What people in Istria used to have for Christmas dinner long before the Covid-19 pandemic
I haven't written anything for a long time. Somehow this whole situation with the SARS-CoV-2 virus made me confused. A feeling of uncertainty prevails in me, I feel just like that red light on the TV, the Stand-by light. ... and I think that someone will use the remote control, the red light will disappear and a program, a show or a movie will start on TV. But nothing, nobody touches the remote control. The Christmas holidays are around the corner and there is no show. Nothing.
I think and think again. Closed in my red light I think this Christmas period is special for me, not at all positive, but certainly special, the one that will hardly be forgotten. Or maybe yes, maybe in 30-40 years we will forget how it was today, how we got ourselves prepared for this exceptional Christmas. Who knows if we will remember if we have decorated the Christmas tree as always or if we have put the lights on the railings of our balconies or if we have taken the children or not to see Santa in one of the shopping malls? Because maybe Santa Claus was unable to cross the national or regional border this year due to Covid!
I have decided to make these Christmas celebrations special and, above all, unforgettable. I'm going to turn that red light on the TV green. In order not to forget what Christmas is like for me today and above all not to forget what Christmas was like not so long ago, I decided to take a trip in the past and bring back here a part of the Istrian Christmas traditions. I will tell the part that I know better and in this particular moment, in these Covid conditions , the part which is more accessible. What I will report will not touch the religious part of Christmas but I will tell about its social and culinary aspect.
I set off on this journey back in time with a very simple question… what did our old folks cooked for Christmas? I asked this question to two new storytellers named Gabrijela Škoravić (born in 1946) and Adele Bilić (born in 1949). My mother and her sister, my aunt! In the era of the Corona virus, when social relations are limited by various laws and when direct communication is lacking, I feel lucky because this conversation was first of all possible to do and then it turned out to be really interesting, varied, dynamic and rich.
Thus, my storytellers born in Galižana, a small village near Pula, plunged into their childhood memories, returned to their farm where Bruna, Stella, Viola and Formina, their cows were an integral part of the children’s everyday life, and where Gigio and Moro, the Istrian donkeys, were great workers.
They told me that on Christmas Eve, or as they call it here, "Vilija", the Christmas tree was decorated, and that in reality it was not a pine tree but a juniper taken directly from the woods. The Fifties’ decorations were certainly more modest than those of today, but nuts, apples, sugar candies wrapped in brightly colored paper and red and white candy canes hanging on that tree were certainly not worth less. For that day, chickpea soup (maneštra sa slancem) and pasta with codfish (posutice s bakalajom) were cooked. The children ate posutice (Istrian pasta) with toasted breadcrumbs and sugar. In the evening, around 8 o'clock, wearing the black handkerchief on their heads, they used to go to church for confession, and when they got home a special dessert would be waiting for them, fritule (a sort of pancakes).
For Christmas they prepared fuži (Istrian pasta) with chicken or rooster sauce and kapuz (sauerkraut) with meat. The children did not receive gifts at Christmas, but for Saint Nicholas (December 6) when the Saint brought them apples that he put under the pillow.
Preparing a dinner like this for Christmas Eve and Christmas doesn't seem too complicated today, because we can find everything already prepared. The codfish is packaged and ready to be eaten, the posutice (Istrian pasta) also, the fritule can be bought in a shop and not to mention the chicken for the sauce. But once having codfish ready to be eaten was a different story, it was rather a more complicated story than just going to the shop to buy it.
I will leave this story for an another time in which I will deal with the creation of this traditional Istrian Christmas menu! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!