Would you say that you can actually learn a lot of history while researching old recipes and exploring traditional ingredients? When I was setting about writing my first cookbook, I didn’t know what a fascinating journey it would be, and how much I would learn along the way.
History was never my choice at school. It was interpreted as a succession of dry facts devoid of soul, and as we later discovered, these were also censored by the regime to suit their communist ideology. My history homework was, quite understandably, often pushed to the back of the row.
It changed when I started researching material for the Summer Book of A Taste of Slovakia series. Not only did I want to fill it with typical Slovak recipes, but also to give a look into the country’s history and culture through food. The book came out at the end of 2016.You will find in it the history of Slovenská bryndza (Slovak bryndza) – our protected sheep’s milk cheese, which was exported to Vienna, Budapest and the rest of Europe before World War I. After the war, a small trade was set up with the USA and a few other countries around the world. (Source: 150-ročné jubileum trvania bryndziarne Alexander Vagač Detva, Published in 1937).
It’s interesting to see how food staples like potatoes, chestnuts or lentils travelled around the world with explorers, battling armies or traders. Not all of these new crops were accepted voluntarily by our people. Potatoes, for example, were looked upon with suspicion and they had to be imposed on small farmers by Empress Maria Theresa to save Austria-Hungary’s population from the 18th century famine.
Following the route of the common grapevine into our lands from the Roman Empire is even more captivating. And again our winemaking industry was greatly helped by Maria Theresa, whose favourite wine came from the Pressburg (today’s Bratislava) region of Austria-Hungary. The chapter on Slovak wines is included in the Autumn Book of A Taste of Slovakia series, which saw the light of day at the end of 2019.As I worked my way through dozens of printed and online resources, I realized how much our shared history with Austria, Hungary and Czechia affected the way we eat.
Slovaks love breaded pork steaks, although we might prepare them in a slightly different manner than Austrians do their Viennese schnitzels. Czechs taught us how to make their steamed dumpling to go with roast pork and braised red cabbage. From Hungarians we got paprika, goulash and letcho.
And our longtime neighbours hold in great esteem Slovak cheeses, sauerkraut, halushki or Tatratea. May good food and wholesome drink bring us to the common table for centuries to come, and not only in this part of the world.