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Spring in Slovenia: Flavours of awakened nature

 

When nature’s life force awakens in the spring months, we are surprised time and time again by the diverse range of flavours it provides us with. It's not just the grassy plains that begin to blossom, the Slovenian culinary scene is also coming alive in all its delicious glory.

Spring arrives in the country at almost the same time as Easter. The Lent that followed Shrovetide comes to an end and the celebration of the most important Christian holiday, Easter, begins. Many customs and traditions are observed at this time, originating not only from the earliest periods of Christianity, but also from much older times. They include forms of ancient, pre-Christian beliefs associated with the spirits of fertility and growth, which were supposed to guarantee a good harvest for all. After the forty-day fasting season of Lent, people were able to start eating meat again.

Easter feast
Easter dishes
Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

Easter dishes and an example of Slovenian originality

The basic foods of the Easter basket that’s typically taken to žegen (the tradition of blessing food in church at Easter) are horseradish, potica, ham, bread and, of course, pirhi, painted Easter eggs. Never just a food item in our country, bread is a special symbol. The most typical at this time of year is potica cake with various spring-inspired fillings, of which the tarragon potica stands out the most. It is a particular Slovenian speciality, as tarragon is used in sweet dishes. Eggs, an ancient symbol of fertility and the source of life, became a symbol of Christ’s resurrection in Christianity. In Slovenia, we most often refer to them as pirhi, but you will also hear the term pisanice, especially the Bela Krajina pisanice, and remenke if you’re in Prekmurje. In addition to ham, Easter dishes include smoked or dried meats, as well as various versions of salami pressed in pig stomach casing called želodec, sausages and other local specialities.

tarragon potica on a plate
Tarragon potica
Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

A rich heritage has developed from the dishes left over from the Easter celebrations. In the Ribnica Valley, there is povanca, a kind of dough roll filled with dried meat, sautéed onions and eggs. In Gorenjska they make brudel, while Kostel is known for kostelski želodec, for which everything is used and nothing is wasted, as this is a dish made of pig’s stomach or intestine stuffed with a mixture of stale bread, ham or other smoked meat, eggs and herbs.

There are also a number of events that take place around this time. Brestovica pri Komnu holds the Asparagus Festival because the microclimatic conditions of this area mean that asparagus is harvested there first. The event presents a variety of local dishes featuring asparagus, more than 30 different sweet and savoury dishes in fact, from mortadella and aspic with asparagus to a variety of pies, risottos, salads and pastries. The centrepiece is the traditional Karst frtalja omelette made with wild asparagus, eggs and pancetta.

frtalja omelette made with wild asparagus
Frtalja omelette with wild asparagus
Photo: Jaka Ivančič

»Here comes Green George.«

A ritual folk song that reverberates on St George’s Day, 23 April, when the final victory over winter is celebrated. This is the period when nature turns completely green. It is the time when cattle were first driven out to graze and the first autumn or winter crops poked out of the ground. Green George is known in many Slovenian regions, but today the character is most associated with Bela Krajina. The tradition of jurjevanje is also still observed in the Bizeljsko and Kozjansko regions, in Prekmurje, around Celje and elsewhere. Before the Second World War, it was also celebrated at Ljubljana Castle, as St George is the patron saint of the castle chapel. In addition to commemorative postcards, a map and hearts, visitors were offered food and drink: frankfurters, ham, sausages, lect (honeybread), pastries, ice cream, potica, raspberry syrup, beer, wine, brinjevec (juniper schnapps), and coffee.

Green George dance
Celebrating Green George
Photo: Andrej Tarfila

This is the start of the salt harvesting season in the Primorska region. Whereas families used to go to the salt pans on St George’s Day for seasonal work, today the Saltpans Feast is celebrated at this time. Istrian delicacies and salt are the stars at the stalls.

St Florian’s Day is another colourful festive occasion, the day of celebrating the patron saint of firefighters, who is said to protect people from fire. Housewives liked to bake pastry in the saint’s honour. In some places in the Koroška region, yellow šnite (slices of bread, soaked in egg and fried) are made and cvrtje (a dish of fried scrambled eggs) is eaten for breakfast. The tradition of jajčarija (egg gathering) is still lively in those parts, and pečenjak (a dish of eggs, milk and flour similar to Kaiserschmarrn) is still made in the Celje area, as it is said that it is thanks to this saint that hens lay plenty of eggs in spring.

Until the Second World War, St Urban’s Day was celebrated in honour of the patron saint of the vine, especially in the wine-growing region of Podravje. Today, the Honourable Wine Convent of St Urban promotes a culture of wine knowledge and enjoyment and, among other things, is committed to preserving the culinary originality and specificity of the Slovenian region.

Saint George's cake and dolls
Saint George's cake
Photo: Andrej Tarfila

The flourishing of festivals and holidays

Spring is finally here and outdoor celebrations can begin. In Primorska, the season starts with the Malvasia Festival, followed by the Refosco Festival. These are the two most typical varieties of wine, Malvasia being white and Refosco red, produced in the wine-growing region of Slovenian Istria. In late May these parts of Slovenia also hold the olive oil festival called the Festival of the Golden Olive Twig and the Open Wine Cellars Day in Istria, which is the successor to the From Winemakers to Olive Growers event and appeals to all lovers of Istria’s noblest liquids. People come from all over to Goriška Brda for the Brda and Wine Festival, to meet Brda winemakers and taste the local cuisine. Višnjevik, the birthplace of Rebula, hosts the traditional Rebula and Olive Oil Festival and, just before the end of spring, the Brda Cherry Festival takes place in the villages of Brda.

Refosco Festival in Primorska
Refosco Festival
Photo: Urban Urbanc

In May, a whole series of gastronomic celebrations take place, with festivals also enlivening other parts of Slovenia. In Dolenjska, the Cviček Festival is celebrated, and a little further south the main wine festival in Bela Krajina, Vinska Vigred, has been held for more than forty years. Held in Ptuj ever since Slovenia became independent, Specialties of Slovenian Farms is a festival where products are evaluated and exhibited, and authentic Slovenian, locally produced and processed food is promoted and marketed. Šenčur, affectionately known as the Slovenian Potato Republic, welcomes visitors to the Potato Festival, while Mozirje holds Golažijada, or the Goulash Festival, and Strunjan is the setting for the Artichoke Festival.

Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

Eight what?

The anticipation of the new wine harvest is linked to another form of celebration, socialising at open-door events called osmica (Engl. eight) as a traditional way of selling wine and produce. The origins of this type of event are interesting, as they are said to date back more than a millennium, to the time of Charlemagne himself, and the right to hold an osmica was preserved until even later.  In 1784, during the reigns of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Joseph II of Austria, a decree was issued allowing winegrowers an eight-day period to sell wine tax-free. This enabled the winegrower to empty his wine stocks and make room for a new harvest. Today, the culture of organising an osmica is widespread, especially in the Karst, Vipava Valley, Goriško region and Slovenian Istria, where local dishes are served in addition to wine.

The arrival of spring revives the spirits of people, towns and landscapes. The green hues and warmer sunshine beckon people to culinary festivals and celebrations that are once again held outdoors. They become meeting places, hosting laughter and unique and delicious experiences, with a glass of excellent Slovenian wine in hand and a delectable dish in front of you. Spring is a time for awakening nature and taste buds, as well as for many culinary adventures.

Taste more.

Learn about the story od Slovenian gastronomy. Discover local culinary and wine specialties.

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