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The potato pit

The 18th century brings about important changes regarding crop plants. New crop plants appear, among which the most important were corn and potatoes, of American origin. Even if these plants originating from America were brought to Europe by Cristopher Columbus at the end of the 15th century, their spreading in the rural cultivations happened much later. Corn spread relatively quickly. It was generalized in the Bihor agriculture in the second half of the 18th century due to its qualities: high productivity and the fact that it could be easily added to the composition of bread.

In Șinteu, corn was cultivated in the gardens around households, along with other vegetables (cabbage, carrots, parsley, beans, lentils, squash, tobacco, etc.). The potato plant was one of the most widespread plants in the mountain settlements of the Slovaks, being cultivated here ever since their migration to Romania. Potatoes offered a very high yield, perfectly adapted to the poor soil in the highlands and to the climate conditions. Furthermore, they were rapidly added to the composition of potato bread.

For storing harvests, it was necessary to create optimal conditions during the storage period, so that they could maintain their properties in the long term and, at the same time, be protected against storms or fires. Besides the cellar that we usually find in the Slovak households, dug into the ground and partially positioned in the house’s basement (beneath a house), another storage method were pits. In these pits, situated somewhere near the household, one could store potatoes, beet, carrots, cabbage, etc.

In Șinteu, the potato storage holes were dug in a bell shape, at a depth of around 2 to 3 meters and with a diameter of 2 to 1,5 meters. Here, potatoes were protected from bad weather for a whole year. The main purpose of these storage spaces was maintaining and preserving the harvest for a longer period, to be consumed both by people and animals.

Potato cultivation on these lands is also done nowadays. Moreover, some Slovaks keep using the pits dug in the ground for storing vegetables. Such a hole can also be found on the premises of the Huta Slavia complex.

Potassium carbonate is known to man ever since immemorial times. Initially, it was used for washing clothes, because, in the alkaline environment it created, fats could more easily be decomposed and any stains disappeared after the first wash. Soap factories use it in their production. In ancient times, the wood was burned, and following the burning, about 500 grams of potassium carbonate were obtained for one cubic meter of wood.

Besides wood burning, there was also another way of producing potash: over the wood ash one would pour boiling water; the resulting concoction was poured into the hearth, over woodfire. This procedure had to be carried out with a lot of skill, for fire not to escape, and then for potash to deposit on the bottom of the hearth.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, hundreds of potash huts could be found all over Europe. In the Șinteu area potash (slov. salajka) was produced ever since the 18th century. Since potash was in great demand in Europe, and forests were plentiful, the local nobles rapidly realized that producing potash could bring additional income. As a result, they founded the first potash huts, called in German Potaschen Hütten, as part of today’s Budoi locality, the first Slovak locality founded in Bihor County. Here, the procedure for obtaining potassium carbonate or potash (K2CO3) by burning wood, leaves and grass, was the following: leaching of crude ash through softening in vats and water washing; evaporation by boiling the lye in large vessels or boilers; re-boiling (calcination) for enriching the potassium carbonate; evaporation of the lye; the subsequent processing of crude potash.

The potash huts were considered to be the first places where Slovaks settled. Such a place was the center of the Făget village (slov. Gemelčička), where the church is located, visible from Belvedere. Once can also find the memory of these times in the place’s toponymy. This way, in Huta Voivozi, in Făget etc, the „salajka" toponym can often be found, where wood was burned and ash was boiled in the old days.

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