Episode 227 – Delicious Dalmatia

March 20, 2022. 52°F/11°C

#myvikingstory

Having spent the day yesterday in the old walled city learning about Dubrovnik’s history, we opted on our second day here to take the tour called “Flavours & Traditions of Old Croatia” and learn about slightly more recent history…and food.

The one question we have, having now completed the excursion, is “why did no one warn us not to eat breakfast?”

The first stop, around 9:00 a.m., was the village of Orašac, where a local farmer still maintains a horse-powered olive oil press. We were especially impressed that the farmer and his wife, now in their mid-sixties, learned English only about 10 years ago specifically to be able to welcome tourists to their home.

The exterior of the olive processing building.

The olive oil process involved two steps. First, the olives were crushed into paste in a huge stone vat, using 2 big stone crushing wheels powered by a very compliant horse walking in circles.

As the horse walks, the wheels both turn and are pulled around the vat. From olives to pulpy paste took about 5 hours divided between 2 horses and 3 men. Our host joked that the final oil profits were split 5 ways.

Then the olive paste was fed into a second mill, along with hot water, and strained through coconut fibre “baskets”. How did Croatians hundreds of years ago get coconut fibre? From Goa India, of course! We simply needed to be reminded that Dubrovnik was a major trading post for all kinds of goods from the east.

Top left: the press. Note the layers of wood and stone above the coconut “filter”, and the huge stone at the bottom. Top right: hot water is poured over the coconut fibres. There is a cauldron in the shed for heating water over a wood fire. Bottom left: attaching the wooden lever system to the press. Bottom right: sheer muscle power forces the weights down to squeeze the pulp through the coconut to extract the oil.
Left: a new coconut fibre basket filter. Right: a stack of filters in the press, having picked up colour from the olive pulp.

The oil/water mixture was then allowed to stand until it separated, so the pure olive oil could be separated and placed into large stone amphoras. Of course, nowadays it is bottled in glass.

After the demonstration we were served “breakfast” of homemade cheese, smoked ham, olives, olive oil, freshly baked bread … and red wine. As they say in Croatia, “why not?”.

We then returned to the old walled city, where (since we had all toured it previously) our guide set us free to roam. Ted and I took the chance to visit the interiors of several churches, and wander past the many restaurants and cafés located on the back streets. I decided to catalogue our church pictures as a separate post.

Our next stop was the hamlet (that’s even smaller than a village) of Ljuta to visit the water-powered stone mills at Mlinica Dvori. My father worked in a flour mill in Holtum Geest Germany after fleeing Poland near the end if World War II, but that mill had fallen into disrepair by the first time I visited that village in 2015, so I was curious to see a mill of the same vintage in operation.

We were greeted in the traditional Croatian way, with liquor and sweets: a selection of Maraska (cherry), Orahovac (walnut), and almond liqueurs (or strong rakija brandy) accompanied by candied orange peel, sugared almonds, and dried figs.

The first mill we saw was the water-powered grain mill, with its huge crushing stones whose pressure could be adjusted to vary the fineness of the flour being produced. During our demonstration, fine yellow cornmeal was ground.

The exterior workings: water getting to the water wheel.
The internal workings: grinding stones and grain funnel.

We then walked through a serene wooded area, alongside the stream and waterfalls, to reach the second mill, which was in use until 1965 “felting” wool.

Here’s how it works. Sheep or goat wool is first spun into yarn, and then woven into cloth. If you think about it, cutting into a woven fabric causes it to unravel, so the woven cloth is “pounded” by a water-powered hammer until the fibres are matted together, creating a tight enough weave that it will not come apart when cut into pieces to be turned into clothing.

Top: the exterior of the mill with its water wheel. Bottom: a piece of woven fabric being pounded by wooden posts, and being kept wet by a flow of water.

We were able to see yarn, woven fabric, and 2 densities of felted fabric. The technique was essential in creating the traditional Croatian clothing, as well as in creating waterproof cloaks for shepherds (by incorporating lanolin-rich goat hair along with sheep wool.

Top layer: finely felted. Centre layer: open weave.
Bottom layer: minimally felted.

Next we headed to an agroturismo farm. Our group was privileged to share lunch with the Novakovic family at their home in the village of Čilipi. The family has lived here for generations, making grape brandy, smoked ham, and wine. Are you sensing a theme in the cuisine of the Dalmatian coast?

We were greeted with – you guessed it – liquor shots. This time they were Prošek, a thick sweet dessert wine. In the courtyard we were also treated to a musical welcome: accordion and guitar.

Top left: garden snd vineyards. Top tight: wood ready for barbecuing bacon! Bottom left: our musical greeters. Bottom right: the family home, expanded over generations.

After a very quick tour of the vineyard and gardens, which are just being prepared for planting, we sat down to lots more music and a delicious lunch: generous appetizer plates of smoked meats, cheese, and bread; roasted pork loin with potatoes and green salad; apple and raisin crumble with whipped cream… and wines.

Top left: appetizers. Top right: it appears I’m first to the wine carafe.
Bottom: lots more music during lunch.

Our sailaway celebration tonight, after “conquering” Dubrovnik, was a Game of Thrones themed mediaeval feast. There was soup, breads and cheeses, roast suckling pig, chicken, beef, vegetables, flatbreads, and flowing beer and wine. It was fun, but we just weren’t hungry!

Tomorrow is a sea day as we head for Greece. We’re looking forward to just relaxing on board and NOT eating.

5 comments

  1. Thanks for another interesting post! I love seeing how people make their living in all parts of the world. Your excursion differed a bit from one we did which included a mussel farm accessible by a lovely small boat but that might be due to the season. Good fun all!

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  2. You guys are rocking it… the food, the places and the people you are meeting. Such a fabulous trip! Except for the life on water part, I am envious! We are just sitting in the sun and seeing friends… soon heading North ( April 8th). Enjoy!

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