On my last visit to the Tekov region in the south of Slovakia, I went to see my late grandparents’ house. It is now the home of my widowed aunt, and my cousins live close by with their families, so it was a good opportunity to meet them all after a long time.
It was the last weekend in August and the sun was still quite generous throughout the day. The urge to meet people in person was still palpable after the months of social isolation. The virus seemed to have lost its strength over the summer, but who knows what’s behind the corner… We wanted to savour each moment of our family reunion. A trip to Brhlovce was one of them.
A quaint, serene village off the beaten path, Brhlovce is home to an open-air museum of ancient dwellings carved into the volcanic ash rock. Adjacent to them are old-fashioned stone houses built in the 18th century and furnished in period style.
The local folklore puts the origins of the rock dwellings in the 16th century, when they are believed to have been a hiding place against the Ottoman attacks. Some of these unique houses were lived in up until 1988. Thanks to the specific microclimate, the temperature inside the houses remained quite stable throughout the year. On entering the ‘summer’ kitchen, I was suddenly placed a few decades back in time.As schoolchildren my cousins and I used to spend summer holidays at our grandparents’ place helping out in the garden, herding geese and doing simple house chores. We were fed on wholesome food prepared by our grandma, who showed us how to make a strudel, knead dough, clean meat or cook paprikash. The only job we wouldn’t watch her doing was butchering those animals.
As we continued walking around the stone houses, still more memories came rushing to my mind. The copper cauldron in the corner of a tool shed reminded me of the plum jam we used to cook in my grandparents’ courtyard. In the winter, the same cauldron was used to make škvarky (sort of pork cracklings) from the pig fat. There was a manual corn mill, too, which helped remove corn from the cobs, and simple wooden scales for weighing I don’t quite remember what.In the other corner I spotted a large wooden tub where our fathers would mix ingredients for sausages, but there was also a wooden reel our grandma used to wind wool on.Further up the road in Brhlovce village there are more rock dwellings, some of which have been turned into wine cellars. Local wine makers say that the stable temperature inside the cellars is ideal for slow maturation of their wine. They also believe the wine from Brhlovce harnesses the energy of fire and other elements that created the volcanic bedrock in the area some 13 million years ago.