A soft thud from the front of the house signals the fall of another petite red apple on the driveway. Our gracious host, Senad, had apologised for the scattered obstacles underfoot as we arrived from Zagreb at dusk, but we politely shushed him, secretly delighted with the novelty of freshly-fallen fruit.
After a warm welcome serve of homemade rakija, cheese and sausage, our appetites are keen and minds expanding to the idea of self sufficient food culture. But the joyful abundance of homemade delights yet to experienced in Petrinja is just too much for our westernised imaginations to foretell.
A tour of the backyard garden the next morning reveals almost enough produce to stock a store.
“If you wish to cook anything, we have it… everything is homemade”, smiles Senad as we stand with him and his wife, Branka, between the tangle of cherry tomatoes, silver beet and plump pumpkins. He is holding a bunch of crooked carrots that were unearthed only moments before, and is taking us through the yard, past the herbs, beans, blackberries, cucumbers, citrus and pears.
Emerging from the rambling garden, we sit at the outdoor table, near the “Summer Kitchen” where homemade tomato sauces are created from ripened fruit and baskets of ‘homemade’ hazelnuts are stored. We drink refreshing homemade elderflower cordial, one of Branka’s favourites, and as Senad pours us another glass he offers, “I’ve got ice here… it’s homemade too”.
The homemade joke keeps running all week as our bellies bulge with the warm hospitality of Branka and Senad’s family and friends. Later in the week we take our garden adventures out of town, to a property owned by Senad’s family. The garden there is bigger, growing onions, potatoes, apples, chestnuts, walnuts, corn and sunflowers… all among the usual vege-patch suspects, of course.
The humble joys of growing food for the family and friends is far from lost on our hosts, and I marvel as they explain that this home grown, homemade way of life is very much a cultural norm, borne of resilient traditions and economic necessity.
As we continue to explore Petrinja and surrounds, we eat the apples from the driveway, grapes from overhead vines, little white peaches and cute baby pears from the trees out back. Almost every meal is accompanied by delicious smoked sausage, homemade by Senad’s brother, from boar hand-slain by Senad’s father. To wash it down, we drink plum rakija or current juice. We devour Branka’s grandmother’s apple strudel, formed with handmade pastry and hand-picked apples. We enjoy seconds and thirds of Senad’s mum’s marble cake, made from her very own, home grown walnuts.
When we are full of chilli cheese made by the lady down the road or sour cherry jam or preserved peppers, we are given jars of pickles from Boro’s mother and a bottle of award-winning, 42% alcohol plum rakija from Senad’s father’s friend.
But my favourite feed of the week is the gluten-free hazelnut cake with chocolate icing, homemade by Senad’s mum with hazelnuts that grew by the back porch. The cake is served with a walnut liqueur that, amazingly, makes the world seem even sweeter.
A very heartfelt thanks to Senad and Branka for hosting us in Petrinja, and to their families and friends for welcoming us in with such warmth and cheer. Your kindness and hospitality meant the world, and visiting you, eating your delightful food and learning about Petrinja was a real highlight! We hope to repay your hospitality when you visit us in the future.