In my childhood the seasonal menu was defined by the pace of ripening of seasonal fruit and vegetables grown in my grandma’s garden. The summer squash announced the summer season. They grew hidden on two spots in the garden.
One was the narrow row of my grandpa’s potatoes and corn, who kept its staples protected from wind, and the other place was close to fertilizer where it enjoyed the heat.
The white surface of the summer squash contrasted with its pale green inner side. When grinded it ended up as a delicious stew or poppy seed and squash strudel so called “bučnica”. Going through some old newspaper cut outs I have found out that this strudel is prepared in many different ways and with different ingredients depending on the region. It intrigued me to try it out.
In continental Croatia there are few ways how to prepare this strudel and they are named after the region. There is only one savory one, called zagorska. (Named after the region Zagorje). The topping for thin crust dough is made of fresh cottage cheese combined with summer squash. Among the books I have found an authentic recipe so I ‘m noting down the original version:
“One big squash should be enough for four loafs of “bučnica” strudel. Before the strudel is rolled, the dough is prepared just like in old times. The dough is mixed with plain flour, bit salt is added and then it is kneaded until the right texture is reached – not too soft and not too hard. If there is no whey, you should make a mixture of half glass of lukewarm water with half glass of milk and a teaspoon of vinegar that makes the dough stretch nicely. This amount of dough is split into 4 balls, and topped with melted butter. The dough balls are left to rest and rise on a warm place. In the meanwhile the squash is washed, peeled and grated. Add one handful of salt to the grated squash and mix thoroughly. The squash will release water and then it should be put into the cloth and well squeezed to take out the excess fluid. In this squash mixture add two handful of fresh cottage cheese, three deciliters of milk or cream and three spoons of melted pork fat. Mix toughly and add salt if needed. The prepared dough needs to rest for a while, and later on should be rolled out and topped with melted butter. Then the dough should be stretched out as much as possible. When the dough hangs over the table’s edge the squash mixture is put on each opposite side of rolled out dough and rolled up to the loaf. The loaves are put in the pan greased with butter or lard. Each loaf is topped with scoop of butter before baking. This way of preparation guarantees the delicious authentic taste of homemade summer squash strudel.” (Source: Zlatan Nadvornik: Hrvatska tradicionalna jela i pila/Zlatan Nadvornik: Croatian traditional food and drink)
Neighboring regions of Zagorje, Međimurje and Podravina have sweet squash strudels with poppy seeds, and the slight difference between them. The strudel from Podravina is prepared with cottage cheese and from Međimurje with sour cream.
Heading from Zagreb to the west along the area of river Kupa, you will run across the sweet strudel with added carob and going south to Turopolje region strudel is prepared with plums. When preparing sweet strudel, grated squash is not squeezed and drained so that many other ingredients such as minced carob or wheat grits are added in order to soak up the excess liquid.
Bunjevci (South Slavic ethical group) are given credit for creating a very simple sweet strudel with squash as the main ingredient spiced up with cinnamon. The question I am wondering is has cinnamon been added to the recipe later on, regarding their very basic life style in remote areas, it is very unlikely that cinnamon was included in the original recipe. But these are just my assumptions.
And now at the end when I have tasted them all, it is hard to decide which one is the best. But definitely I would point out the strudel with simple toppings where the squash takes the main role. So it means Zagorska and Bunjevacka strudel are my favorites.
But taste buds still bring back memories about my grandma’s strudel made with squash and poppy seeds which was pure perfection. That is a heritage which I will definitely bring to life again some day.