciting to see restoration done using traditional skills.

The two churches were painted by the same artist.

We continued our journey to Beius where we stayed overnight.

The following morning we drove to Meziad 15 km from Beius where we met Silvia and Dumitru the lime burners. Lime burning in Meziad is a family and village scale business. The limestone is burnt using renewable wood fuel at temperatures over eight hundred degrees Celsius for three days. Lime burning was once an important craft in the UK. The purity of the wood fired product and the fact that it achieves a much higher price than the factory made lime demonstrates there is still a window for old skills in a modern market.

Lime burning process

First the lining of the tubular cuptor with limestone and the building of a dome which is then further filled over the top. Each stone is carefully placed to allow oxygen to pass through. Eight tonnes of stone is needed to fill the cuptor. The intense heat drives off the the carbon dioxide and turns the calcium carbonate to calcium oxide which is then slaked to make calcium hydroxide.

Clay is then placed over hay to seal the top of the cuptor.

As a group we filled the kiln helping the local villager ‘Nelu’. There is a ledge in the kiln the stones are placed on the ledge which starts the formation of the dome this gives enough space to fill with logs beneath the dome. Building the dome was an exciting process as at one point it looked as if the stones were going to fall on Nelu’s head.

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He propped these up with sticks then tied the loose stones with other carefully placed stones hence completing the dome. Next step was to fill the cuptor with the remaining lime stone. Once full clay sand was mixed with water and the wet mixture was easy to plaster over a layer of hay. The fire was lit which needed attendance and a constant supply of seasoned hardwood over the next 3 days

Some of us were able to stay in the village with Silvia and Dumitru. So after as delicious evening meal we would walk down to the cuptor to keep the fire attended to and enjoy our evenings with a local beer cuik.

Lime mortars have been used in buildings for thousands of years and should continue to be used for the repair and maintenance of traditional buildings. Lime mortars are prepared using either lime putty or quick lime mixes, the later made as a ‘hot mix’. The quick lime produced in the kiln is mixed with water -slaking- to produce calcium hydroxide- lime. Quick lime is slaked with excess water to produce lime putty. Slaked lime which can keep up to 6 months in a bag fetches a much higher price in Romania than quick lime

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Fresh local food delicious.

Food was very memorable and missed by all on our return to the UK. Lunch time was a big meal with three courses. Soup followed by a meat dish (vegetarian option was available) then a huge pancake doughnut and even a cheese filled pie and coffee. These meals were fantastic and fun and not the same dish was had twice. The food was cooked by Silvia and her friend Livia and a special thanks to them for their very hard work.

The evening meal was a little smaller. Breakfast was also delicious with local honey. Porridge even a traditional pork belly fat and onions (though I was the only one to try this) Fresh eggs from the farm, tomatoes and a plum preserve. Fruit trees are in abundance in Meziad and nearly every other tree is a walnut.

A Romanian recipe book is now a must have to my home.

While the cuptor was burning we had to replenish the firewood pile. This was done with a car and trailer as Dumitru’s horse had died recently and the new horse had not yet been trained. Working horses are used to an extent in villages that has not happened for a

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century in the UK. We witnessed the pride in ownership of horses and their good condition this was also the case for the milking cow, pigs, sheep and goats and even buffalo

We visited a traditional common grazing site open wood pasture of veteran pines. Part of a diverse habitat that was once a part of Scotland. Shepherds were looking after herds of villagers sheep cattle and domesticated water buffalo. The buffalo were very interested in us as we were a large group of people. The herder said we would be fine if we stayed calm,but they would chase motorbikes and low and behold as if the herder had arranged this a young man on a quad happened to pass by. The buffalo on cue started to chase him across the plain. Luckily for him his quad bike was in good working order and he drove off with out any mishap.

Romania Lime Burning Project

Buffalo are now in decline as market prices for the buffalo calf’s are half that of a cow and EU money does not compensate for this. We tried some buffalo cheese which was very creamy and delicious.

The Cuptor still burned so we had time to spare. We filled this time with a visit to a cave, walks around the village and even a well earned siesta under the apple trees in Silvia’s garden.

We also dedicated a day to lime painting first we slaked some ‘quick lime’ from a previous burn. As it cured we collected a range of plants and mineral pigments. A design was planned for a wall, taken from one of Silvia’s wonderful home produced textiles. This was up scaled on to the wall and painted using the lime paint mixed with pigment. Lime washes provide a traditionally constructed building with a protective layer against the elements. It was often pigmented with natural,locally sourced compounds such as iron oxide and vegetable pigments. Tallow and casein were added to lime washes to give it a more durable weather proof finish.

To dash and render a wall of the byre We used a hot-mixed lime mortar by adding quick lime to aggregate and water and mixing together to form a mortar. This mortar is ‘hot’ from the reaction, and can be used while still warm. Both jobs were completed before supper and then songs, cuik and tuica by the cuptor enjoyed by all.

Some mineral and plant pigments

Iron -ferrous sulphate -yellow and rust

Copper – green

Fine clay and iron oxide – yellow/red/orange/brown

Charcoal -black

Boiled onions -red/orange

Alder bark – yellow

Romania Lime Burning Project

 

Willow bark – rusty brown

Spruce bark – bark brown

Walnut bark – bark brown/black

Elder berries – green/ blue Chicory root – brown

Dung – brown/russet

Greater celandine – orange

Cherry bark – orange

Turmeric – yellow

Plums – green Cherry bark – orange

Yarrow – pale yellow

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Romania Lime Burning Project

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Our Last morning was spent at the market in Beius. Firstly we went to a tool market where they were also selling some very fine looking horses. Also piles of quicklime were for sale. Then onward to a more general market with a large undercover food market, Vegetable of very many variates were on offer. Here also were second hand clothes for sale. Textiles, antiques and much more. After the market we returned to Silvia and Dumitru’s home for our final delicious lunch.

The cuptor was shut down the previous afternoon. So it was now ready to empty. We helped with this until it was time to leave say a sad farewell. I think we will all miss Silvia and Dumitru and hope to return to visit them someday soon. Their hospitality was immense.

Our visit to Romania brought to mind how Scotland must have looked in the past. Wood pasture, hayricks, hurdles, scything, lime burning. So many practices that have been part of the UK but is now done and relearned by the few who choose to live a low carbon lifestyle.

Change to a modern way of life is fast happening in rural Romania as people strive for modernisation and modern equipment. Young people leave their villages for education and a ‘better standard of living’ This is the case with the lime burners of Meziad. Dumitru and Silvia’s children now live abroad and will not be returning to take over the family business which has been passed down from father to son for generations. Dumitru’s ill health is also an issue as he has to hire in help.

Personally I feel the practice of subsistence farming, close village network, the huge range of practical rural skills and knowledge is something to be treasured, but perhaps there is a danger of outsiders seeing the romantic side of rural life. When the reality is hard work and a fine line whether the farm has produced sufficient for the coming winters survival. Perhaps it is a project for Arch or Satul Verde to keep the cuptor going with groups from throughout Europe to save this very practical and important skill from being lost. It would also give the opportunity for others to enjoy Silvia’s cooking a very memorable and ‘full’ experience.

Diane Thomas 9. 9.15 dthomas191@hotmail.com

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