Eating habits of Slovaks during Christmas and Easter

Eating habits of Slovaks during Christmas and Easter

 

“Tiempos y ritmos de la alimentación”

Bloque temático de la primera semana: el patrimonio en la historia.

 

    There is a particular focus on food during the most important holiday time in Slovakia. Christmas and Easter is celebrated in many places where Christian religion prevails however the exact celebration procedures and the same days may be the only linking part that connects these countries. There are many differences in eating habits around the world that are especially ´visible´ during religious celebrations. As professor Stoličná states: Food and ways of eating belong to the most significant identification codes of human communities. The culinary culture ranks among the structures of the so-called long durance and the eating models belong to the most stabile values of human communities. They are an integral part of the cultural equipment of every person; in their rudimentary form, they survive for long time and often under changed conditions. 1We can say that eating habits are ´codified´ procedures carried by generations within the human communities. Different food preparations during Christmas and Easter days are a restult of different social structures and conditions codified in human communities.

In Slovakia Christmas begins on December 24th with Štedrý večer (lit. trans. Generous Evening) reuniting families to their tables. Christmas preparations, however, begins several weeks earlier with the baking of Christmas cookies and the purchasing of the Christmas tree and Christmas carp. Carp is sold in large tubs on the street. Customers pick which one they would like and have it killed on the spot or take it home and let it swim around in their bathtub. The Christmas tree remains undecorated until Christmas Eve, and the carp is clubbed over the head by father in preparation for Christmas dinner. In the past, carp was the only meat the poor could afford at Christmas, and it eventually became a rather lucrative tradition for carp farmers. In the fifteenth century, the number of carp ponds in Bohemia – (territory of present Czech Republic) numbered around 78,000.2

Carp – kapor appears in the special Christmas wading pools on the streets or grocery stores that have fish counters about a week before Christmas. Depending on who owns the wading pools, they take on different shapes and sizes. However, there are always some constants: they are always filled with a little cold water and lots of carp, and they are manned by a fish monger with a net and a scale. You point to your carp; he reaches into the pool gently with the net, so as not to create a disruption among the carp. His assistant nestles the bag up to the net, the carp flops around once and then slides into the bag. The bag goes onto the scale, the assistant moves a few weights around to determine the weight of the carp, the customer pays 4 Eur/kilo ($2.38/lb.) and then goes on his or her way with the new carp.3

Families usually keep their fish alive until the day before Štedrý večer Christmas Eve. There is a large offer of frozen carp and other species of fish in the supermarkets but carp is still the mostly eaten fish. After decapitating the fish and when all the cleaning is processed, the carp will be cut in slices often soaked in milk in order to be breaded and fried before serving with potato salad. As already mentioned other fish such as trout or salmon is eaten too. There are also families that do not follow the Christian prohibition not to eat meat and have some instead. As Slovak ethnologist Rastislava Stolicna puts it on Christmas Eve “Catholics and Otrhodox [would fast, during which time] they ate only fish, formerly only salted or cooked, but in the twentieth century fish fried in oil served with a potato salad began to be gradually consumed.” So, in fact, the meal of fried carp and potato salad is not all that traditional across Slovakia. It’s 100 years old according to Stolicna, and taste a little bit like a pond, and is really full of lots and lots of bones.4Despite the ´bones cleaning drudgery´ eating carp is not different from other fish meat containing higher number of bones. For some people it might be difficult to get used to it but for sure it is matter of practice. Definitely the carp taste is a taste of Christmas. Another taste that connects our mind with Christmas is potato salad zemiakový šalát that is widely know under the name Russian salad or Olivier salad. Every family has its own recipe and the ingredients may vary: in some families boiled eggs are cut in cubes, in some families raw cubes of onions are added, pickles can not be left out, basically it is up to the family and their preference. Other important element of the Christmas dinner is a really special soup made of kyslá kapusta (sauerkraut), called kapustová polievka or kapustnica (cabbage soup). It is a traditional Christmas and New Years Eve soup and it is also prepared for special occasions like popular midnight meal at the weddings, students graduation party called stužková slávnosť or weekend cottage´s delicacy. There are many variations, it can be prepared with mushrooms, potatoes, dried plums, thick home made pasta, pearl barley, sometimes cream and very importantly smoked meat and also chorizo style sausages. As mentioned by Stoličná: almost every family has its own recipe for cabbage soup and serves it at least once a year, as a part of festive Christmas dinner.5 My family recipe contains these ingredients: home made sauerkraut, home made sausages, smoked ham, potatoes, dried wild local mushrooms and bread on the side. When served, meat is cut on a separate plate and every member of the family can take as much as he wishes. We cook it on 24th December, on New Years Eve and then 12 days later on 6th. December. Kapustnica served the day after being cooked always tastes better. Soup is anindispensable part of the Slovak culinary tradition in the fact, Slovaks celebrate such a important day as Christmas Eve with this unique cabbage soup. Not a single soul can’t imagine this time of the year without our vibrant but healthy sauerkraut delicacy. No matter how big the stockpot and how small the family is, leftovers do not often appear when kapustnica is served. Depending on regions also legumes are presented on the festive tables. In Slovakia, meals prepared from legumes had also a ritual meaning and were consumed as a part of wedding or Christmas feasts. To these days, the split peas soup, bean soup or lentil soup are still eaten at Christmas.6 Of course kapustinca or any legume soup is served first and then the carp or meat dish with potato salad follows. We can say that soup and meat dish together with different Christmas cakes and biscuits are the core of the solemn dinner. Instead there are also families that follow the tradition of eating the oblatky (wafers) topped with honeyor garlic and cut of an apple before the dinner. Cutting and apple - This tradition is such a ubiquitous Slovak symbol of health that this year, one of the Bratislava mayoral candidates even featured it in her campaign ads. You take an apple and cut it in half. If the seed pods inside are full and healthy, a healthy year awaits you. If you cut it in half and see something different, woe be to you for even cutting that apple open.7In order to try all these dishes one should take part in Christmas Eve dinner in a Slovak family. If there is not such a possibility Christmas market might provide you a certain view of typical festive foods already. Christmas market are very popular in Slovakia and are open only for a short period from the end of November until Christmas Eve. People are looking forward to eat cigánska pečienka aspecially seasoned pork or chicken meat in bread roll with or without cabage or lokše sort of pancakes filled with sweet or salty fillings. Lokša (sing.) is an indispensable part of Slovak kitchen. It is a thin pancake made out of potato dough baked on hot plate or an ungreased frying pan. The most popular salty fillings is the goose liver, or sauerkraut, also plain ones topped with butter are very tasty. The sweet fillings vary and often cottage curd, fruit jams or grinded poppy seeds with sugar are among the most favourites.You will find there also ´chorizo´ style sausages which are accompanied by mustard and thick slice of white bread. Horúce vino mulled wine is very welcomed during chilly evenings on the market and of course punch is being drank too. In Slovakia, no celebration can take place without wine and spirits. Wine growing is widespread mostly in the area of the Lesser Carpathians around Bratislava, in the Nitra region and in Eastern Slovakia in the Tokay region on the Hungarian borders. In these regions the larger amounts of wine are consumed and sold. High quality white and red wines that have also always been exported are produced here. To these days, vintage festivals, during which young wine called burčiak is being sold, are held in vintner towns at the beginning of the fall.In mountain regions of Slovakia people preferred various distilled alcoholic drinks called pálenky. From the half of the 20th century most of them have been commercially manufactured, but people in the countryside can still distil they own spirits in local distilleries. The most popular are those distilled from fruits, especially from plums that are used to make slivovica. A Slovak specialty is borovička – Slovak gin, made from alcohol distilled from fruits of the juniper bush. A warm alcoholic beverage called hriatô, hriate is a Christmas tradition. It is made of good pálenka, honey and pork lard or butter.8

While Christmas day celebration is fixed the Easter feast is moveable. Easter is a synthesis of pagan and Christian religious tradition celebrated on Easter Monday rather than Sunday. Traditionally, Easter was a pagan springtime ritual calledpomlázka/korbáč in SVK (which means “braided birch branches”), during which boys whipped girls’ legs with birch branches and were then rewarded with coloured eggs or a shot of alcohol. Czech and Slovak boys eagerly continue the tradition today, and sometimes adults gleefully join in. Whipping is supposed to confer youth and fertility for the coming year and is often accompanied by drenching with water.9Boiled eggs are not only reward for boys and decoration objects in Slovak households but are an indispensable part of Easter cooking. Since my mum comes from the eastern part of Slovakia our family is used to prepare typical dishes of this part of country. Hrudka, paska and vajíčka (cheese, bread and eggs) are typical celebration meals on our Monday breakfast. Most families prepare Easter baskets with these treats that are later blessed following the Resurrection service. Easter is an important family holiday in Slovakia and “hrudka” is an Easter staple in Eastern Slovakia10 There are endless variations of these meal that vary from salty to sweet versions. Basically it is a clod of cheese that is cut in big or little pieces usually eaten with paska bread. Paska is white cake type bread and goes very well with the egg dish that is made of boiled eggs cut into slices then mixed on the pan with cooked ham and sausages. Grated horseradish and salad of boiled beet root accompany very well this typical Eastern Slovakia Easter dish. Often cakes in shape of lamb are prepared, chocolate eggs and other sweets are offered. Alcohol drinking is accentuated these days also due to the fact that it is a part of whipping tradition. It is not unusual that little alcohol shots are drank in the morning since it is a part of Easter ritual.

As we could see there are some typical meals prepared only during the Christmas and Easter celebrations in Slovakia. One of the most popular vegetable in Slovakia is cabbage that is shredded and then packed into wooden, and today also plastic, buckets. Cabbage turns into sauerkraut through the process of lactic acid fermentation that also produces a small amount of alcohol. It can be stored for a long time and then being used almost all year round. In the past, a bucket with sauerkraut was a must in every house. People were aware of the fact that sauerkraut is healthy and it can protect them from diseases in the winter.11 Eating of carp has it specific position on the festive tables and is very strongly practised during Christmas. Very simple ingredients such as legumes and fruits are part of the tradition too. Meat was a sign of wealth and not every family could afford to eat it in the past. Sausages are one of the preserved foods that can be consumed also during the winter time and therefore are very popular in the Slovak kitchens. It is interesting that there has been a certain concern about the specific time of the day selected for eating ritual - evening on Christmas and morning on Easter. Here we can notice how certain religious practices entered into the households of Slovak families even if they are not religious followers. Another example of ritual following is rule is fasting itself. People should not eat whole day until the Christmas dinner is served. It is also true that some of the meals are not very healthy but that is what was accessible in the past. In the Slovak culture, food is richly entwined with tradition and religious teachings, especially for Christmas and Easter, when special dishes are prepared and rituals observed. Food is also used to establish a sense of community, and Slovaks have generally become known for their generosity and hospitality. By living in cluster communities, Slovaks were able to continue the customs and traditions of their homeland. 12 As mentioned by Lisa Alzo in her book about Slovak immigrants in America, Slovaks brought their traditions abroad which at least somehow connected them with their land of origin. This is another sing of the strength of human communities and their aim of codification their habits - an important part of world´s cultural heritage. On the other hand there are many innovative tendencies within the Slovak gastronomy habits recently and only time will show how and if they will enter Christmas and Easter households of Slovaks.

 

Recipe: Savory Hrudka by Allan Stevo

Ingredients:1 litter milk, 10 eggs, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper

Preparation Time:30 minutes of cooking, 3 to 4 hours setting time.

Pour one litter of milk into a pot. Turn on low heat. Add 10 eggs to the milk. Add salt and pepper. Mix the mixture well with an egg beater, but do not beat vigorously. A double boiler is not needed for this process, just be sure not to let the mixture scorch at the bottom, but honestly a little scorching will not harm anything. Stir constantly (about 20-30 minutes) until the mixture separates into curd-like pieces and whey-like “white water.”Cook the mixture for a few minutes after the white water appears.

Pour the mixture into a strainer lined with a cheesecloth or a porous kitchen towel. Pour off the water, collect the solids. Squeeze out the liquid, being careful not to burn yourself. Tie the cloth tightly and hang it in a place where it can drip dry. Some use a kitchen faucet for this purpose, others use a wooden spoon placed on top of a pot. Tie the top of the towel with a string to help create a more ball-like shape. Allow the hrudka to cool. Squeeze it a few more times before the process is complete, taking effort to really squeeze the water out of it. Place it in the refrigerator to protect from spoiling. Allow it to set for 3 or 4 hours and unwrap it. It can be stored for 2 or 3 days in aluminium foil and sometimes longer. When the hrudka has gone bad, it will be apparent that it is bad, because of the noticeable smell of rotten eggs. Until that point it is okay to eat.

The variations are unlimited. Fresh ingredients like chopped parsley or chives can be added when the white water appears and should be stirred in. Some families make very salty hrudka. Some families add a little sugar to this recipe. Some families make their hrudka very spicy.

While any of these variations will make a delicious hrudka, it seems that hrudka is generally known for its bland taste, which isn’t bad at all. Good eggs and good milk have a pleasant taste of their own.

The recipe is commonly made with 5 eggs, 10 eggs, and 15 eggs, and 0.5, 1, 1.5 litters of milk respectively.

Hrudka can be sliced thick like a piece of cheese and enjoyed alongside some meats, sausages, sliced vegetables, and horseradish on a Easter Table. Some even make sandwiches from left over hrudka.

 Bibliography notes:

1Cejsh.icm.edu.pl.[online].[cit.2013.05.23.]Available at: <http://cejsh.icm.edu.pl/cejsh/element/bwmeta1.element.2eb752f7-674c-34f8-a6ef-c8b9db9bd5a5 >

2Cravens, Graig. 2006.Culture and Customs of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, page 58 USA: Greenwood Press.

352insk.com.[online].[cit.2013.05.24.]Available at: <http://www.52insk.com/2010/carp/ >

452insk.com.[online].[cit.2013.05.24.]Available at: <http://www.52insk.com/2010/carp/ >

5Stoličná, Rastislava. 2005.Culinary cultures of Europe:identity, diversity and dialogue, page 396. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.

6Akademickyrepozitar.sk.[online].[cit.2013.05.22.]Available at: <http://www.akademickyrepozitar.sk/sk/repozitar/the-national-cuisine-of-slovaks.pdf >

752insk.com.[online].[cit.2013.05.24.]Available at: <http://www.52insk.com/2010/carp/ >

8Akademickyrepozitar.sk.[online].[cit.2013.05.22.]Available at: <http://www.akademickyrepozitar.sk/sk/repozitar/the-national-cuisine-of-slovaks.pdf >

9Cravens, Graig. 2006.Culture and Customs of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, page 59. USA: Greenwood Press.

1052insk.com.[online].[cit.2013.05.24.]Available at: <http://www.52insk.com/2011/hrudka/>

11Akademickyrepozitar.sk.[online].[cit.2013.05.22.]Available at: <http://www.akademickyrepozitar.sk/sk/repozitar/the-national-cuisine-of-slovaks.pdf >

12Alzo, A. Lisa. 2006. Images of America Slovak Pittsburgh, page 109.San Francisco:Arcadia Publishing.