Learning to Throw a Pot To Bake Gibanica

cassie learning how to throw traditional style pottery in zasha zuman's studio in ljutomer

Cassie learning how to throw traditional style pottery in Zasha Zuman’s studio in Ljutomer. Zasha is 4th generation potter. His family has been making pottery 150 years

Zasha’s family has been making pottery for nearly 150 years.  Zasha is the 5th generation, and his young son who is 8 years-old is already learning the trade.  For this segment of the show, we will film Zasha teaching Cassie how to throw a pot used for baking gibanica, a favorite regional dessert.

gibanica is the traditional dessert dish of this region.

Gibanica is the traditional dessert dish of this region.

Gibanica (pronounced gee bah neetsa) is the traditional dessert dish of this region.

Cassie was taught how to make it by Maria, Tanya’s grandmother.

Maria will be 90 years old in July.

She can be found working in the kitchen every morning at 7am.

lunch of bograc (bograch), a traditional meat stew made for us by zasha's wife

Lunch of bograc (bograch), a traditional meat stew made for us by Zasha’s wife

After filming, we are treated to a terrific lunch of bograc (pronounced bo-grach), a meat stew with a rich broth and some vegetables which was made by Zasha’s wife.  Yes, more wine and home made bread.  And gibanica, although a version that is different than that which we have seen thus far.  This one had cottage cheese and raisin. It was barely sweet, but very rich and tasty.  We were now ready to head to our next stop: gostilna Rajh.

kitchen at rajh

Kitchen at Rajh

Tanja and Damir greeted us with house-made buckwheat bread topped with different kinds of spreads: one was a pumpkin oil butter and the other a blend of cream and pureed wild garlic.  Tanja introduced us to her grandmother, Maria, who taught Cassie how to make the famed gibanica.  Maria will turn 90 years-old in July, and she starts every morning at 7am in the kitchen. 

cookbook of recipes handwritten by tanya's grandmother maria

Cookbook of recipes handwritten by Tanya’s grandmother Maria

grandma maria's hands

Grandma Maria’s hands…just think of all the amazing food they have created! Maria has been cooking at Rajah for 70 years

Maria has been cooking at Rajh for 70 years.  That’s SEVENTY years.  This restaurant has been in business since 1886, handed down from generation to generation.  Tanja runs this place, which she took over from her father when he retired.  Her husband Damir manages another gostilna near Murska Sobota.  The family also has a third establishment, a coffee shop, in a shopping center nearby.  Tanja attributes their longevity to “patience” and “more patience” and an unwavering commitment to tradition.  When it was trendy for gostilnas to serve imported food, Rajh stuck to its heritage. 

“It didn’t make sense to serve octopus here, even when people asked for it.  We are not near the seaside.  We serve what is here”, says Tanja.  Now, she says, people are going back to the traditions again, appreciating the freshness and relevance to the surroundings.

cover page of rajh's menu says it all

Cover page of Rajh’s menu says it all

Tanja and Damir work with local farmers and encourage them to continue using “eco” methods (organic). 

Their two children are being groomed to step up to continue the tradition of Rajh, but acknowledge, “we can hope, but we can’t force them to do this.  It depends very much on the kind of partners they have. To run restaurants you must have very understanding partners.  It is difficult”.

Difficulties (including multiple wars, occupations, expulsions and a stint at Auschwitz) notwithstanding, this family continues to do terrific stuff for its community. 

Rajh is a testimony of the power of commitment to tradition and excellence.

Cassie finished up her cooking class with Grandma Maria and we headed off to the river Mura. A mile or two down a dirt road and we came to a crossing – not a bridge, mind you.

cassie's tv car on board a cable ferry on the mura river

Cassie’s TV car on board a cable ferry on the Mura river

The Mura is a deep, swift river about 50 yards wide at this point.  To cross, you drive up onto a floating platform that is attached to a cable which spans the river.  The ferry pilot, a wiry but incredibly strong guy, unhooks the massive chains from the dock and shifts a hand-hewn rudder into place.  In a few minutes, we dock at the other side.  It is a reliable and time-tested method still used daily by locals.
grist mill on the mura river has been operating over 100 years

Grist mill on the Mura river has been operating over 100 years

Another 100 yards up the river and we find a grist mill that is also floating on the Mura.  Also held in place by cables, the mill has a large waterwheel about 10 feetwide and 20 feet in diameter.  The force of the flowing river turns the wheel which powers the series of gears and millstones inside, turning local, organically-grown grains into meal and flour.  The miller is a man ready to retire, but he is pessimistic about the future of the mill.  He says local young people are not interested in continuing this trade.  He also expressed frustration about the big food companies overpowering local agricultural efforts, buying up land and turning the operations into those that rely on chemicals and modern breeds of plants.  Cassie encouraged him to hang in there and keep trying. He thanked her for her visit with the gift of a bag of cornmeal we will use in our dinner next week.

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One Response to Learning to Throw a Pot To Bake Gibanica

  1. Julia May 1, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    These photos and descriptions are incredible. I cannot imagine the knowledge that is contained in those beautiful handwritten recipes!! It looks like the Slovenian history book of food – I can’t wait for you all to share the knowledge when you get back to Charlotte!!!!