From April through May it’s asparagus time in Slovenia and I arrived just in time this year to catch the end of the harvest. Many home gardens have their special patch of asparagus to supply the family. I ate egg frittata rich with asparagus and melissa (lemon balm) leaves prepared for me by my friends Stanko and Ksenija, at their home just outside Ljubljana.
Their home garden is truly a marvel. On the Taste of Slovenia culinary tour, which ran from May 30-June 9, we visited their garden and saw how much can be planted in a small space without sprays. We picked red raspberries, currants and were treated to a champagne at their backyard dacha! The backyard garden contains gooseberries, cherries, grapes, figs, and a vegetable garden with lots of lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and herbs, not to mention numerous flowers. This was truly the year of the roses and peonies in Slovenia.
After asparagus season the cherry season starts. I and my guests ate as many cherries as possible while in Slovenia- organic cherries- almost unheard of and hard to find in the US—with very fond memories. They begin to ripen in Goriška brda in the Western part near Italy in April and continue ripening eastwards until the end of June – on our Taste of Slovenia culinary tour we picked cherries at Orlie from low hanging branches in the orchards, then enjoyed cherries on a picnic lunch with our friends. We also saw branches heavy with cherries in the Karst at the Skerlj estates where we sampled prosciutto and teran wine. Our hostess, Milojka Skerlj, invited us to pick cherries there as well. Here, daughter Irena is serving us some of the famous charcuterie… if you look carefully, you see the cherries on the table.
Later cherries- called Visnik or “sour cherry, ” made into juice and preserves were available at end of June- thus rounding out the cherry season.
For a double delight, in addition to cherries, I was literally stuffing my face daily with glorious red raspberries from bush to mouth – there was no middleman- from mid June on.
THE SECRET OF A PEST-FREE GARDENS
The miracle to me, was that not one destructive beetle nor pest attacked the fruits. What is the secret? Lots of compost, a huge diversity of produce in one small space, flowers, daily care and lots of love. I saw so many bees on lavender plants near the raspberries that it made me smile… there is no shortage of bees in this Slovenian garden. We visited some home gardens. Our driver, Marjan, invited us to visit his home garden and to eat the fruits. Nothing fresher. There were strawberries, currents everywhere, lots of lettuce, fruit trees, grape vines…even a small chicken coop, and the cat in the garden.
On the day I was leaving Slovenia at the end of June, my guests received a box of organic apricots from a family member living in Goriška brda. Figs were also ready and I tasted my first green fig when visiting the Sutor winery in Vipava Valley at the end of June my last day there.
A fig tree at the entrance to the winery tempted us to sample the first figs of the season. One warning from my Slovenian friends… open the fig first, just don’t jump head and bite into the fruit… a wasp maybe hiding inside. I also tasted the first maribella of the season which are small yellow plums.
Despite the tragic “zled” (ice storm) of February 2, 2015, the fruit trees from the Western parts of Slovenia were unharmed and delivering their delights of the season right on schedule.
So sad to leave this organic spray-free heaven I departed, planning my return as I was packing my bags. I just love this place.
More about Isadore, Malojka and daughterIrena Skerlj and their bed and breakfast, farm, pigs, charcuterie and wine making in the lovely Karst village of Tomaj, see the New York Times story. “Tasting Slovenian Cuisine Right at the Source” by Hannah Wallace. I understand that Irena is a fantastic cook.