Blueberry is a sweet and very tasty berry that is often called a superfood because it has incredibly good effects on nutrition and health with few calories. Many see it as a favorite fruit. But a run to the store may not bring the desired flavours, especially if you've tried highland blueberries from Gorski kotar before. In honour of them, Blueberry Day was held in Ravna Gora, organized by "Plodova Gorja", and we visited the producers and tasted these delicious berries, which the hosts say the best are exactly from from Ravna Gora! This town is primarily known for its excellent game dishes, such as in the Breza and Bijela ruža restaurants, but the true highland spirit is hidden in the sometimes self-effacing producers of jams, liqueurs, syrups, and honey.
Blažica Sveticki, the conceptual leader of the whole Plodova Gorja project, is the author of one of the best books about the mountain cuisine, "Iz bakine skrinjica", which also mentions blueberry dishes. One of those dishes is pajtica, a strudel with cheese and blueberries, which is neither too sweet nor too sour, but just harmonious so that you can feel all the ingredients. While we taste the phenomenal and not too sweet blueberry liqueur, we talk about this project of familiarising with the natural heritage of Gorski kotar, which is well into its second decade of existence. From summer to summer, hosts throughout this Croatian region present the best of nature that is used for human nutrition and health.
Among the regular events is Blueberry Day, but there are also days of lavender, medicinal plants, raspberries, berries, sometimes apples and pears, cheese and other products all the way from Čabar to Mrkoplje, from Fužine to Vrbovsko. The heart of the project is Ravna Gora, where the association is registered, and in the vicinity of the town, on Javorova Kosa, some of the most delicious highland blueberries are harvested. They are the pure elixir of youth because they slow down the aging process, improve vision and circulation. They are much smaller than blueberries that can be found in stores, and are best eaten with a spoon. Their taste is sweet and sour, but the fullness of that aroma is such that nothing else can be called a blueberry after that!
Elizabeta Kelečić arrived in Ravna Gora from Zagreb County, and at her OPG, she produces old homemade recipes that enrich the diet with plants that are our natural allies. Honeysuckle is also planted here, which is particularly loved by bees, and in addition to this, sage, lavender, and immortelle can be found at OPG Kelečić. Fortunately, this year the bees are recovering in this region as well, after several years of complete desolation. Customers especially like thick rosehip and honey juice, which is also popular with children, as well as nettle, elderberry and elderflower syrups. It is also interesting to see the dandelion syrup that is macerated, left for 24 hours in water, then strained and sugar is added. If it is cooked longer, a thick mass like honey is obtained (which is sometimes called dandelion honey, although it is not honey), but in OPG Kelečić, the fullness of the dandelion aroma is more valued.
Anita Beljan arrived from nearby Lokve with her husband. This retired married couple is full of enthusiasm and love for wild herbs that they process into wonderful products at their OPG in Homer, a part of Lokve next to Lake Lokve. This beautiful area has fewer and fewer people, which is really surprising considering the proximity of large city centers and the highway, but the Beljans do not give up and offer a wide selection of syrups, teas, jams, tinctures and essential oils prepared without preservatives, just the way their ancestors used to do it. They are proud of their pepper elderberry syrups, and they explain to us how to use them according to the old custom. You can also get great dandelion honey there, but pepper elderberry hydrosol and spruce needle hydrosol are especially sought after for the skin and against the pests that "enjoy" our life in the summer. Teas are made from linden, willow and hawthorn, and none of it is grown, but is obtained directly from Lokve's natural environment!
And OPG Mrkvička Anton is from Lokve, and in addition to the already mentioned syrups, you can taste dry and pickled porcini mushrooms, raspberry, strawberry and currant jams, and even zucchini jams, which all show the imagination of the Goran people. Known to the Romans as the "devil's nursery", Gorski Kotar is really one big garden full of bounty and abundance, which is often not recognized and slowly forgotten.
As a contribution to that, we can say that we were unpleasantly surprised to learn that there are only three dairies and about 60 cows in the entire Gorski Kotar. In an area that is excellent for cattle and dairy farming, people run away from the barns like the devil before incense, but at the same time, cheese from the highland pastures is increasingly sought after. This is also helped by OPG Mrvoš, known for highland cow cheese in various combinations. It's nice to see them, and even nicer to support their work in an industry that, unfortunately, has clearly been written off in the green paradise of Croatia.
When autumn comes, Ravna Gora prepares for a long, but not so cold winter. That's when the Goranske Vunarice perform, an association that gathers hard-working highland women who, by making unique decorative and useful items from discarded sheep's wool, using the felting technique, prove that it is possible to act ecologically beneficial by restoring traditional values. Wool is cleaned, washed and combed, and we could see all this at the workshop in Ravna Gora. The Ravnogorski cof, i.e. the woolen ball on the top of the cap, stands out in particular. Ties with a scarf were also made. The youth of Ravna Gora, guardians of heritage, came up with the idea of displaying cof as an original souvenir from Ravnogorje, which can also be used as a pendant for keys, bags, and necklaces. In the program "From grandma's chest", young people learn to cook, sew, and make traditional products.
The blueberry thus nourishes the generations again and teaches them the good traditions of the past, and with the young it is a pledge for the future. Delighted by their stories and love for their homeland, we will continue to follow these hosts and come to their events!