Friday I got the call. The grapes were to be harvested the next morning. Could we come?
Grapes have been grown in Slovenia for a very long time. Celtic and Illyrian tribes were cultivating them to make wine before the Romans showed up. This was the third time I had the pleasure of picking grapes in the Podravje region of Slovenia, one of the three main wine-producing areas of the country. A friend has land there that is brimming over with grapevines and fruit trees (apple, pear, quince, walnut, chestnut). She is slowly but surely renovating a house and has a mildly ambitious vegetable garden, too. The weather was just perfect, and TC and I were eager to breathe in the fresh air and M-O-V-E after a long week during which we were more or less chained to our computers. We contributed four hands to the harvest cause. With ten adults, the grapes were gathered quickly, and the next task was to dig up the potatoes.
It was the first time I had harvested potatoes. One person uses a spade to loosen up the earth, then the others make a mad dash to pick out the potatoes. It’s actually quite exciting and by the end you get downright greedy, wanting to beat the others and pull out the biggest potato yourself. Harmless fun and a cheap thrill, really. I was partial to the red ones. Many were cast aside that looked as if an end had been sliced off. From what I understood these wouldn’t keep as long, but I felt pangs of waste as we left them in the field. Scenes from Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners and I flashed through my head (a remarkable, beautiful film) as did the scene from Taste the Waste in which a German farmer laments the amount of potatoes he ends up leaving in his field because they aren’t the right size.
The vegetable garden was bursting with tomatoes, Swiss chard, beets, and peppers. Unfortunately, many of the tomatoes were sporting mold that comes from a mixture of plants growing so close that the light and air can’t get in anymore and tomatoes absorbing so much water that they burst and are more easily attacked by fungi. Though the mold looked unsavory, most tomatoes were only affected where the skin had split open, and tossing them aside seemed extravagant. It just illustrates how well-insulated we are from hunger, we with our full refrigerators and bank accounts in the black.
The weather was just gorgeous, and after laboring in the fields, we were treated to a table groaning with homemade food lovingly prepared by my friend’s mother. I think it probably took her longer to prepare lunch for 15 than it did for us to harvest everything! But the best was yet to come. While we were relaxing in lawn chairs, the delivery of pogača was announced. Yes, delivery; it came in a cardboard box like pizza. There were two kinds, one with a buckwheat crust and one with a potato crust. You can guess which one I chose.
Along with grapes, buckwheat plays an important role in the Slovene version of the flood story. Only four people survive the flood. Who knows what the first three did – they probably went to other countries because there are a plethora of cultures with a flood myth – but the fourth one climbs up a grapevine reaching towards the sky. The god Kurent takes pity on him and makes the waters recede. The catch is that the man must promise to grow and honor grapes and buckwheat. He did, of course. Wouldn’t you?
This is what my friend called it, but there seems to be a variety of different names for it.
125 g / 1 cup buckwheat flour
100 g / 1 cup wheat flour
110 g / 1/2 cup butter
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs cold water
Mix the buckwheat and wheat flours in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a fork and then rub it into small crumbs with your hands. Add the egg yolk and then the cold water by the tablespoon so the dough comes together in a ball. You may need to use your hands. Roll out to a circle slightly larger than your (buttered) tart form. Place it in and make sure the sides are even. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of cornmeal onto the crust.
375 g farmer’s cheese (Topfen)
150 ml / 2/3 cup sour cream
1 egg plus 1 egg white
Using the same bowl, mix together the cheese, sour cream, and egg. Spoon the batter into the tart form and even it out. If you like, sprinkle some cinnamon on top. There was no cinnamon in the original, but mine was just begging for a dash of something.
Bake at 190°C / 375°F for 45 minutes. The custard should be firm with attractive brown spots.
Mine doesn’t taste quite like the original because I didn’t use any sugar. If you have an insatiable sweet tooth, you can add some to the filling or drizzle a little honey over your slice. Jam might do the trick as well.