Arts, Food & Free Time

Norwegian engineer visits Transylvania to walk the countryside

He flew from Norway to Transylvania on his own initiative to walk the countryside, meet small-scale producers of food and drink, take photos, and show the world that there are alternatives to buying products from supermarkets. John Tollefsen, an electrical engineer by profession, is passionate about handmade products and a contributor to slowpix.org, a member of the global Slow Food movement. The website is used to draw attention to small-scale food and drink producers and the excellent work they are doing.

Éva Vass from Oroszhegy pours seeded plums into a big metal tank with a homemade machine to make plum jam. Photo: John Tollefsen

Tollefsen is on his third trip to Transylvania. This time, his target area was Harghita County, and he was accompanied by a local guide, Károly Szabó. His main priority was to visit the countryside where local farmers are doing their work: making tasty food in a clean way that does not harm the environment, livestock, or consumers.

“In the countryside, it’s like going back in time 50–70 years. In Western countries, agriculture is mostly mechanized. On each farm, there’s only one guy, mainly a man, doing all the work and his wife helping him – no employees. They buy very expensive machines, and they do everything on their own. But in Transylvania, you still see people in the fields, people doing work by hand, people riding horses with carts, which I like very much. They are keeping their traditions, reviving old traditions, not just using machines for everything like they do in my country,” Tollefsen told TransylvaniaNOW.

Young girl milking a buffalo, sitting on a wooden chair. Photo: John Tollefsen

His first trip in 2015 was to Brassó/Brasov; then two years later, he visited Máramaros / Maramureș. Tollefsen was amazed by the old-fashioned way of making hay in Máramaros. “When I was a young boy, I remember people making hay because back then they were doing manual work – in the 1960s. It was quite common to see people working that way. But as people got more money, they didn’t want to do manual work anymore, and everything became mechanized. But when I arrived here, I could see huge hay racks, maybe four meters high, so it was amazing,” Tollefsen says. He has good memories from the Máramaros region because it was so different compared to the other places he had visited, and that’s where he was stunned by an old watermill in action. Tollefsen also slept in a sheepfold, which he considers among his most extreme and interesting experiences.

John Tollefsen at the Jamy Pálinka brandy producer in Székelyudvarhely/Odorheiu Secuiesc. Photo: István Fekete, TransylvaniaNOW

“In the beginning, I could hardly see the stars, but as it got completely dark, I imagined I could even see the Milky Way stretching like a diffuse ribbon across the sky. I also tried to find the polar star by extrapolating the handle of the Big Dipper. By locating it, one can find north, but since I didn’t check the cardinal directions in daylight, it was just to pass the time. Astonishingly, a large guard dog came up to my guide in order to be caressed; next it came to me. Without thinking, I put my hand on its head, then I remembered that you should never do this because it shows the dog that you are dominant. Being bitten by a big dog was to be avoided at all costs, and I pulled my hand towards me as quickly as possible. Next, the dog just disappeared into the night,” Tollefsen wrote in a post describing his adventure.

During his two-week trip, Tollefsen has met with a handful of local farmers and covered a variety of products, ranging from fish and homemade chocolates to high-quality brandy and premium craft beer. He sat down with the people behind the products and listened to their stories, taking notes that he then used to pen his articles about every farmer he visited with the help of his guide. The articles are published on the slowpix website in English and translated into Norwegian and other languages. To see Transylvania through the eyes of Tollefsen, head over to slowpix by following this link.

Title image: Milking a buffalo by hand. Photo: John Tollefsen

Author: István Fekete