Happy Easter from Slovenia
The Slovenian name for Easter is Velika noč, which means “Great Night.” It’s also a great holiday for eating after weeks of fasting. Slovenes are ready to tuck into the palette of foods that await the traditional table.
The fasting period preceding Easter, called “Lent” in English, was seriously observed. Many Slovenian cookbooks offered a complete menu for fasting days, which of course, prohibited meat and lavish displays of foods and desserts. In reality, in years past, for villagers at least, it made this period of the year when food was scarce and not plentiful, a bit easier to tolerate. With Easter and the greening of the grasses, buds, chickens and cows came into the sunshine.
The custom, žegen (the blessing of Easter baskets by the local priest), celebrated in Slovenia for many years, and preserved by folk artist Maxim Gaspari in his many illustrations, has not changed since the 17 th century when it was described by Baron Janez Vajkard Valvasor in The Glory of the Duchy of Carnolia (a former name for Slovenia when it was part of other empires).
On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, huge baskets covered with embroidered cloths, were brought to church. Foods put into the basket symbolized the sufferings of Christ. There are more than forty such symbols. For instance, Easter eggs represent the blood of Christ, his tears or five wounds; meat symbolizes his body; potica, his crown of thorns; sausages, the ropes with which Christ was tied; headcheese, the earthquake felt by those guarding Christ on the cross; and horseradish, the nails with which Christ was crucified. Vinegar and wormwood symbolize his bitter suffering.
The blessed foods are eaten on Easter Sunday. Easter fare can also include, depending on the region, smoked pork, salted beef, hard-boiled eggs, prosciutto, pigs head, or parts of it with ears, bacon, klobasa, and stuffed stomach or budel, which is made by combining beaten eggs (sometimes even up to 50 eggs), cubed white bread, a small onion, cubed ham, along with salt and pepper, put into intestines and cooked. We also find Easter buns, flat cakes, štruklji (rolled dumplings) and richly decorated chicken eggs, served for Easter Sunday lunch.
But according to Dr. Janez Bogataj, PhD, expert on Slovenian traditional foods who guides
us through the Ljubljana Farmer’s Market on the Taste of Slovenia Real Food Tour, the central culinary symbol for Slovenes for Easter is the potica, a rolled yeast bread with various fillings, such as nuts, honey, poppyseed, almond, carob, chocolate, cracklings and for spring, tarragon. Even thought the potica is readily available at shops, he says that potica is usually baked at home. In times past it could weigh 34 kilograms.
In addition to potica, chicken eggs are also a central feature of Slovenian Easter foods, which have been either Pisanica from the Bela Kranija region colored or decorated in some other way. The egg is an old Indo-European symbol of fertility. Names for these specially decorated eggs include pisanice, pisanke, pirhi.
Also traditional on Good Friday are wooden rattles, which take the place of church bells which have “gone to Rome” for the day. The rattles can be hand-held of larger variety.
The church bells return on Saturday with special “bell ringers” or “pealers,” pritrkovalci across Slovenian regions. a custom dating back to 16th century. There are national competitions for bell “pealing.”
Traditional egg dyes included teran wine, dog-rose syrup, red onion skins, spinach leaves, nettle, dandelion, marigold blooms, saffron, elderberry flowers and other natural substances. These dyes were prepared by mixing with water, vinegar and salt, and boiled with the eggs on a low flame for 30 minutes. After the pot is removed from the stove, the eggs remain in the liquid until it is cooled. The eggs are removed, dried, and rubbed with lard or other fat to give a nice sheen.
Dr. Bogataj wrote about the the use of wormwood as a digestive for Hartkeisonline, “Dandelion and Wormwood: Gifts of Spring” here: http://hartkeisonline.com/2010/05/12/dandelion-and-wormwood-gifts-of-spring/
For more information: “Easter Dishes and Easter Sunday Customs” by Damjan Ovsec at “I Feel Slovenia.” http://www.slovenia.si/culture/tradition/easter-dishes/