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Slovenians thrive on sturdy, hearty meals

Sunday, June 17, 2001

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Slovenia is the only country that has "love" in its name. Corny, but I love Slovenia for a special reason. All four of my grandparents emigrated from there in the early part of the 20th century.

Pictures of Slovenian scenes hang in the Scott home of Violet Ruparcich, who is wearing traditional dress from her native country. The wine and lace also are from Slovenia. (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette)

I have grown up with Slovenian song, dance and food in the homes of my two grandmas and many aunts, uncles and cousins. So please excuse me if I tell you more than you want to know about this tough little country and its proud, self-reliant people, some of whose descendants will get together June 18 at a charity golf scramble to benefit a pediatric clinic in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Many people mix up Slovakia and Slovenia. They are quite separate and not even close, thank you. Slovakia shares borders with Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The Republic of Slovenia is a small nation, an area only slightly larger than New Jersey, sharing borders with Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary and Croatia to the east.

These people know how to eat, and the food is always sturdy and hearty. Today, with women in the work force, mealtime shortcuts are taken during the week, just as in any modern country. But Sunday dinner in Slovenia is a family tradition, and the food is made from scratch.

The meal begins with a toast of wine. Then there is soup, usually a rich beef broth enriched with homemade egg noodles or barley. The meat that was cooked to make the broth is sliced for the main course. Beside it, a pile of potatoes cooked with onions may be topped with gravy. Lettuce salad and often cabbage salad are dressed with vinegar and oil that might be corn, pumpkin seed or olive oil. A basket is filled with bread, always homemade.

Dessert might be a fruit strudel, but never pie. Pie is more typical for Slovenes in the United States. (The Slovenes are shocked at the amount of sugar consumed by their cousins in this country.)

And there is music.

Slovenian radio tends to folk music programming, and although there is no plate for it on the table, ethnic music is a vital part of the Slovenian Food Pyramid. What you would hear are lively polkas and waltzes played on the button-box accordion and stringed tamburitzan instruments.

At holidays, special foods are served. Expect to see a whole baked ham or roast goose with sauerkraut. For large groups, a pit-roasted pig or lamb might be offered. Always, there are long brown rolls of potica, a walnut-filled yeast-dough pastry. Raised doughnuts called krofi are sometimes served, but always on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins.

  Put a little Slovenia in your life

Want to hear Slovenian music at home? Every Saturday from 4 to 5 p.m., host Violet Ruparcich's "Songs and Melodies of Beautiful Slovenia" airs on radio station WEDO (810 AM).

Want to eat like a Slovenian? Buy traditional Slovenian klobase at Stumpf's Meats, 347 Butler St., Etna (412-781-8373), which locals call "The Old-Fashioned Butcher Shop." The recipe for the traditional sausage comes from Klobase King Frank Smerdel.

Want to enjoy Slovenian music and food and play golf? Read on:

What: Sixth Annual Ljubljana Pediatric Clinic Charity Golf Scramble.
When: Tomorrow.
Where: Deer Run Golf Club, Gibsonia.
Hosts: Fran and Joan Magister, owners of Deer Run Golf Club.
Information: 724-265-4800.
Cost: Entry fee is $90; $70 of the fee will directly benefit the pediatric clinic.

Don't play golf? A social begins at 4 p.m. after the golf scramble. It includes a buffet dinner at 5 p.m., featuring Slovenian specialties and homemade pastries. Eight polka bands play from 5 p.m. to late evening and will feature the button-box accordion. Cost of social and dinner is $10.


Depending where you live in Slovenia, dishes and flavors overlap the cuisines of neighboring countries. Slovenes make renditions of goulash, tripe stew, rice and meat dishes, such as stuffed peppers and cabbage.

The one dish that may never leave the borders, however, is zganci, a sort of porridge that can be made with potato, cornmeal or buckwheat and is served with stews. My Uncle Chuck Peternel of Library still makes zganci the way Grandma did, maybe because he's the only one who still likes the stuff and remembers how to make it.

Not exactly a national dish, but as close they get to one, are Slovenian sausages. There are unsmoked pork sausages, black blood sausages or the most famous smoked pork sausage, klobase, which is more often pronounced and spelled like Polish kielbasa. The Slovenian links differ from Polish kielbasa in that they are black-peppered, garlicky and always smoked.

If you can find the real deal made by a Slovenian butcher, serve klobase with sauerkraut and potatoes or tucked into a crusty bun for the best ethnic hoagie you ever ate.

Hearty stuff for a hearty people.

For centuries, Slovenians had a history of domination and survival under one empire or another. The lengthy list includes the Celts, followed by the Greeks and Romans. Then came domination by the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburgs. Even the French took a swat at the Slovenes.

In the 20th century, Slovenia continued as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until its collapse at the end of World War I. Slovenia then joined the kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. During World War II, Italy, Germany and Hungary occupied Slovenia. After the war, Slovenia became one of the six republics of the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia, a communist state.

By the time democracy began sweeping through Eastern Europe, the Slovenes had had a bellyful of bullies and voted for self-determination. They proclaimed independence in 1991. This move -- no surprise -- ticked off the Yugoslav army, which promptly attacked. A 10-day war in the summer of 1991 was resolved peacefully. Slovenia was finally established as a country.

Whew! Is it any wonder that the people have a fierce desire to maintain their ethnic ways and independence?

With this background, no wonder they've got backbone.

Cousin Cheryl's Party Klobase

1 pound klobase (kielbasa or kolbassi) links
1 cup white wine
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Rounds of French bread

Cut klobase into 1/2-inch slices. Place in skillet with wine. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered, until wine has almost evaporated and liquid looks syrupy, about 12 minutes.

Stir in brown sugar, mustard and brandy, and cook 1 minute more. Add parsley and pepper to taste.

Serve hot or at room temperature with toothpicks and thin rounds of crusty bread for dipping in the juices.

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

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