Food culture in Šumadia
TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY
Food culture is not only about the production of food, its preparation and consumption. The complexity of this expression goes even further, from the explanation of the way the population adapted to the new life circumstances during different periods of time after Šumadija had been inhabited, through ability of performing various outdoor chores, the way of food preservation for the winter days, the way of survival of “years of famine”, to the organization and celebration of many family and religious holidays and all those important days and dates for the sake of keeping the tradition, cultural heritage and national identity.
Food culture reflects a housewife’s ability to make nice and delicious lunch, as well. Food may be even a subject of artistic expression which points to its advantageous characteristic over its primary role. People do not need food only to survive, but also they use it as a means to express themselves artistically. The ability and artistic talent of a housewife are especially seen when she kneads and decorates sacral bread making a shallow decoration or tiny plastic patterns in the dough or when she makes and decorates cakes and paints Easter eggs using different techniques.
Food culture in Šumadija is also about a ritual of making a toast and raising a glass of wine or rakija as an expression of a welcome or in honour of a new-born family member, patron saint, newlyweds at the wedding occasions and, finally, in honour of the departed souls.
Food culture in Šumadija is famous for Šumadija’s hospitality as well. When a guest, whether invited or not, enters the house, a housewife serves him with a spoonful of her most delicious slatko, and a host greets the guest with his best rakija. Nowadays, at many events and occasions, the guests are first offered a piece of pogacha and some salt as a way to express welcome and hospitality.
Food culture follows the development of processing food into ready meals. All the things that remained unchanged, in spite of different impacts, have a cultural identity and can be referred to as Šumadija’s specialties. Those are: pogacha (a type of bread), kachamak (porridge made of white corn flour), svadbarski kupus (sour cooked cabbage once served at the weddings as a specialty), pechenje (a whole pig or lamb roasted on a roasting stick), jagnjece džiger sarmice (rolled lamb liver), shljivovica prepechenica (overcooked rakija made of plum), Šumadija’s tea, local wine, rakija made of walnuts, slatko (fruit preserves), plum dumplings, pancakes with apricot, plum or rosehip jam, vanilice (cookies) and meringues.
HOUSES AND OTHER FACILITIES
Each cooperative (a family with several generations and family members) used to have all facilities for normal life. They used to live in one-part wooden house, which was the only facility with the fire place. It was the centre of all events in the house, around which they not only had meals, but also sang along with gusle (fiddle), talked, laughed and cried.
Vajat is a smaller one – part wooden house, with no windows, where married members of the cooperative spent nights.
Koš (basket), woven with wicker, placed on a stone base, was used for keeping and storing cobbed corn.
Magaza (barn) is a wooden building which served as a storing house for the purpose of keeping and drying crops: wheat, barley, rye, oats which were kept in separate boxes inside the building.
Kačara is the largest outbuilding made of wood, usually with a porch, and its purpose was to keep large tubs with crushed fruits and marc, barrels with rakija and vats for distilling.
Mlekar (Milk storage) is an outbuilding made of wood, with walls in the upper part made of profiled boards ( for better air circulation) which was used for processing milk into white mrs ( fats) – cheese and kaymak, in which only one female person who was in charge of processing the milk was allowed to enter. It was due to the hygienic reasons.
Inhabitants of Šumadija were engaged in cattle raising and farming, but the priority was given to cattle breeding. The land was cultivated only as much as it was necessary for a household.
During the 19th century, almost each household used to raise cattle in the village atar (district) or in bačia (apartments) in the mountainous regions, since St. George’s Day until the first snow. Some people used to have “a herd of pigs”, a herd of cattle, and flock of sheep”, i.e. fifty fattened pigs, over two hundred sheep and goats, oxen, riding horses and several cows.
With the time, as the population grew bigger, the need for food increased, so the forests were cut down in order to provide farming land. Thus, in the second half of the 19th century, the main activity of cattle breeding was gradually replaced by farming. Beside growing crops, mostly corn and wheat, the population was also engaged in growing vegetables, fruits and vineyards.
Beekeeping, hunting and fishing were additional activities which made the dining table more varied and richer. Honey is the main product of beekeeping, which is one of the oldest occupations of the people in Šumadija. Honey combs filled with honey first used to be found in old and hollow tree trunks in forests, and then, people started keeping bees within the homestead itself, in several trmkas (hives), often only for the needs of a household.
Trmkas (beehives) were woven with wicker and plastered with a mixture of cow dung, mud, chaff and lime. Honey was squeezed manually in autumn, so it was a mixed, meadow honey.