The land of the porridge people
25. May, 2020

The villages under Mt. Stol

Getting close to some local folklore
The last couple of months have been in a way a return back to my childhood. I remember how most of the days passed at school and playing outside with my neighbours, weekends were reserved for family hikes nearby our house. Driving around was only at special occasions – back in the day a trip to lake Bled was done when somebody celebrated a birthday, so we could go and eat those fabulous cream-cakes. A trip to Croatia was reserved solely for summer vacations. And only about every two months we packed up a car and went shopping to either Italy or Austria – not because we would have lack of things over here, but the quality and prices were better there (and chocolate was sweeter and tastier). Today I am not playing hide and seek outside with my neighbours anymore, my sons do – but I am going on walks with my neighbour friend a few times a week, where we reminisce of the youth and the fun times we had and we enjoy seeing our kids being so bonded as we used to be in our childhood.
The place where we live is very special for Slovenia. Not just because of natural beauty that is found on every step and lush greenery that surrounds us. The cultural heritage of our area is incredible. Back in the early 1900s from a small parish of about 1.500 inhabitants came over 150 intellectuals that gave a significant mark on Slovene history. Even our capital city Ljubljana didn’t have so many clever heads on one spot. You wouldn’t know names of this people, but for Slovenians some of them are our national heroes and we cherish them with great pride. Among them are two writers, Janez Jalen and Fran Saleški Finžgar, that have artfully described lives of Slovenians thru their stories and tales that are among some of the obligatory readings in our schools. Beekeeper Anton Janša has brought the name of Carniolian grey bee and beekeeping practices throughout the world. Without his knowledge on systematic beekeeping the trade wouldn’t be the same. He was cherished even at the court of Maria Theresa, the Austrian empress, in Vienna, who chose him as the professor of apiculture for the intellectuals of the Austrian high society and his honey was never missed in the gift packages coming from the empress to other dignitaries. Even today the area is known as the cradle of Slovenian beekeeping. Last but not least are the last two, who were best friends from childhood – probably they were also playing hide and seek when they were young across same pastures as my kids do today. Matija Čop, an intellectual, a linguist, a librarian and influencer on France Prešeren, our greatest poet. Their friendship brought us some of the best poems and a modern take on Slovenian language. Their birth houses were turned into museums and they are connected through a trail called The path of cultural heritage that is an obligatory visit for all children during their elementary school years. This path was also one of the reasons that I started working as a tour guide. 
Bread and honey, the most traditional breakfast in Slovenia
Our municipality spreads thru 10 villages and has little over 4.000 inhabitants. Every time when I guide my groups, I try to bring them through the area. Because it shows the face of real Slovenia. And every time it is the highlight. When you go from village to village you can notice church steeples in each one of them, beautiful houses and tended gardens, farms and farmland with animals grazing on the grass. The area hasn’t turned into tourism yet as much as in other places of Slovenia and this is where you can find the charm. It is like back in the day. Roosters and birds wake you up each morning. Church bells are heard throughout the day. Families sharing homes and having strong ties between each-other. Families that have lived on the same soil for centuries and who have lots of stories to tell that go from generation to generation, from grandparents on to their grandkids. 
One of this stories refers also to the nickname of the municipality Žirovnica  – the land of the porridge people – Kašarija. This is a more recent nickname and it was at first only meant for the people of the biggest village in the area. But as I mentioned there are ten villages in the area and each one of them has got a nickname. It all goes back to the building of the new parish church. Back in the day, the only church of importance was at the edge of the villages, in the last one. It was called the church of Saint Clement. The latter was built in the 10th century after we accepted the new religion from the Bavarians, roman-catholicism. This church was used for numerous activities, one of the major ones were funerals, since the area of the church was the only one where they buried people from the entire Upper Sava valley. The place became smaller and smaller, but to many people from the community church was also too far away – without cars at that time, most of them needed to walk a long distance in order to attend a mass and other church ceremonies. The incentive came from the priest of the parish to measure the central point of the area and put in a foundation stone for the new church. The locals share the fact that the priest walked from one end to the other to measure with his feet the exact central point of the area. In 1821 the new parish church was finally built and dedicated to Mary. Not everybody was happy with it, the villagers of the previous main church were furious about the fact that now they have the longest way to walk – nickname rebels  (puntarji) was given to them and even in 2020 some of the older villagers prefer to attend services in a different church, out of the municipality. Other nicknames were given to the villagers according to the ways they brought food to the church builders, because every village was in charge of food one day of the building process – so among us you can find water carriers (petriharji), skirt wearers (kiklarji), old wheelbarrow’s (koretarji), meat eaters (kračmani), salad people (sovatarji) and porridge people (kašarji). You can figure out by yourself how the villagers got their nicknames. Most of these names are no longer present between the villagers but two remained – the rebels and porridge people. The synonym for the entire municipality has long been the land of the porridge people and we pretty much refer to ourselves in that way even beyond the boundaries of our area. 
Is porridge than our signature dish? Well, it used to be in the past. Because fields were full of either buckwheat or millet. Apple and walnut trees were a necessary plant at every single house and forests in the fall are full of wonderful porcini mushrooms. And since a lot of the old things are coming back I decided to share two of my favourite recipes with you that will bring you back to the land of my ancestors at least in flavours.
For an amazing lunch or dinner you can try out this simple recipe for BUCKWHEAT WITH MUSHROOMS. My only hint for you would be – mushrooms taste better when they are self-picked porcini’s, but if you don’t have a chance to get some – the ones from the market will do the trick as well. 
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup buckwheat
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of marjoram
  • 2 cups of porcini mushrooms (if you cannot get fresh, dry ones are ok too – just have them in water about an hour prior to cooking)
  • a piece of butter
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • a pinch of thyme
  • half cup of sweet cream
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
  • salt and fresh grinded pepper

Buckwheat is cooked in salty water together with marjoram and one clove of garlic. Let it boil slowly for about 20 minutes, drain when cooked. In the meantime we heat up the oven. In a separate dish melt butter and add onion, stir it for as long as the colour turns yellowish, add one clove off garlic and thinly-sliced mushrooms. Add thyme and cook until all liquids evaporate, add salt and pepper. Mix buckwheat and mushrooms together, add sweet cream and parsley, put everything into an oven-proof dish and bake for about 10 minutes. You can eat it alone or as a side dish with any meat. 
A very nourishing breakfast or an interesting dessert can be an APPLE MILLET PORRIDGE. Instead of apples you can also use dried plums or any other fruit that you like. 
Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup millet, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 apple chopped in small pieces
  • cinnamon
  • 1-2 tablespoons of honey
  • chopped walnuts

In a small pot, combine the millet, 2 cups of milk and salt and cook over medium heat. Stir with the spoon and cook until millet has puffed up (10-15 minutes). Once cooked, remove from stove and add chopped apples. Leave for a minute or two. Add the last cup of milk slowly and stir, making the porridge a bit creamier. Sprinkle with some cinnamon, chopped walnuts and apples and add honey on top. Dober tek!

Buckwheat porridge with mushrooms

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