[This article was published in the November / December 2004 issue of Glasilo Magazine.]
Can you smell all the tempting and delicious aromas wafting through the houses where Slovenian Canadian ladies are baking up a Christmas whirlwind? Imagine nutmeg, vanilla, baking apples, walnuts. Don’t think of the calories, don’t think of the diets; just think of those wonderful cakes and cookies. And don’t forget the potica!
Potica was first and foremost on our mind when the Canadian Slovenian Historical Society opened its archive at Dom Lipa on the occasion of the Dom Lipa Christmas Bazaar. Many heartfelt thanks to the volunteers at the Elderly Persons’ Center who organized the event and allowed us to put up a display. So many members of the Slovenian community, from the youngest to the not so young stopped by to ask about us, to wish us success and to inquire about how to contribute documents or artifacts telling their own family history. But it would be a misrepresentation if I were to write that our display was the destination of most visitors.
Most Dom Lipa visitors headed to the Ornament and Bake Sale Room. Who could resist the strudels and the cookies and the potice? Oh the delicious, delectable potice, all patiently baked with care and love by the ladies of the Canadian Slovenian community.
The ladies should be warned, however. They have some competition in the potica-making arena. It has recently been brought to my attention, on excellent authority, that the very best Slovenian Canadian potica maker is not a lady from Slovenia at all but a Slovenian Canadian man.
Potica has been around as a delicious pastry of Slovenia for some 200 years. The word has no certain etymology but it seems to have derived from a corruption of povitica, meaning, rolled-up dough. There are as many recipes as there are bakers. I would wager that most of the best potica makers have been women. Until now.
Ed Lenarcic is the writer of a much complimented travel guide to Slovenia (you can read more about his work at http:// www.interlog.com/~ed/). He and his wife Barbara, who is not Slovenian, took early retirement to be able to travel, a pastime they are both passionate about. They divide their time between Toronto and Florida, and it is from there that we exchanged a delightful and informative email interview.
Ed recalls that when he was a young boy growing up in the west end of Toronto, there always seemed to be a delicious potica or two around. He often watched his mother as she mixed, ground nuts and kneaded dough, but never helped her as she baked. On the other hand, he was always available and ready to eat potica. Ed admits that he and his brothers and sister never tired of it. He recalls that his mother, Francka, worked from memory without a recipe. He adds: “It’s been said that every Slovenian housewife has her own unique recipe. Based on my experience when I traveled throughout Slovenia researching my guidebook, I think that’s true. Every one I tasted seemed a little different. The most unusual one was made with tarragon. Pretty good, but I couldn’t get over the green colour.”
As an adult, Ed discovered how entertaining and satisfying cooking could be. He decided to bake potica just because it seemed like fun. He was also aware that no one else in his family knew how to make it, and felt that by doing it himself he would continue a family tradition. Ed worked from his mother’s recipe, occasionally asking her advice and using the best ingredients he could buy. He was also lucky to find a large table where he patiently rolled out the dough. According to Ed, a large working surface is a must. Like his mother, he mixed, he ground and he kneaded. Then somewhat dubious and diffident, he baked. He was surprised and pleased by the appearance of his first potica, so delighted, in fact, that he decided to serve it at the celebration honouring his mother on her 80th birthday. This was the moment of truth: the family all tasted it; mama tasted it, guests tasted it. Everyone was more than enthusiastic and appreciative. Soon his potica had completely disappeared. Then came the compliments and the reputation, which was soon spread. Even mom was pleasantly surprised. She felt flattered and honoured that her tradition would be carried on by someone in the family.
Ed considers himself an amateur potica maker. But he encourages everyone to try baking it. He has even provided some advice for other novices:
1. They say potica must be made with love. In practical terms, this means “time”. Set aside the whole day. You’ll need most of it, and you’ll be too tired afterward to do anything else. Is it worth the trouble? Yes!!
2. Use pecans rather than the traditional walnuts. They seem to be more moist and have better flavour.
3. Don’t overgrind the nuts into a paste. Pulse them to leave texture. This gives a much more interesting mouth feel.
4. Soak the raisins in rum. When rum or extract is added, it just gives a general mild flavour. It’s much more interesting to bite into a raisin and have this surprising little squirt of flavour.
5. Ensure that there is an even balance between filling and pastry. Too little filling is cake. Too much is nut spread. Even amounts of each is potica.
6. Get help when it’s time to roll the potica and put it in the baking pan. It’s a lot easier with four hands than two.
7. Have faith. You’ll be sure you screwed up, but the dough is very forgiving and things work out in the end.
8. Forget about diet potica. Cutting back on butter, sugar or any of the other tasty ingredients in order to save calories pretty much ruins the product. Eat good potica, less often. This shouldn’t be too much of an imposition, considering that the effort required will keep you from making it too often anyway.
Ed learned another lesson from his potica making attempts. He gratefully says to all those Slovenian women who have been making potica for decades, simultaneously looking after small children, doing the laundry, preparing supper and watching a soap opera: “you have my greatest admiration.”
Unfortunately, the Canadian Slovenian Historical Society cannot accept samples of potica for our archives. I suspect it would disappear within hours of its arrival. But potica recipes, written down, or as a video while you, your mother or your grandmother make potica, are a valid addition. Ed’s fear that his family recipes might be lost in time is shared by Slovenian archivists all over the world, as I discovered during the Archivists’ Course I took in Ljubljana last spring. As the wonderful baking smells tease your taste buds this Christmas, think about contributing your recipes, documents, or artifacts of Canadian Slovenian life to the Canadian Slovenian Historical Society. You do not have to be famous to be important to us.
Contact us at email@example.com.
Created: Sunday, February
26, 2006; Last Updated:
Saturday, March 14, 2015