This week I am staying in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina with my friend, Saša Loncar, who was a translator for me when I lectured to family medicine residents here from about 1998 to 2012. He is now an interventional cardiologist living in Banja Luka with three daughters and a lovely wife, Sandra. Yesterday (May 6) marked the celebration of Saint George’s day for many families at Republika Srpska in Bosnia, including Saša’s.
Since each family has its own patron saint and therefore its own “Slava”, the date of the celebration varies from family to family. The date is usually determined by the family’s ancestors, who chose the saint and the date for the Slava based on various factors, including family history, personal experiences, and religious beliefs. Bosnia has always been a melting pot of different religion-based cultures, Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic and this has proved both a strength and a source of conflict. But one thing they always seemed to agree on was marking each other’s holidays – any excuse for a day off and getting together for food and drink.
So, on St. George’s day, to celebrate the Lonćar family’s patron Saint, we all packed into the car to head north about an hour’s drive to the homestead of Saša’s grandfather, near Dubica. Saša’s uncles now live on the rural farm property.
The extended family, maybe 20 of them, all descendants of grandfather Milan Loncar, gather in a large workshop-like room behind the garage, where three long tables are set up so that everyone can sit to share traditional foods mostly coming from the farm itself. In addition, there was an extensive collection of various Rakias – homemade liquors – and local beers.
Behind the house are fields of wheat, barley, onions, beans and garlic, and a barn with a few pigs and piglets. One of the pigs had the misfortune of being roasted on a split along with a lamb to provide meat for the large multi-course lunch.
Liquors made by the host, Slobodan, kept appearing – Šlivovica (made from plums), Kruškovica (pear) , Dunjovačka (quince) and others made from walnuts and cherry. I was encouraged to have a little taste of all of them and it would’ve been impolite to refuse. Some I enjoyed. Others were a little more…caustic.
Even more intriguing for some was the presentation. Two of these home-made liquors were served out of bottles that had large items trapped inside the bottle. The Kruškavica was a clear liquor and there was a full-size pear at the bottom of the narrow-necked bottle. Magic? In another bottle was a miniature wooden wagon-like structure that looked like it had been carved. How could this be?
The explanation followed after I was flummoxed trying to figure it out. The little wooden ornament had been assembled through the bottle neck, piece by piece, using large grasping tools. Once the liquor was gently filled into the bottle, the wood joints swelled to make it a stable little ornament.
And the pear? When the immature pear was forming on the tree, the bottle was slid over the branch, and the pear allowed to grow to full size inside the bottle. The branch and any leaves were removed and the home made pear rakia funneled into the bottle, preserving the pear inside. The bottle with the could be refilled year after year and this one was apparently 10 years old.
The meal started with homemade chicken noodle soup, and then Sarma served with homemade cornmeal biscuits. Homemade even extends to growing the corn and grinding it into the flour that went into the biscuits. Sarma is something like a cabbage roll with meat –pork and lamb in this case – and rice.
Then there were platters of pork and lamb, both having been spit-roasted, along with pickles, peppers, and local cheeses. For dessert there was a selection of sweets (Kolaći) with Bosnian coffee.
Despite being a bit jetlagged after my flight the day before, I thoroughly enjoyed this large family gathering. Did they really care about celebrating St. George? Not likely. It was more a good excuse for an extended family to come together and socialize and I was delighted to be invited to share in this celebration.
NOTE: This post has a video image. If you are reading the post on an email you must click on the title of the post to be taken to the WordPress site where the video can be streamed.
The meal sounds very labour intensive, but obviously a labour of love.