My stomach was too small. As I have experienced while grocery shopping when hungry, my stomach was no match for my eyes. Except this time I was shopping for food I knew I wouldn’t get for the next 2 years. I had just finished my second chipotle burrito, was halfway deep into a pepperoni pizza, and had still only barely made a dent in my bucket list of food. My stomach was just too small. I was because of times like these and people like me that gluttony was on that list of seven. I half expected Kevin Spacey to walk in, tie me down and force feed the rest of the food I craved, but could not fit. These, were my last thoughts regarding food in the United States, thoughts I might have retained given I never discovered my new reason for existence: verena.
Verena is a delicious homemade jam made by every Kyrgyz household worth their own salt, i.e., anyone that can mix fruit with sugar. But do not be fooled, as simple as the recipe sounds (fruit and sugar) every verena is different. And it was upon this realization that I understood what must happen for my duration in Kyrgyzstan. My mission: To seek and consume as much of the best verena within the politicized territorial boundary of the Kyrgyz Republic as possible. Challenge Accepted.
First, we must ask ourselves, what makes the best verena indeed the best? Should it be, which verena complements the meal or drink with which it is being consumed? Or simply how much can I shovel into my face before getting sick? As the distinguished and intellectual individual that I am, I obviously chose the latter.
Now a rubric was to be created. Things like sweetness, texture of whole fruit, and thickness of adjoining syrup were, of course, to be taken into account. But things like healthiness and the difference of whole fruit and syrup specific gravity throw a wrench into the usual calculation methods.
The best verena in country- will be sweet but not over poweringly so, an essence of the original fruit must be present. The whole fruit must also be present, but not too tough, as most apricot verenas tend to be. A proper preparation of whole fruit must be observed. And the difference of texture b4etween whole fruit and the syrup is an often overlooked attribute. One cannot be fishing for hard chunks of fruit in a watery syrup- verena must be able to be consumed as one substance. This is a reason why raspberry verena always scores so high on the Verena Calculator. The mashed raspberry integrates well with the syrup. And if proper sweetness is observed, a near perfect verena is achieved.
But we cannot overlook the healthiness factor. Loaded with tons of sugar, healthiness is often inversely correlated with other positive factors. However keep in mind, as the mission states: “Consume as much of the best verena … as possible.” And acquiring type 2 diabetes from over consumption is most certainly not part of our goal, and is in fact contradictory to the sustainability of our main objective. As acquiring type 2 diabetes would probably result in a medical separation from Peace Corps.
Armed with nothing but the best tools (my impeccable sense of taste and the infallible Verena Calculator) and the financial backing of the US Government (kind of), my search has endured and will continue until I find that perfect combination of flavors and ingredients, textures and tastes of the perfect verena… or until I get sick.
Please see the attached excel file, entitled “Verena Calculator” (patent pending) to grade your own local/homemade verena.