The Slovaks have always held bread in high esteem. The old custom of welcoming precious guests with bread and salt is still alive, and so is dožinky (a celebration of cereal harvest) at the end of the summer, which stemmed from a mixture of pagan rituals and religious beliefs associated with gathering in of cereal crops.
Under socialism, a spectacular dožinky parade was held every year on the national level to celebrate the successes of centralized state farming. Splendid wreaths hand-woven from harvested wheat spikes were presented to the Communist Party bigwigs together with loaves of freshly baked bread. Less pompous events were organized by socialistic collective farms in regions. That stopped after the Iron Curtain fell between Eastern and Western Europe in 1989, leaving the communist bloc in tatters and most of its citizens in a state of euphoria.
The tradition of dožinky is coming back again after three decades of renouncing everything that vaguely smacked of the old regime. These days though, the end-of-cereal-harvest celebrations in Slovakia take the form of food festivals that bring together rural and urban communities alike.
Trebišov is a small town by Slovak standards, but important for being a gateway to the Tokaj region in the east of Slovakia. If you have heard of Tokaj wine, then you probably know that it is ‘the wine of kings and the king of wines’. And those made by the wineries in Veľká Tŕňa, Malá Tŕňa or Viničky villages have won no less acclaim than the famed Hungarian Tokaji wines.
On the third Saturday in August, the old agricultural machinery exhibited at the Natural History Museum in Trebišov is taken out into the gardens and put in motion for visitors to see how grains were once turned into flour and used to bake bread. On this particular day, bread is made the very traditional way in a small, wood fired oven resembling old-style brick ovens built in our households back in the 19th century.
The dough for bread is kneaded by hand and left to rise slowly. In the meantime, the oven is heated to the right temperature, which is tested by throwing a handful of flour in the oven. It takes about 45 minutes to bake 4 small loaves of bread at one go in this type of oven.
Apart from bread, there are lots of other flour-based specialities that can be sampled at the cereal harvest celebration in Trebišov. Lokše (a kind of potato pancakes), sweet and savoury cornflour kasha, šišky (shishki) and all manner of cakes from the region and beyond are on offer, some of them being made right in front of your eyes.
With bread and wine in Trebišov (Chlebom a vínom Trebišov) is how the name of the festival could be translated into English. It is with freshly baked bread and Tokaj wine that local communities celebrate the end of cereal harvest. And if you prefer to go without alcohol, the new crop of grapes is available for sampling, as well as the grape juice straight from the old-fashioned press.
Read more about Tokaj and other Slovak wines in the second book of A Taste of Slovakia series, which is coming to bookshops in mid-September.