The seasons in Serbia: part II

Coming into our building today the smell of roasting red peppers hit as soon as the elevator doors opened. Someone was making ajvar.

Further to my first piece on the seasons in Serbia, I am amazed and delighted that making winter preserves – zimnice – is still a common practice in the autumnal Serbian countryside and, as our smokey entrance shows, hasn’t completely disappeared in the city either. At the supermarket yesterday I saw bags of jar lids on promotion. And no, that’s not a Borat-style joke about consumer choices in former socialist countries. If Serbian ladies are anything like me and my attempts at chutney making, I manage to keep jars but always lose the lids, so those on sale yesterday are more proof that zimnice is alive and well.

One of the most traditional and typically Serbian preserves is slatko, which literally means ‘sweet’. For slatko, fruit is preserved in a heavy syrup flavoured with a little lemon. Serbia has the perfect climate for soft fruit and blueberries and tiny, fragrant, wild strawberries are commonly made into slatko, as are apricots and probably most frequently, plums. I read somewhere that Serbia is the number one exporter of plums in all of Europe (OK, that was a Borat style joke), and whether that’s strictly accurate or not, the trees line the roads here, laden so heavily with purple fruit that the branches have to be propped up.


Slatko is traditionally served to guests on arrival by the hostess as a welcome and refreshment after travel. It is served in a small bowl set on a tray laid with a lace doiley along with glasses of water and guests take a teaspoonful. If they want another spoonful, they can use the water in their glass to rinse their spoon, avoiding the issue of double dipping. That said, it is so sweet, usually you need the water to rinse the sugar from your teeth! This is how it was served to us as guests visiting family in a couple of regional towns recently. However, I read in a cooking magazine (the best way to get me to do my homework- make me translate articles about cooking!) that a more modern way to serve slatko is as a sauce for icream or pancakes.

Jam and cordial making are also pretty common too. Knowing how much I love cherry juice, when we were with family for lunch, I was given a glass of homemade black cherry cordial which was completely delicious! Later that week I was sent home with home with a jar of plum jam that had only been made that morning. Although many people do have a Baba (grandma) back in the village, you don’t need to have access to the countryside to get these treats. At Kalenic Pijaca (markets) this morning there were several stalls selling slatko and various cordials made from cherry, strawberry and elderflower, amongst other things. You can tell they’re home made because they’re bottled in re-used wine or ketchup bottles.

It’s not just sweet things. My favourite preserve is ajvar, a roast red pepper relish. It’s available in shops in the UK and, I think, Australia but now I’ve had domaci (homemade), the shop-bought stuff just doesn’t cut it. It’s made by roasting kilos and kilos of red peppers over a wood fire. These are the long pointy ones, not the large capsicums. Many people have wood fired stoves or they light a fire in a 40 gallon drum and take a more DIY approach, like the old couple on the house boat on the Danube yesterday.

After roasting, the peppers then need to be peeled and de-seeded, which is a fiddly and time consuming job. My Serbian language tutor said she made ajvar last year, but never again because it was so fiddly and the seeds went everywhere. Then the chopped roast peppers are mixed with oil, mustard, garlic and salt and cooked in a huge pan for 10-12 hours, till the mix is reduced by half. Check out this huge pot on our family’s neighbour’s stove – 26 kilos of peppers went into it!

Once it’s finally ready and bottled – eat on thickly sliced somun, a sourdough baked in a woodfired oven, with slabs of young white cheese. YUM!

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7 Responses to The seasons in Serbia: part II

  1. Boba says:

    All this yum food and happy times on the markets, vivid colours of jar rows in zimnica storage shelfs, and ceremony about serving slatko…beautiful memories from my childhood, thanks Emica. I laughed a lot on this Borat style joke about number one plum exporter, but still- careful: Serbs are very proud on their plums hehe

  2. Hi Boba! i wish i had a photo of the beautiful larder (spajz) in Valjevo. Rows and rows of zimnice.

    • Boba says:

      Will do some together this year in our NEW kitchen…Mig can make shelfs in basement and here we go….

      • Mark says:

        I would not trust Mig to make the shelfs… they might fall down. Best he just concentrates on doing what he does best – eating the zimnice.

  3. Ivana says:

    I would like to help you with making ajvar in your new kitchen! :))

    • Boba says:

      Hey Ivanice, when coming down here so that we all prepare ajvar, I suggest that you also bring thorough cooking instructions from Caka (or even better- take whole Caka with you, and of course Goca- the famous cook assistant )…so six of us (Marguerite in the team of course) can make zimnica for all Serbian community here…So far I only practiced preserved olives from our (organic) olive tree, and you would be surprised how many jars we were always able to make from only one tree…also, several winters I was doing kiseli kupus too

  4. I’ll look forward to it Boba. And Ivana I hope you can visit us Down Under one day 🙂 My mum often preserved fruit when I was little so I’m sure she can help too!

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