Žminj is not only a place of pasta, agritourism and family farms, but it is also the home of cactus lovers! For the ninth year in a row, "Spiky Days in Žminj" have been held, with an exhibition of cacti and succulents, and the sale of cacti, aloe vera products and flowers.
This year, the sale is held in the area of the old well, across from the beautiful parish church of St. Michael, whose memorial is also the day of the Municipality of Žminj. In the beautiful early autumn sun, we enjoyed the various colours of the flowers, remembering the edible one as well. The tradition of using flowers in gastronomy is somewhat neglected, and we sometimes remember it in the form of lavender cookies or black tea with a rose. Let's hope that in Istria they will remember some old customs in which flowers are used on a plate!
The cactus exhibition was held in the Žminj Tower. Here we walked with the explanations of Lenka Šajina, director of the Tourist Board of the Municipality of Žminj. The initiator of the exhibition and the main organizer is Zdenka Jakus, and for nine years she has been supported by the Municipality and the Tourist Board. "In the very beginning, the exhibition was also organized in Kula and only three cactus growers participated, who nurture and grow cacti in their homes as a hobby," says Lenka Šajina, and from these three ladies the interest in cacti increased and next year the exhibition had to move to a movie theatre, to a much larger space. This year, 30 people from Istria and Primorje-Gorski Kotar County are exhibiting, with 260 exhibits and over 200 species of succulents. There used to be a lot more of them, but this year pandemic measures have affected cacti as well!
Every year the most beautiful cactus, the most beautiful succulent and the most beautiful collection are chosen. This year, the award for the most beautiful cactus went to Loredana Konović, for the most beautiful succulent to Sara and Mirando Mužina, while the most beautiful collection was won by Sonja Rauch. All this was carefully reviewed by Vlado Bazikić, who is a grower and a passionate cactus lover. As a member of the jury and a leading connoisseur of cacti in Istria and Croatia, Šjor Vlado expertly explained why the awards went to the right hands.
Students of the Elementary School "Vladimir Gortan" and children of the Kindergarten "Rapčići" regularly join this exhibition, so their works based on cactus and succulents can be seen in Kula. Mothers-in-law are welcome on the top floor of the Tower, but the invitation is also sent to mothers-in-law and brides. The exhibition, which is perhaps unique in Croatia, is free and lasts until October 10, and the people of Žminj like to see guests.
Of course, upon entering the Tower itself, we noticed enticing platters with cakes. We immediately recognized the famous candies, prepared by Gracijela Damjanić, as well as the beautiful peaches made in a great way by the Erman confectionery in Žminj. However, our gaze stopped at the unusual cakes that the people of Žminj call "Christ's crown" or "Lord's cake". Lenka Šajina explains to us what it is about: “Christ's crowns are a special cake that is prepared in Žminj itself. They know how to prepare older ladies, and otherwise, it is also called the Lord's Cake because it used to be prepared only for gentlemen. This was because the ingredient that dominates the cake is very expensive - almonds. It must be blanched, cut by hand and mixed with sugar and shaped into prickly crowns. It was prepared on special occasions, and today there are families who traditionally keep this recipe, but unfortunately, it cannot be bought in regular sales, although there are indications that it will enter as an offer in local pastry shops.
And as we look at the cacti, with our mouths full of Christ’s crowns, it occurs to us whether there are edible cacti. Unfortunately, there are few such specimens in Croatia. It is safe to eat the fruits of all real cacti. Some varieties, such as prickly pear, chole, and dragon fruit cactus, are edible as vegetables after thorn removal. However, some other species of cacti, including peyote, Bolivian and San Pedro cacti, are poisonous and should not be eaten. Cactus is both a fruit and a vegetable. Edible, juicy nopales are considered a vegetable, while fruiting flower buds also make it a fruit. Nopales stay green all year round and can be consumed at any time and that is why cactus vegetables are always available. However, cactus fruits can be harvested only after the plant blooms and the fruits develop from open buds. This is usually during the peak of vegetation. Contrary to popular belief, caused by the image of a cactus on many bottles, the famous Mexican tequila is not made from cactus, but from agave.