Gastronomy, and especially autochthonous homemade cakes, has always been part of the historical heritage that connects Dalmatia, the Adriatic islands and Croatia’s diaspora communities around the world. In times of intense emigration from the homeland and pronounced poverty only the tastes and aromas of food from the old country, and the memories they invoke, could be transported to the new world.
In this week's magazine, we take a closer look at the lumblija cake from Blato, Korčula. And while the first generations to leave Blato sought to maintain this custom in their new surroundings, the original recipe was unfortunately lost almost a century ago. This has made efforts to preserve it in the homeland even more important.
The Croatian Heritage Foundation, the Tourist Board of the Blato Municipality, and a local cultural institution presented the program “Tastes of Tradition - Blato Dining” in Zagreb on March 3rd, as well as a book by Rada Kaštropil-Culić, entitled “Blato Dining”.
The book was written in the local dialect and, thanks to the Australian community from Blato, was recently printed in its fourth edition. In addition to the old recipes, it has a healthy dose of Blato’s well-known humor, songs, and pictures; and all with the aim of preserving the habits, lifestyle, and traditions of the islanders.
“This is not just a cookbook”, says author Rade Kaštropil-Culić. “This is very important for the younger generations to understand, both for those living in our emigrant communities around the world and those who continue to live in Croatia and in Blato.”
The book, first and foremost, is indeed a comprehensive history of the local culinary heritage. But, as Rade Kaštropil-Culić says, it also contains humorous stories and anecdotes, as well as songs and drawings from Blato.
“This book aims to build and maintain links to our ex-pat communities abroad. And even in these times of technology and digitalization, books are still very important. When I go to see my family now and see my granddaughter using the book and getting it all covered in flour and oil, especially if it is olive, my heart is full and I know that the book has been a success,” said the author.
Those who read the book will be truly immersed in the Blato dialect. And even though the fourth and fifth generation of ex-pats no longer speak the Croatian language, they can still appreciate the book because it's a physical reminder of the way of life of their ancestors.
However, Rade Kaštropil-Culić is certain that the book will be translated into English in the near future. “Ninety percent of the people from Blato who have emigrated from Croatia live in Australia, and that is now the location of our largest diaspora community. For example, if we count the four generations of our people living in Sydney, there are more there than in Blato today. The fifth-generation, meanwhile, speaks no Croatian at all,” he concluded.
In addition to the author of the book, the presentation earlier this month was attended by Ivana Sardelić from the local cultural institution, who read humorous excerpts from the book and talked about some of the sights and sounds of Blato.
“There are many things that Blato is known for, including a local nun who was beatified by Pope John Paul II, the row of linden trees lining the main road, and some dramatic and tragic events, such as the great wave of emigration from the island of Korčula and from Blato that took place almost one-hundred years ago. This series of events is still deeply embedded in the collective memory of Blato today and has in no way been forgotten,” said Ivana Sardelić.
Emigration and gastronomy are what keep people connected, and with social networks and modern technologies, it has led to many interesting international collaborations.
“In cooperation with the Croatian Heritage Foundation in 2016, a signpost of all the cities and their distance in kilometres from Blato was set up in the local park to show all the places around the world where the people from Blato have emigrated to over the past hundred years. Through a video link, we established a partnership with the Dalmatian society in São Paulo, Brazil, which put the same signpost in the centre of São Paulo, and thus established a wonderful international collaboration that continues to this day,” explained Sardelić.
Maja Šeparović from the Blato Tourist Board, says the town of Blato has been producing this enchantingly delicious cake for the past two hundred years. The origins of which, she explains, “seem ripped from the pages of a tragic fairy tale story of unrequited love between a French soldier and a local beauty.”
“The story speaks of the love of a young local woman and a French soldier. During Napoleon's occupation of Dalmatia, the soldier, most likely a Corsican because of the similarities of a cake baked in Corsica, fell in love with a girl from Blato. When the soldier and his army left the island, he baked the girl a cake as a way to never forget him, leaving her with a farewell and a simple message: "ne me oublie pas", "don't forget me." And with a clear language barrier between the two love birds, that simple French phrase became lumblija, the cake of unrequited love,” said Šeparović.
The version from Blato is a round cake of raised dough and several ingredients, including walnuts, almonds, dried fruits, as well as spices like cloves, nutmeg, and the most important ingredient of all is varenik - a sweetened and spiced red wine reduction. And it comes as no coincidence that it's usually baked for All Saints' Day at the beginning of November when we think of all the beloved persons who are no longer with us.
Despite the people from Blato and Korčula living in all corners of the globe, some make the return trip to their former island home at least once a year. The author of the cookbook hopes it will be translated into English in the near future since it is a treasure-trove of cultural information for those who do not speak or understand the language of their ancestors.
Now that’s a book we can sink our teeth into.
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