Fall's Gastronomic Postcard
The Autumn always sneaks up on Zagreb slowly, gently and elegantly, and the first changes can be seen in the treetops – summer's rich green suddenly moves to the seductive palette of autumnal shades. The abundance of colors, scents and aromas permeates Zagreb's markets, and this means that the table situation will be colorful and interesting, too. Although nature is gradually bringing the year's cycle to its end, the autumn certainly keeps up in terms of its offer with the spring and summer. Both restaurants in Zagreb and rural households in the city's surroundings will use the comfortable shift from the summer to winter to show the season's treats, from traditional favorites to modern derivations. It is the time of harvest, preparation of preserves, as well as the enjoyment of those fruits that are readily available.
It is the season for squashes and pumpkins, and while many may think it is the same thing, the difference at the market is clear. Large, elongated green squashes are grated and used for the bučnica pastry, the popular salty strudel, or for a thick stew with tomatoes or sour cream. The round orange pumpkin is used in creamy soups or simply baked in the oven. The Pumpkin Festival in Ivanić-Grad is a popular seasonal event where a whole range of specialties made from this produce is presented, with an emphasis on pumpkin seed oil. And it is a must in the bean salad, especially when it comes to young beans, with the early autumn being their high season. Tomatoes, peppers, summer squashes and eggplants still hold their own, as they are used in various mixes for nourishing side dishes or tasty stews. After all, the autumn does require heavier and warmer food after the light and refreshing summer menu. Forests are surely the most romantic places to be at this time of the year, inviting us to hunt for mushrooms. Mushroom hunting is a popular hobby, as evidenced by the numerous mushroom festivals, which take place wherever the good stuff can be found. The most common mushrooms are the penny bun, chanterelle and horn of plenty, prepared in a multitude of ways, and the Zagorje soup with fresh wild mushrooms is a popular dish in Zagreb as well.
One of the main early autumn events is grape harvest in vineyards around Zagreb. The most important day in the winemakers' calendar is St. Martin, in early November, when must is baptized in a traditional ritual, while glasses are raised to a successful year and to the new wine that will soon fill the barrels, everything topped off with a huge feast. It is a perfect opportunity for a good slice of meat in a grape sauce. Young seasonal wine, typically the Plešivica Portugizac or, more rarely, Frankovka, comes to the market in those days to help us prepare for colder days. Roasted chestnuts are a perfect complement to such wines, and when their scent starts coming from the street stands, many people see it as an official confirmation that the autumn has come to the city in full swing. St. Martin Day's roasted duck or chestnut-stuffed goose are unforgettable delicacies. The chestnut suddenly becomes the main ingredient in the city's pastry shops, primarily in the chestnut puree with cream, but it also stars in creamy cakes or ice creams.
The rest of the autumn's fruits also gets a chance to shine in desserts, including apples, pears, plums and quinces. Strudels and pies are classics, and quinces, in addition to being used as a scented decoration or roasted meat stuffing, can be found in the old dessert called kitnkez. Everyone loves plums in hot knödel dumplings, especially with cinnamon or breadcrumbs, butter-fried and with some cream on the side. Freshly prepared jams made from autumn fruit are perfect as fillings for crepes or kaiserschmarrn pancakes. This is also the time for nuts – mountains of freshly picked walnuts and hazelnuts are cracked and used as essential ingredients in desserts all the way until the following spring. The walnut roll is now the sweetest. Alongside everything else that is charming and beautiful about Zagreb's early autumn, a table full of tempting seasonal dishes of all kinds and shapes is the main attraction. In a city that takes pride in its gastronomic heritage and the wealth of produce coming from its fertile surroundings, you will certainly not go hungry as the year comes to a close.