Iće i piće

NO 49, December 2016


Something old, something new... Kostajnica plaits

Jelena Ivanišević

Photos: Damir Fabijanić

In spite of the enormous popularity of various kinds of pumpkin in the last few years, which has pushed the borders of the consumption of pumpkin oil and various pumpkin dishes deep into the south, their traditional use was quite minor. If you ask one of the older peasants what they did with pumpkins, he would tell you it was for feeding the pigs. On the whole, that is, for sometimes roast pumpkin is mentioned, sometimes pumpkin strudel, and sometimes pumpkin seeds were nibbled, including as a cure for tapeworms. The selection of traditional dishes is not very great, and many recipes have been completely forgotten. For example, the recipe for stewed pumpkin I came across flicking through my great-grandmother’s recipe notebook, which started with the words Buy a pumpkin from a Bulgarian. In spite of the regular and generally known canon of home-style (granny’s) recipes, tradition still has the occasional unexpected discovery in store for us. And Kostajnica plaits are just that – an incredibly simple and irresistibly brilliant invention out of the former modesty and inventiveness used to get by with a modest and indeed often meagre list of ingredients. The diversity we take for granted is the result of recent history, of the supermarkets and the victory over seasonal food dictated by the climate. But if we are condemned to the season, we have to develop some rather inventive ways of preserving foodstuffs. Those who can remember the huge freezers that were an important part of every house still twenty years back can understand the dimensions of the obsession with preserving that reigned a hundred and more years back. All the surplus from the field and garden had to be bottled, pickled or dried. Brining and drying are the oldest means of preserving, with the latter needing only the sun. Kostajnica braids are in fact strips of pumpkin dried in the sun, nothing more. But just that is an amazingly tasty tagliatella, mild and fantastically chewy, with a texture that recalls the stem of the cep.

As the name would suggest, these plaits were not known outside Kostajnica, nor do I know that they ever had a place in the annual food calendar anywhere else. On the fasting Christmas Eve table, there had to be a bowl of cooked pumpkin tagliatelle. This simple warm salad seasoned with garlic steamed proudly on the table laid waiting for Christmas and the end of the fast. Today at last we can enjoy dried pumpkins outside their hometown framework, in some new interpretations that satisfy completely new dietary options – vegetarianism or veganism. Who needs egg pasta when they can have Kostajnica plaits?
Tastier with a sauce than any ordinary kind of pasta, Kostajnica plaits absolutely deserve a place in modern cooking, and I find this such an enormous pleasure. As for producers of Kostajnica plaits, they still keep the occasional slightly known treat in their assortment.

Svjetlana Lenac, OPG Lovro Lenac: We are into growing pumpkins and producing organically grown pumpkin dried in the sun. Dried pumpkin can be treated like pasta, vegetables or mushrooms. There are just 30 calories, six carbohydrates and no gluten. People with diabetic or celiac problems can eat them. The taste is bland, and it depends what you put on them. It takes on the flavour of the condiments – sauces and gravies, species and herbs or cheeses. It’s a healthy food product that is rich in minerals, vitamins and folic acid. For centuries, in a custom handed down from generation to generation, only in the city of Hrvatska Kostajnica (and not even in the surrounding villages) pumpkin is traditionally eaten as salad on Christmas Eve together with fish. There are only a few families left that keep up the tradition. We revived the tradition and enriched it by preparing it in different ways. In the town itself it is only eaten at Christmas Eve, only as a salad (Kostajnica plaits). It got the name for the appearance it takes when it is cut into long strips. In summer it was dried in the sun, and people wove it into plaits and placed it over the stove. And so they kept it till Christmas Eve. No one knows why it became a tradition just here. Our family has been into drying pumpkins for more than a hundred years, for our own use, and we started to sell it in 2011.

The procedure for preparation is that the pumpkin is peeled, and the seeds are scraped out of the inside. The flesh of the pumpkin is cut around with a cabbage grater, into strips about 2 to 3 mm thick, until you get a long strip of 2 to 5 metres.

In a 100 g bag, there is a 5 kg pumpkin. It’s 90% water, and all the water goes off. It comes back to 100% of the volume when it’s boiled or soaked. You can it raw or cooked.

OPG Lovro Lenac

A. Tomulića 10
44430 Hrvatska Kostajnica
(044) 851 090, 099 5127 643

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