Nov 222011

Thanksgiving Table from

Since we started our life together, Husband and I have been trying to merge our culinary traditions. I come from a family that observed all the rituals and took pride in painstakingly adhering to the smallest details in organizing, preparing, and executing any holiday dish. Husband’s memories are mostly tied to his grandfather, a stern and strict southern Baptist who tended to the garden and wielded the ladle while they were growing up. While the women in my family fretted about every morsel of food, stretching their imagination to match the skill and the occasion of the celebration, Husband’s family ate in the spirit of the enlightened seventies. Once his grandfather passed, his mother embraced all the modern conveniences of the grocery store, and laid new holiday traditions for her two children.

I was indifferent when it came to Thanksgiving, as it is a holiday we do not celebrate in Europe and it did not touch me in any emotional or nostalgic way. The first year I dutifully made the turkey and all the trimmings following Husband’s wishes: green beans for the casserole were previously frozen and rounded off with canned cream of mushroom soup and crispy canned onions; sweet potatoes were served with marshmallows on top; cranberry sauce came from the can, still bearing the ridges on its smooth sides; the rolls were from the supermarket, most of the time just warmed over; one of the desserts was always banana pudding with ‘Nilla wafers and Jello instant pudding; but the turkey was real, somewhat dry, and always ready before noon; mashed potatoes were from scratch, the stuffing was made with corn bread, rolls, celery, onions, and turkey stock, and the giblet gravy was hearty and delicious, finished with turkey stock, and loaded with flavorful chopped giblets and hard boiled eggs.

For Husband, this was a path to his childhood, this semi-homemade Sandra Lee concoction of a meal. No matter how much I rolled my eyes, he reached for the familiar tastes and textures of processed food to keep the allusive wisps of comfort and family warmth from flying away, and I could not deny him these tiny anchors to the past.

But throughout the years, I slowly started changing the tradition, dish by dish, wanting our girls to have different ties to the holiday. I retired the green bean casserole and introduced roasted autumn vegetables; my sweet potatoes stayed true to his southern roots, laced with bourbon and crunchy with buttered pecans on top; we often have soup for an appetizer, desserts are varied and prepared according to wishes and whims, but always featuring either a pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, or a pecan pie; I fought and won him over with my home-made cranberry sauce, even though the nasty canned stuff is still a must on our holiday table, as College Kritter cannot imagine Thanksgiving without it; mashed potatoes come and go, and the dressing is a variable, so much that I cannot remember from year to year what I made; often, prompted by Husband’s dislike of every dry bland centerpiece, I don’t even serve turkey, opting for seafood, duck, or a pork roast; but I still make the giblet gravy, as it became a traditional staple, one constant that epitomizes this holiday for me.

This year the Beasties want to be fully engaged in the kitchen. College Kritter arrives later today and I know that she will volunteer to tackle a dish or two. Husband’s Vietnamese colleague from work might be joining us, and I am pleasantly excited in anticipation of our holiday meal. This year Father will be missing from the table, having to stay in Serbia and take care of Mother and I will miss his meddlesome presence in the kitchen and obsessive adherence to many useless details. The Girls and I are mostly finished with our Thanksgiving menu and Husband is unanimously elected to face the angry crowds at the grocery stores (I will have to placate him with a tumbler or two of bourbon after he returns).

Thanksgiving turkey from

Surgeon at work

I delivered College Kritter on Thanksgiving in 1991, and her yearly pilgrimages home for her birthday are a part of our family holiday traditions. When we finally sit at the table, we say thanks. This year, besides my usual gratitude, I am thankful for the time I spent with Mother in Serbia, for each piece of advice, solicited or not, for every nudge and prompt, for her encouragement and inspiration, for her bravery and will to fight, for every moment she spent reading my essays since I learned to write and long hours of commenting on books and movies, for teaching me that a smile is my best weapon and instilling kindness in my heart, for her quick wit and weird sense of humor, for her ability to light up any room with her laughter, for hundreds of beautiful sweaters she knitted for me and the girls, weaving her love and adoration in every little loop. I wish she could be here with us.

mama i ja from

None of the posts that I am going to link to mention Thanksgiving, even though I learned to love this holiday and all the dishes appeared at the table throughout the years. I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, full of already stable family traditions and new, emerging ones, filled with smiles, gratitude, and kindness. And lots of wine!

Hibiscus Citrus Vodka Cocktail

Mulled Wine 

Quince Paste

Butternut Squash Soup

Rosemary Focaccia

Quinoa and Sweet Potato Salad

Real Mashed Potatoes

Lentils and Wild Rice Salad With Plantains

Green Beans With Pancetta

Pumpkin Strudel (Tikvanjik) 

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies 

Leftover Turkey Soup

Nov 192011

Cabbage from

I arrived at Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade in the middle of July, after three years of absence, with my heart beating wildly as I stepped outside of the building, enveloped by the fierce summer heat that somehow reaches its peak in this city. Instead of a month, as I initially planned, I stayed for almost four months, ambushed by Mother’s deteriorating health and stumped by the Kafkaesque state of bureaucracy putting up obstacles at every step. My daughters left as planned and arrived safely to Los Angeles, after two days of delayed flights, faulty engines, and London hotel rooms. I stayed behind, torn between worrying about my girls and taking care of Mother, finding solace in talking to friends and eating the familiar comfort food of my childhood.

Before I left on Tuesday, the farmers market was awash with sunshine, as busy as in the summer months. I took a stroll around the stalls one more time, saying goodbye to my favorite vendors, trying to keep the smells and sounds alive in my mind for months to come. I knew that my heart would break the moment I hugged Mother on my way out the door. I was aware that I would have to avert my eyes when I kissed Father goodbye at the bus station. And I realized that I would miss my morning visits to the market that I took for granted the previous four months.

farmers market, Cacak, from

The vibrant colors of summer produce were not there. Instead, the stalls were overflowing with various shades of green,  and it felt as if spring had arrived unexpectedly and ambushed us with another fresh harvest. There were lettuces that I don’t remember seeing in my town even a few years back, as we are very loyal to the Bibb or Boston variety; piles of cabbage heads blocked the farmers from view; broccoli abounded, neatly wrapped in its dark leaves; brussels sprouts shyly peaked from a crate or two; scallions proudly displayed their shiny white bulbs; sorrel, chard, celery greens, beet greens, parsley, and dill, neatly bound in bunches looked almost like decorations; and then there were leeks, slender, gorgeous, elegant in their simplicity, offering the promise of sweet alium crunch.

I did not bring my white and blue checkered canvas bag on wheels and I passed by the produce that called to me biting my lips and making small, sweet oaths vowing that I would return in a few months to my beloveds. I bought only a long piece of prÅ¡uta* and a pound of young, fresh kajmak** collected that morning, that Father pre-ordered couple days ago. I rushed as I weaved through the stalls, thinking of suitcases still waiting to be packed and the impending moment of my departure that I knew would break me in two. Tears were already standing at attention, threatening to appear as I longingly glanced around, taking the scene in cinemascope, aware that the next day, the place would look just the same, only I would not be there.

farmers market, Cacak from

The walk back home was hurried. We did not talk a lot, Father and I. I snapped a few photos, kicked a few big, heart-shaped linden leaves into the grass, breathed in the smell of snow brought by the winds from the northwest. The sky was pretty blue with only a few white clouds disrupting it, and the sun bathed everything with a make-believe glow. My town was saying farewell to me in a subdued way, melancholy and romantic, still clean of mud, still sharp and crisp, as if it needed to see me off dressed in its Sunday best. By the time we reached the white, wrought iron gate of my parents’ yard, I was silently sobbing. Why is it so hard to leave every time?

leek pie from

*Pršuta is cured and smoked pork loin or tenderloin, a delicacy of Serbian cuisine. Cut thinly, it is a great accompaniment to rakija (plum brandy) or a glass of hearty red wine.

**Kajmak is made when fresh milk is simmered and the fat from the top collected. It is placed in layers and salted lightly. When it’s young, it’s mild and sweet, but when aged, it acquires a deeper, more pronounced and developed taste.



  • 500gr (1 lb) phyllo dough
  • 3 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only
  • 250gr (1/2 lb) fresh farmers cheese (cottage cheese works, too)
  • 100gr (3oz) kajmak (nothing can come close, but sour cream or cream cheese will do in a pinch)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 100ml (1/2 cup) sunflower oil, divided


Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).

Grease the rectangular pan with some sunflower oil.

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and dice into semi-circles. Place into a colander and wash thoroughly. Drain. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet and add leeks. Cook on medium-low heat until softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let the leeks cool off.

In the meantime, beat the eggs and add kajmak and cheese, previously mashed with fork. Stir in the leeks, season with salt, and mix well.

Take one sheet of phyllo dough and spoon some filling evenly and sparingly on top. Place another sheet on top of it, sprinkle with some oil and spoon some filling evenly and sparingly. Continue with four sheets. When done, roll the phyllo dough away from you tightly and place into a pan. Continue with the rest of your phyllo dough. Depending on the number of sheets, you should get five rolls of four to five sheets each. Sprinkle with some more oil and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Leek Strudel from


Last year: So That’s Why They Call It Comfort Food 

Nov 162011

quinces from

It is not luscious and red like a strawberry; it is not juicy and crunchy like an apple; it is not blushed and soft like a peach; it is not sweet and bold like a plum. It is hard, gnarly, irregularly shaped, pale yellow and covered with an unflattering wooly layer. But in spite of its humble appearance, the quince is, for me, the most mysterious and romantic of fruits, like a melancholy noble lady with ivory skin and silky, golden tresses. It can turn any cool room into a fragrance store and many of my childhood memories come to life with a bare hint of its smell.

It is believed that the golden apple of discord Eris threw to the Greek goddesses was indeed a quince, the fruit that jealously hides its beauty beneath the unattractive surface. In the Balkans, it is forever tied to the elusive East, caravans, and white cities glowing in the summer sun. They pose proudly atop pale green and white credenzas in our grandmothers’ dining rooms, patiently waiting for their chance to shine and convert the unbelievers, subduing them with their rosy charm.

It takes heat to transform the nondescript yellowish white of their flesh into an array of sensual colors ranging from coral and pink to deep orange and ruby red. Only when heated do they release their fragrance, losing the tart, mouth-puckering taste they have when raw. And they morph in front of your eyes, becoming mature, ripe, and full of life, showing off like concubines, seducing all the senses, revealing their real nature, blushing like plump, healthy girls from a Rubens painting.

They ripen in October and November when only a late apple and pear manage to survive on the trees, as if prompted by an icy kiss of merciless northern wind. They are forgiving and patient, arrogantly aware that their pale yellow glow preserves the last of summer sun. They sit perched underneath high ceilings, etched against old-fashioned wallpaper, giving away only the allusion of the flavor they hide within, laying in ambush, comfortable in their ugly duckling disguise.

During the summer months hornets made a nest in one of three Father’s quince trees. Whenever I went up to “the Hills”, I avoided the trees in a huge arc, letting my wasp phobia take control. But Father trapped hornets in his empty 2 liter Coke bottles filled with sugary syrup and collected the ripe quinces once the hornets went to sleep. He made rounds in the neighborhood leaving the crates full of fragrant fruit whenever he received even the smallest sign of enthusiasm. He deposited four of them on the floor of Mother’s blue and white formal dining room, much to her consternation. The unheated room quickly filled with the quince fragrance, and I took every opportunity to open the door and inhale with full lungs, feeling lost faced with all that yellow bounty.

I knew that I was taking good care of her when Mother, as sick as she was, perked up and commandeered the post as the Chief General, all of a sudden energetic enough not only to give me the instructions, but to wobble on pushing her walker all the way to the kitchen to supervise the process. I was elated to see her in her element, resigned that she will take the whisk away and apply it with her own sense of accomplishment. I smiled, watching her stir and sweat, while holding on to her walker with her left hand, panting, growing tired, but unwilling to let go of the role that elevated her to the culinary throne so many years ago.

I enlisted her help in conquering the quince, eager to tackle its smooth transformation into preserves, jam, jelly, liqueur, compote, and paste. She shouted the instructions over the murmur of the bubbling fruit, giving me reassurance and scolding me whenever I made the smallest mistake.  In the end, I stood proudly watching the products of my efforts, satisfied and happy that the fruit yielded to me, offering itself to me without reservation.

quince paste from

quince paste from

I left most of my preserving feats on Mother’s pantry shelves when I returned to the States on Thursday. But in the last moment, I grabbed a slab of quince paste, wrapped it tightly in plastic foil, and placed it in my suitcase. And on Sunday, I brought it to Andrew’s and Matty’s gorgeous house in Santa Monica for another fabulous food bloggers party. I served it nicely molded on a platter surrounded by triangles of Manchego cheese, just like they do in Spain.

membrillo from


Paired with sharp and sweet Manchego cheese we call it membrillo and serve it as an appetizer. Placed into thin triangular or rounded molds and kept in a cool place it can survive for several months. Sliced thinly and rolled in sugar we enjoy its sweet and tart complementary taste as a unique dessert.


  • Quinces, peeled, cored and cut into wedges (place cut fruit in cold water to avoid discoloration)
  • Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice to preserve the color (optional)


Place the fruit into a stainless steel or enamel pot and add water to cover. Heat to boil and simmer on low temperature until completely soft. Drain the fruit and reserve the liquid (it makes heavenly jelly).

Weigh the fruit, puree it in a blender, and place it into a shallow, wide-bottom pot. For each kilogram of cooked fruit, measure 800gr of sugar. Add the sugar to the fruit and cook until it dissolves. Continue simmering while stirring continuously until done (when you drag the wooden spoon across the bottom, it will leave a trail, and a drop will stay put on the saucer without spreading). Add lemon juice if using.

As soon as it cools off it can be served.

If you choose to make Quittenkäse, pour the quince paste into molds lined with plastic. Leave intact for 24 hours and turn over. Repeat several times for several days, allowing all the surfaces to get into contact with air and dry. Using a sharp knife cut slices ¼ to ½ inch thick, roll into sugar and serve.


Visit Andrew’s blog Eating Rules for delightful and healthy recipes shared at the party.

Last year: Nostalgiada: Eggplant Rigatoni Pasta

Nov 062011

Rum Torta from

First Sunday of the month is the time we post our Recipe Swap creations. Today marks the first anniversary of this event started by Christianna of Burwell General Store. Browsing through the piles in an estate sale, she found an old hymnal/cookbook whose recipes we use as a starting point while trying to adjust them to our personalities, likes, experiences, and inspiration. The newest challenge is Maple Syrup Cake, which in my interpretation skip the continent and became a Rum Torte.

Growing up, I was surrounded by women who ruled the kitchen with a magic wand. My grandmother Njanja was a master of southern, Turkish-influenced cuisine, and with years learned how to make multi-layered, classic European tortes and beautiful petit-fours that were the envy of the neighborhood. Mother brought with her Central-European and Hungarian dishes, aromatic yeasty breads, and intricate strudels, accompanied by a myriad of unusual recipes she collected from foreign magazines while still a girl. Add to the equation many relatives more then willing to share their expertise in the kitchen, and neighborhood matrons more then eager to enter this friendly exchange, and you get a family that enjoyed innumerable feasts daily, spoiled for eternity by exposure to so many skillful hands.

We had something sweet every day. When the chores overwhelmed her, Mother would whip up a batch of crepes, feeling guilty for offering such a pedestrian desert to her growing children. If she felt especially inspired, she would spend the better part of the day creating a cake that could be proudly displayed at the most prestigious Parisian bakery. And then, there was everything in between: angel food cakes studded with chopped nuts, candied fruit, and grated lemon zest; syrup-infused baklavas and other Middle-Eastern delights; crispy meringues topped with a walnut quarter that seemed to pulverize itself  in your mouth like fairy dust; crumbly sandwich cookies with a layer of tangy jam rolled powdered sugar; buttery shortbread cookies brushed with egg whites and sprinkled with chopped walnuts; pound cakes hiding fresh fruit bursting with all the flavors of summer; light and crispy pastries made with phyllo dough; creamy homemade puddings sparkling with preserves on top; tiny croissants filled with apricot jam and sprinkled with powdered vanilla sugar; cream puffs with their whimsical tops covering the luxuriously rich creme anglaise; quick cakes made with butter wafers soaked in strong coffee and attached with buttery chocolate filling; light and airy European doughnuts best eaten when hot…

layers for rum torte from

When I think of my childhood, I feel a bit guilty, as my three daughters experienced some of this bounty only when Mother visited us in the U.S. and on our summer pilgrimages to Serbia. I stay away from sweets, Husband is allergic to many ingredients, the girls have not yet developed those voracious teen appetites, and therefore I rarely make desserts. But it’s hard for me to resist the soulful call of my youth here in my parents’ home in Serbia. It could be that I am growing older; it could be the desire to connect with the innocent and idyllic days of my childhood; it could be the feeling of looming homesickness that I can predict will befall me as soon as I drive away in a cab on my way to the airport next week.

I recognize and inhale with gusto the food smells of October and November mixed with crisp, fresh gusts of the north-western winds that bring the hint of snow from the Alps. I need to feel comforted and cocooned while the skies are getting ominously darker and the rain attacks the window panes ferociously. I indulge my inner selfish child and dig up the  recipes Mother made for us a long time ago and I prepare them the way she used to, with no shortcuts, without cheating, finding pleasure in every step of the process.

As I stir, chop, mix, blend, and simmer, the scenes of my childhood dart in front of my eyes, sometimes in slow motion and sometimes accelerated like in an old black and white silent movie. I am usually alone and it’s easy to get lost in the mellow haze of the days when I was younger than my youngest child is now. I reach for those long lost memories and try to hold onto their dissipating tendrils, wishing that they could envelop me into the oblivion and propel me once again to those times when this house reverberated with strong energy of people coming and going, with Father briskly walking up the steps and Mother flushed by the stove, stirring something vigorously and mercilessly correcting my grammar while I sat at the kitchen table and chewed on my pencil.

I cannot bring vigor to Father’s tired gait. I cannot bring color to Mother’s pale cheeks. Time has worked its magic and made them old overnight. All I have are the memories, often conflicting stories they tell, the moments fossilized in the ever-changing routine of life. And I have my smells that bring forth in an instant those afternoons of icy northern winds and comforting warmth of the stove.

rum torte assembly from

The simple and flavorful Rum Torte has been my favorite when I was little. I shared the love of it with my grandfather, Deda-Ljubo, the WWI veteran and invalid since he was eighteen. The Bulgarian shrapnel that made a big hole in his head and took away the ability to move his legs in any controlled manner did not make him a bitter, hateful human being, but accentuated his good nature and kindness. I remember sitting in his lap with the daily newspaper open on the kitchen table in front of him, while he mixed the batter for the cake and read the news stories to me at the same time. It was the time just before the electric mixers appeared in the stores of Yugoslavia and his patience and determination were a guarantee of a dough properly mixed. After it went into the pan to be baked, he would relax and continue to read to me in a more lively voice, while the smells of apricot jam, rum, and freshly baked yellow cake seduced us from the kitchen.

I was only four when I insisted that Deda-Ljubo read the entire newspaper to me loudly, while I moved my index finger underneath the lines, following his voice. His trembling baritone brought me comfort and the love I saw in his sad, blue eyes made me stronger to fight my battles later on in life. I wanted to make the Rum Torte to bring back the feel of his hug and to get lost for the moment in the illusive fog of my childhood. October 21st was the anniversary of his death which became the day when I stopped being a child and overnight became an adult.

I celebrate the Recipe Swap‘s birthday with the homage to my grandfather, Deda-Ljubo, whose life enriched mine and whose passing, after almost nine decades on this Earth, was a sorrowful affair only for a day or so. Even though he spent almost half of his life in a wheelchair, he made every day count, showing us that there is no limit to kindness, determination, strength, tolerance, and love.

rum torta from


This cake is most, juicy, light, and very festive looking. It’s easy to put it together and it does not require a lot of preparation time (I don’t count chilling overnight).


For the yellow cake:

  • 8 eggs, separated and divided in half
  • 8 Tbsp sugar, divided in half
  • 8 Tbsp flour, divided in half

For the multi-colored layer:

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 5 Tbsp flour
  • a few drops of raspberry extract or red food coloring
  • ½ tsp cocoa
  • 250 gr sugar (a bit more than 1 cup)
  • 200 ml water (a bit less than 1 cup)
  • 2 Tbsp apricot jam (I used nectarine jam, as I did not have any apricot jam)
  • 3 Tbsp spiced rum*
  • 2 Tbsp rum or orange juice (I use tangerines fresh from the tree inMontenegro)


  • 200 ml (little less than 1 cup) water
  • 10 Tbsp sugar
  • red food coloring
  • 1 drop of sunflower oil
*I used European rum, which is very flavorful, and I am sure almost all fake. We don’t use this for drinking, but it smells heavenly! The best American alternative would be Myer’s Spiced Rum.


Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

Yellow cake: Whip 4 egg whites until soft peaks form. Add yolks, and when blended, add 4 tablespoons of sugar. Carefully mix in 4 tablespoons of flour and pour in a greased, floured baking pan (25x20cm). Bake for 20 minutes, until it gets pale golden on top. Leave in the pan to cool and carefully remove the cake from the pan. Repeat with the other half.

Multi-colored layer:

Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add yolks and sugar, and in the end mix in flour carefully. Divide the batter in three parts. Add raspberry extract or red food coloring to the first layer, cocoa to the second, and the third should stay yellow. Pour them in the greased, floured pan next to each other and bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden on top. Leave in the pan to cool and carefully remove. Cut in small cubes.

Heat the water and sugar to boil on high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Mix in jam and rum and let it cool. When cooled, carefully stir in the colored pieces of cake.


Place one of the yellow cake layers on the tray. Sprinkle evenly with orange juice or rum. Place the colored layer evenly on top and smooth to reach the edges. Top with the other layer and cover with something heavy (I used a cutting board) overnight.


Heat water and sugar to boil and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Let it cool and mix with an electric mixer until it thickens and becomes almost white. Add the red food coloring and oil (for the added shine) and pour immediately on top of the cake. Use the knife dipped frequently in hot water to smooth the glaze.

rum torta from

There are some extremely creative bloggers who participate in the Recipe Swap. Please, visit their blog and take a look at their imaginative takes on the Maple Syrup Cake.

Last year this time I posted a recipe for Hibiscus Cocktail and wrote a story about my first encounter with alcohol.

Nov 022011


pickled peppers from

When I go to a grocery store, I am faithful to my nature and I always carry a list in my pocket. Farmers’ market is a completely different story. I bring an oversized canvas bag, preferably equipped with wheels, and meander around the rows waiting for inspiration to hit me while I ogle all the beautiful produce seductively spread across the wooden stalls. I never buy just what I need. There is invariably an immaculate eggplant too pretty to ignore, a gnarly celery root proudly displaying crisp greenery on top, or a bunch of elegantly slender leeks too long to comfortably fit on the counter, pleading to be saved and taken away.

I leave only when my bag cannot hold another ounce, rushing by the stalls displaying hundreds of items I did not purchase. Almost every time, I guiltily stop at some point and allow a farmer to coerce me into buying something I really do not need, that definitely will not fit in my bag… a cup full of juniper berries, a bucket of Cornellian cherries, a big black radish, a sack of spicy, colorful peppers, a baggie of hawthorn berries… I sometimes scold my parents for hoarding, but I am as culpable as they are. I collect food. I cannot help it, as my greed and addiction are too hard to resist. It has become a standing joke with my family and friends. I cannot lie and I empty my bags feeling contrite on the surface, but impatiently waiting for everyone to leave me alone just for a moment, long enough to think of all the uses for my beloved produce.

cornichones from

Mother thinks I am crazy for piling more and more obviously unnecessary work. Father is amused when he finds me buried in the yellowed pages of Veliki narodni kuvar.* My sister just looks at me with her famous “I am speechless” glance. My best friend indulges my addiction by bringing baskets full of Swiss chard and red currants, boxes of his home-rendered lard, bouquets of dill, and since the hunting season opened a few weeks ago, a hefty piece of wild boar and a skinned and thoroughly cleaned rabbit. But nothing can stop me from finding the perfect ways of preparing everything that ends up on my kitchen table, regardless of whose hands delivered it there.

For several weeks now, farmers’ market has been full of people gathering the goods for the incoming winter. Middle-aged men push their bicycles with canvas bags full of  green tomatoes and cauliflower hanging from the handles. Old ladies shuffle along with their backs arched in a hump, toting heavy sacks of red peppers. The young men, displaying their entrepreneurial spirit, walk around proudly weaving their hand-made dollies where the bundles of onions and shiny cabbages rest comfortably. Everybody is scurrying around, like the ants from Aesop’s fable, afraid to welcome the icy northern winds with their pantries not adequately stocked.

hot peppers from

I feel the call of the preserving season and I join the crowds, grabbing every opportunity to once again walk through the market. I am returning to the U.S. pretty soon and leaving behind sick Mother who barely eats, and elderly Father whose dinner portions are smaller then my eleven-year-old’s. But I made sure that they will not lack food for another decade, labeling the jars clearly to make hunting for them as easy as possible. I visit the jars several times a day, admiring their beautiful colors, proud of my accomplishments. Day by day I progressed on my culinary journey, picking Mother’s brain and learning how to preserve, pickle, and can.

sweet red peppers from

I picked every vegetable that ended in those jars, and Father provided the fruit from The Hills. In the U.S. this would be luxury. Here in Serbia, it is the way of life, a consequence of living in a country that has not reached the dreaded standards of the west. I am convinced that in the years to come, Farmers’ Market will inevitably change, reflecting the European Union’s strict agricultural principles and that all the stalls will offer straight cucumbers without tiny thorns, perfectly matching in size, falling between seven and nine inches, with tomatoes uniform in color, immaculate in their roundness, hard and unappetizing, completely void of their sweet summer essence. But in the meantime, I’ll take advantage of all the colors, sizes, and shapes my beloved, hard-working farmers are offering every day for mere pennies, feeling eternal gratitude for them and their toil.

pickles from

*Veliki narodni kuvar is an old Serbian cookbook that is considered the Bible of cooking.


This is a universal method that can be applied to any vegetable in season. I have pickled sweet red peppers, hot peppers, and cornichones following the recipe. It differs from many as it does not ask for any preservatives and chemicals and produces perfect pickles, firm, sour, and crunchy. The amounts given are for every 1 kg (1 quart) jar.


  • Vegetables of your choice (small cucumbers, sweet red peppers, Hungarian yellow peppers, hot peppers of any variety, green tomatoes)
  • 100ml white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • several peppercorns
  • fresh dill sprigs (for cornichones only)
  • water


Wash the jars in hot water, and boil the lids for a few minutes (if you run the jars and the lids through the dishwasher, they should be sterilized).

Carefully place the vegetables in jars, lining the edges first and then filling the middle. Press them in tightly, trying to squeeze in as many as possible. Mix all the ingredients except for water and pour into the jar, atop the vegetables. Fill with water almost to the top, leaving a bit of space (1cm or ¼ inch) to the top. Screw the lids on tightly and place in a deep pot. Cover with water to reach all the way to the lids and heat to boil. Once it reaches boiling temperature turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 15 minutes until sterilized.

Using the canning tongs, carefully pull the jars out and place them upside down on a kitchen towel to cool of and seal. If they leak at all, the seal has broken and the jar needs to be used immediately or processed again.

pickled peppers from

 Last year at about this time I wrote a post about my sister and her German husband with a recipe for his Grossmutter’s Oxtail Soup.