A few weeks ago we had a university reunion at a chalet in the beautiful Vrátna valley in the north of Slovakia. We had a great time talking, walking, drinking – and eating. Most of my university friends are enthusiastic about food, so we also cooked together and shared what some of us had prepared at home.
Vierka had brought one of her game specialities that sent our taste buds to heavens, so I was quick to arrange a cooking session at her house to bring her culinary skills to a wider audience.
The plan was to make and shoot traditional Slovak Pagatche, but as Vierka was also cooking a Saturday lunch for her family, much more got into my camera than I had initially planned. Like Kostya the cat, who spent most of the day stretched out on his assigned kitchen chair.
Or the rabbit that Vierka’s husband had butchered the day before. Fortunately, I hadn’t seen it grazing in their grassy backyard. I didn’t even notice Vierka cutting it up to pieces; perhaps she did it while I was peeling and cutting vegetables for the soup.
Before I realized, the rabbit’s ribs, neck and tail were simmering in a pot together with the vegetables, while its thighs and back had been stowed away in the fridge for the Sunday lunch.
Most of the ingredients Vierka uses in her kitchen come from their garden, farm (they keep hens, chickens, ducks and rabbits), or nearby forests. Vierka’s husband is a huntsman by profession, although hunting is just a fraction of his job. He works in forestry and forest preservation is both his passion and a way of life. It only takes a couple of hours to understand how much Vierka and her husband know about animals or plants, and how well they care of them.
While the soup was cooking and the dough for Pagatche raising in a bowl, Vierka set about preparing Beef Stew with Garden Peas. The meat for the stew had come from a local farmer and the recipe from a Slovak cooking website, but as often happens with experienced cooks, Vierka changed it to her liking and personal taste.
An hour later I joined Vierka and her husband for a lunch in their snug, rustic kitchen filled with irresistible smells.
Although I rarely eat meat, Vierka’s beef stew looked too tempting to forgo.
After a wholesome meal, Vierka and I set about finishing Pagatche. The dough had rested enough after the third folding, so my friend could start cutting out the cakes. I helped glaze them and sprinkle with seeds before they went into the oven.
While we were baking, Vierka’s husband was working in the garden, undeterred by a soft but persistent drizzle. He’d been up since half past five that morning to check his hunting grounds and bring fresh mushrooms for the garlic toasts their neighbours were making that afternoon.
On leaving their home a few hours later, I was bestowed with a bag of forest mushrooms, a packet of Pagatche and a bottle of freshly pressed apple juice from their garden produce.