Friday, 19 August 2022

Brace Yourselves in Slavonia: Winter is Coming and Zimnica is Now

August 18, 2022 – Picture this. You live in Slavonia. You are 16, it is the height of summer, plans include swimming in the Danube all day and partying all night. Guess again. There’s more important business. It involves plums, apricots, tomatoes, peppers, maybe beetroots. And it’s not a very weird salad. You are now old enough to make your own zimnica.


The winter staples - tomato passata, apricot and plum jam, pickled beetroots and peppers

While not a uniquely Slavonian event, zimnica, which is the Croatian word for anything that is kept specifically for the winter, plays an extremely important role in eastern Croatia. Preparing jars, bags, and dishes of fruits and vegetables for the winter is almost a form of art. Though things are different nowadays, winter in Slavonia used to be awfully long, cold, and dark, food was hard to come by, and it was of utmost importance to ensure that you preserved as much as you can. These days life is not as hard, and you can buy anything at any time, but the tradition does live on. Homegrown and homemade is always just so much better.

The preparations take place all summer long, as the fruits ripen, using various techniques. The most popular ones include pickling, jamming, and passing.

Pretty much any vegetable can be pickled using vinegar, salt, sugar, and water. The hierarchy of pickled vegetables is as follows:

1) Turšija is a mix of bell peppers, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and cucumbers, all pickled together in a plastic barrel. It takes top tier and gets served almost daily with all kinds of stews, meats, and even sandwiches, the adventure is in you.

1) Cabbage takes the same tier as turšija because it’s used to make a dish called sarma, which is the number one winter dish. It is almost mandatory to develop a love-hate relationship with it based on how often it’s made in Slavonian households.

2) Beetroots taste slightly sweeter, very red, never eaten while wearing white. Never frowned upon.

3) Solo whole bell peppers – neutral good, few hate them, few love them. Eaten if served, rarely an object of fear of missing out.

4) Other – like solo pickles, usually fetched when you run out of the good stuff.

5) Green tomatoes – now, that’s simply weird.


Just like any vegetable can be pickled, any fruit can be made into jam or rakija. Rare are jobs that are as annoying as picking up plums, apricots, peaches, pears, or apples from the ground and separating them into three buckets: good for jam, good for rakija, and good for nothing. The latter is usually completely rotten fruit, which is the most fun to pick up, and that bucket is taken to the back to be composted. The rakija bucket is dumped into a big barrel where the fruit is left to ferment, later distilled, and poured into the nicest bottles to be served on every occasion. Finally, the good fruit is eaten or used in cakes, but more importantly, jammed. There are a few different recipes for jam, depending on the fruit. The ubiquitous plum is treated as the queen and can be found in cakes, tašci, knedle, crepes, and on the breakfast table daily. Try the simple trick of cooking a large clay dish full of pitted plums with some sugar in the oven for a few hours and thank us later.

Now, you might wonder why one would go out and buy 250 kilograms of tomatoes on a Wednesday morning. Because that is market day, and the tomatoes went for a good price. And the ones from your garden were part of one too many salads. One of the most important ingredients of Slavonian cuisine is tomato sauce. Sunday lunch is unimaginable without a good broth, followed by the meat that was cooked in it served with some of the red velvety goodness. Tomato soup cures colds, cases of flu, and an array of other illnesses. It also makes for an incredibly easy and delicious dinner.

The process of preparing passata for the winter has a few steps. First, invite friends and family to help. This is a group job. Second, make sure that you’ve got some tools like a tomato press with a questionable origin, which you might or might not remember buying some 25 years ago. Even better if it’s your mother’s. Third, have some coffee. Fourth and final, work for 12 hours straight washing your tomatoes, cutting them, boiling, pressing, boiling again, bottling, and tucking for a cozy rest of 36-48 hours. Now you can rest easy knowing that you can store your 60 litres per household, getting through another long frosty winter in Slavonia.


Step no. 4

Traditional jam and tomato sauce are used in restaurants all over Slavonia and Baranja, where you can also try some of the dishes mentioned in the article, like tašci, sarma, and tomato soup. And that is just scratching the surface. Why aren’t you here?

How good is your knowledge of eastern Croatia anyway? Take the CROMADS test above - how many places do you recognise?

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Devastating Drought to Make for Difficult Winter and Spring

August 9, 2022 - This is one of the driest years, and according to the farmers, the drought has already caused a shortage of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes.

As Glas Slavonije reports, In the heart of Slavonia, Croatia's open-air food factory, in Đakovo, compared to the 35-year average of 760 liters per year, so far in 2022, 190 liters of rain are missing. From the beginning of the year to the present day, according to the records of Bartolo Bačić, who monitors the weather conditions in Đakovo, only 261 liters of rain fell in this part of the country. “If it rains now, it's too late”, said OPG member Mato Kretonić from Budrovac, who sells the fruits of his labour from the garden with his wife every day at the Đakovo market.

The drought, which resulted in scorched earth, will not abate even in autumn, and farmers and vegetable growers are announcing large deficits in the production of corn, sugar beet, vegetables, fruit, etc., which will, of course, be reflected in the further increase in prices. At the city market in Đakovo, they have kept them at the level that arose after last year's jump. “The prices were not corrected, even though it was necessary, but if that had happened, I don't know who would have been able to sell their goods”, says Blaženka Škorvaga of the OPG from Punitova. Farmers do not have good news for the coming period.

“This is one of the driest years ever. I am a realist by nature, and I can say that in the coming time there will be little due to drought and other disturbances. What was hinted by experts a few months ago - that there will be a food shortage, is already visible now. A difficult period awaits us in winter and spring when it will be difficult to get food at all”, warns the vegetable farmer Kretonić.

“Peppers cost 12 kuna, potatoes 8, tomatoes 10, or 5 kuna in wholesale, cucumbers, onions and cabbage cost 8, carrots 10, pumpkins range from 5 to 7 kuna per piece, and a special kind of zucchini goes for 15 kn/kg”, Mata's wife Marica Kretonić lists the prices at her stand. A kilogram of yellow beans costs 50 kuna. These OPGs sell cooking corn for 3 kuna per piece. “Its quality is first class”, adds Marica. Keeping prices at (almost) last year's level, warns her husband Mato, puts them in an unenviable position.

“Next year, we practically won't be able to organise production, because there is no working capital”, says this OPG employee.

When asked if people are buying less because of price increases, or inflation, the answer is negative.

“People keep buying because they don't have their own products due to these extreme weather conditions, but shopping for winter food is also declining this year, and people are also losing the habit of preparing it. They used to buy it by the bag, but now people only buy ten heads of cabbage for pickling”, says Budrovčanin.

And the vegetable gardener Škorvaga warns that there will be a shortage of food soon.

“There is a shortage already. There will be a lack of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes... There is a lack of fruit, you can see which fruits are local, because they are much smaller, and which are imported. And customers are aware that food production is like that, the products are worse because of the drought, and they understand”, says Škorvaga, whose production has been suffering for two years due to the capricious nature, storms - last year the wind destroyed her greenhouses, and this year the ice beat the seedlings, counting 300,000 plants. Damage - HRK 100,000.

Production to be cut in half

“I will cut production in half. I can no longer sustain such a large production. Nature can be compensated, but it is too expensive to be marketed, and there is also a high cost of labour and its lack”, says Škrovaga. At her stand, tomatoes cost 10, or 4 kuna in wholesale, peppers 10, corn 2 kuna a piece, melon 7, cucumbers 8 kuna. A kilogram of green beans costs 25 kuna, and half a kilogram 15 kuna.

“People are less likely to buy vegetables for the winter. They say they will eat what they have. Purchases at the market have decreased, and many people do not come anymore especially young people”, says Škorvaga.

A liter of tomato sauce at the market in Đakovo on Saturday cost 20 kuna. The price of the queen of summer fruit - watermelon - at the stand of Marina Grgić from Đakovo cost 3 kn/kg. The vegetable farmer says that she will be ready for the dry autumn - with deep wells.

While more retailers are already dually reporting prices, there are still no buyers' inquiries on the market about the formation of prices in euros, according to our interlocutors. “Everyone is still silent about it”, says Marica Kretonić, and her husband Mato adds that he will price his products in euros based on his own assessment.

“If I have my own goods, so that I don't have to resell them, there will be no price shocks with the switch to the euro. It will be rounded to Eurocents - for example, something that comes up to 63 will be rounded to 70 Eurocents”, says Škorvaga and adds: “Some things will be rounded to my detriment, some to the detriment of the customer”.

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