What could be better to offset the approach of winter than a saint’s feast day that also provides a national excuse for a party? And what if that saint’s day just happens to coincide with Route 66’s birthday – and the party’s down on the route itself?? Excellent!!!
November 11, 1926 is when Route 66 – and most of the rest of the U.S. Route system – was born. It’s also the feast day of St. Martin, the Roman soldier who became a monk, and Slovenes everywhere celebrate St. Martin’s Day (Martinovanje) annually on November 11th. That’s when the harvest is finally in, the winter wheat is planted and the fattened cattle are slaughtered. In Slovenia, it’s also the time when wine matures (okay, there’s a reason to party all by itself!).
Accordingly, the Joliet, IL chapter of the Slovenian Union of America had a big shindig over at the Slovenian Heritage Museum at 431 N. Chicago Ave. in Joliet back on the evening of November 10, the night before Route 66’s 76th birthday. My co-author and fellow foodie Joe Kubal and his wife Susan had the honor of attending, and we finally have photographs. Take it away, Joe …
Greetings! Joe here. Although my wife and I are not of Slovenian descent, we were cordially welcomed to participate in the SUA’s “Taste of Slovenia” evening. It was a culinary extravaganza! First, we were greeted with a tray of pogaca (poh-GOTS-ah), a type of salty bread, and a variety of fresh cheese and Slovenian wine. Meeting guests at the door with bread and salt is a sign of hospitality in many parts of Eastern Europe.
Stronger spirits were available in the form of slivovitz (SLIV-oh-vits) and imported blueberry schnapps. For the uninitiated, slivovitz is a clear, potent plum brandy that has been known to knock down many an unsuspecting drinker and provide an equally potent hangover (as firewater goes, it could probably also blister paint and peel off wallpaper – in short, something you drink very carefully). Slivovitz is popular in most of the countries that were formerly part of Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia (where it’s called slivovice), but it’s an acquired taste elsewhere. I enjoyed the Lasko blueberry schnapps a lot more; as one might expect, it had a wonderful zesty, fruity taste. Unfortunately, I missed the Lasko Pivo (PEEV-oh), an imported Slovenian beer. Rats!
After the appetizers in the museum’s front room, there was a buffet dinner of klobasa (KLOH-bah-suh), which is smoked sausage, and zlinkrofi (ZLINK-ruf-ee), which are meat-filled dumplings similar to Polish pierogi, with which I’m very familiar. In fact, much of the food seemed very familiar to someone who comes from a Czech-Polish background, as I do. The museum’s back hall was arranged with long tables and seating to accommodate the diners.
For dessert, there were several offerings, including apple strudel and flancati (FLAHN-cah-tee), which are crisp, deep-fried strips of sour-cream dough dusted with powdered sugar. The flancati are similar to chrustiki (also spelled krustiki), the hand-sized Polish “bow-tie” pastry knots on which I was raised. Lithuanians call them chrustai whereas northern Italians call them cenci alla Fiorentina, but it’s all very similar fried pastry dough. They might even be cousins to beignets. Makes you wonder just how many nationalities have versions of these flaky goodies!
There was also potica (poh-TEETS-uh), a very thin yeast-cake nut roll with a walnut filling; it was charmingly described by event organizer Mary Carmody, who said that “potica is to Slovenia what apple pie is to America.” Carmody is also SUA’s vice-president of marketing. By the way, Mary provided the potica from her own bakery, which does an online business (http://RockyMountainPotica.com).
Following dinner, we were provided with hands-on food demonstrations. Guests learned how to roast chestnuts and make palačinke (pah-lah-CHIN-keh), Slovenian crepe-like pancakes that were made by Vicki Klein and Gail Woodshank. These are very similar to Viennese palatschinken, which are slightly thicker than crepes, and Hungarian palacsintak, which really are as thin as crepes.
The evening was filled with good food, great entertainment and delightful camaraderie. Bonnie Prohar Prokup, SUA’s national president, welcomed everyone to the festivities and led the Slovenian trivia contest. Shortly thereafter, Sue and I had to depart for home, but I swear the party was just getting started as Eileen Kochevar led the group in song on her button box. However, I did have just enough time before making our farewells to say hi to Debbie Pohar, the editor of Zarja – The Dawn, and Jonita Ruth, the museum’s curator.
With luck, the “Taste” will become an annual event for the museum, just as Taste of Chicago is up here; a note in the latest issue of Zarja seems to indicate that it just might. If so, we hope to see you there!
Until next time,
Until next time,