Not far from Virovitica, on the eastern slopes of Bilogora, lies the Municipality of Špišić Bukovica. From the wooded slopes of Bilogora across the flatland to the river Drava, with the richness of wildlife this region has all the prerequisites for hunting and rural tourism. Top excursion destination Kinkovo offers every visitor the peace of Slavonian forest, and the hunters have a rich range of game catches. The past Špišić Bukovica is preserved in a museum located in the premises of its Municipality, which is available to the visitors at all times. The spirit of tradition is also reflected in the traditional Ivanjski krjesovi that fall every year before Ivanja (Feast of St. John 24.06) in the famous park Čimen. But this is also the are of many culinary traditions, especially in Easter.
The traditional link between certain types of food and holidays is deeply in folk customs. It is difficult to imagine Christmas without roast meat or Easter without ham, eggs and horseradish. This link was even stronger before, that is, there was a symbolic level on which a deeper meaning was associated with food. On weekdays, people took humbler meals, sometimes only to take the edge off hunger. This means that there was an obvious distinction between everyday and holiday dishes. Dietary habits change as lifestyle changes. Although better material life conditions have changed traditional menus, old dishes evocative of times past are still prepared on holidays, gathering the family around the table.
Lent was a time of privation because the supplies were exhausted and some food had to be saved for Easter. Good Friday was a great fast-day. Lenten puddings were baked and eaten with a glass of good brandy. Holy Saturday was marked by preparations for Easter; baking leavened-dough rolls, cooking ham and eggs. The yeast for the leavened roll would be mixed on the evening before with flour, water and sugar. In the morning, the yeast would be kneaded with flour, lukewarm milk and some salt. If it was available, an egg would be added as well. This was characteristic only for a holiday, Easter in this case, because eggs were usually sold. The leavened dough roll was filled with cheese, walnuts and poppy seeds crushed in the mortar. After World War II, chocolate and cocoa became available and were used, mixed with flour and milk, to fill the rolls.
The fasting ended with the partaking of the Easter meal. In the morning, women would fill a basket with boiled eggs, ham and cakes and take it to the church for the blessing (posvećenje). By partaking of this food, the blessing would be transferred to all household members. In Špišić Bukovica, ham, eggs, salt, bread, leavened roll, Easter leavened form cake (kovrtanj) and the indispensable horseradish were taken to the church. On their way back home, women would race to arrive home first. It was believed that the fastest woman will have the most diligent farm labourers and the fastest harvest. When the blessed food was brought home, the people first lit a candle on the Easter cake and ate the horseradish “for health”.
In times of great privation, food meant literally life, which is why it was highly regarded and imbued with symbolic and allegoric meanings. In contemporary times of overabundance, these meanings are lost. We no longer depend on the seasons, because almost all foodstuffs are obtainable at any time. What remains, therefore, is only the traditional link between food and holidays, which is observed out of sentimental reasons, respect for tradition or out of habit.
The text is part of the article “Holiday and Everyday Dishes of the Virovitica Region” by Zrinka Studen from the Virovitica Town Museum