My grandmother Pauline grew up in Pivnica, Vojvodina, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I started this blog in order to record the recipes I was translating from Pauline’s handwritten cookbook, and soon realized they were mainly cake recipes. I decided I wanted to include some of the other Slovak dishes that Pauline and other relatives made that I enjoyed growing up, as well as some new Slovak ones I’ve had recently.
Today, there are about 56,000 Slovaks in Vojvodina, represented in the map below by a small blue dot in northern Serbia, above and to the left of Belgrade.
You can enjoy other Vojvodina Slovak Recipes here.
|A Brief History||Vojvodina is an autonomous province located in what is now northern Serbia. The Hungarians had ruled over the Slovaks for 700 years, and had defeated the Turks in their assault in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The Queen of Hungary at the time, Maria Teresia, sent the stubborn Lutheran Slovaks to Vojvodina in what was then southern Hungarian territory. It was a punishment of sorts for their refusal to convert to Catholicsm; she sent these “undesirable” people to protect the border from the Ottoman Empire, giving them land which she considered to be unusable.
|Slovak Diligence and Culture||The Slovaks one upped her. Having spent the past few thousand years peacefully living off the land in Slovakia, they immediately began to irrigate the flat, swampy Pannonian Plains, which had once been the bottom of the Pannonian Sea. They built canals, cut back the brush and dense woods, and created what is now the most lush, cultivated land imaginable, and which is now referred to as the breadbasket of Europe.These 50,000 or so Slovaks, including my Suster ancestors, then set about setting up Slovak villages that still dot the Vojvodina province, building Evangelical churches and gathering places where they still celebrate their Slovak heritage through music, food, dance, plays and other cultural festivals.
|Pauline’s Danube River and Balkan Mountains||I visited Vojvodina in May for the first time, and it was an emotional homecoming of sorts. All my life, Pauline had talked about the old country, and of her love for the Danube River and the beauty of the Balkan mountains. She would smile widely when she talked about it, tilt her head to one side as she pictured it in her mind, and her brown eyes would shine at the memories.To visit Pivnice, the little village where my family has lived for over 240 years, and to see the place that was first Pauline’s family’s bakery and then later her inlaw’s butcher shop, felt as though I was both stepping back in time, and coming home.
|Multi-Cultural Influence on the Cuisine||The Slovaks in Vojvodina have been isolated from the rest of Slovakia for two and a half centuries: their language sounds arcane to other Slovaks, and they still maintain the dress, customs and food that they originally brought with them. After the Hungarians ruled them they became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Yugoslavia, and now Serbia. Vojvodina is now home to 26 different ethnicities, and you can see the influence in the Slovak cuisine. The recipes here are mainly the old, Slovak recipes that are also popular in parts of Slovakia, but there are also ones with their roots in Serbian, Hungarian and Turkish cuisine.
|French Cuisine Roots in Slovak Peasant Food||My hunch is that many of these recipes are the early, original peasant versions of French recipes popular today: kifle became croissants, Mliekova Torta became Clafouti and Zapekana Fazoule became cassoulet. Vojvodina’s abundance of fresh produce, the rich Slovak traditions centered around food and Vojvodina’s proximity between Budapest and Vienna make it an ideal place for recipes to be born and spread.