To this day, I can ‘t think of a holiday gone by that Baba Rada didn’t roll a sheet of dough out onto the large wooden breakfast table to make a pita. Whether it be vegan, made with apples, oil, nuts, & sugar, or a salty cheesy sensation, it’s usually included in the spread on Baba’s table as a first or last course. However, pita is also an extremely satiating treat in-between meals for unexpected visitors because of its dense components.
I’m sitting here tonight reflecting on the slavski kolac (slava bread) I made for my brother-in-law’s patron saint day, St. Patrick’s Day, last week. Gosh, I used the dough hook and the mixer. That’s not how Baba Rada would have done it. She would have kneaded the dough with her own hands. I’ve watched her do it a thousand times. Similarly, the American in me sometimes skips steps by using phyllo dough when making pita. What kind of domacica (homemaker) am I? Am I being too hard on myself? I don’t think so, because the truth is, producing delicious food takes heart and soul, effort and time.
The picture below captures a group of Cetnik women in a DP (displaced persons) camp, laying the dough out on the long tables to prepare one of our favorite Serbian trademarks called “Pita”, more specifically ”gibanica” (cheese filled), “burek” (meat filled) all varieties of strudel. The dough is kneaded (notice no kitchen aids at the uh camp site) then left to rest, then finally it is rolled out to the two ends of the table until thin enough to lift like a bed sheet. This allows air underneath it and allows time to stretch it until the pita dough has enough surface area to fill by sprinkling either chopped apples, sugar and cinnamon, or a combination of cheeses, eggs, then rolling the gigantic piece of dough and cutting it into cooking sheet length pieces, maybe three or four, and baking it.
These women whose lives as wife, mother, homemaker were interrupted by war and exile evidently had the strength and pride to practice and preserve the tradition of a Serbian homemaker. This includes producing delicious old world European food like pita on the table. To me, this picture is a reflection of hope in these refugees’ minds that they would one day again prepare pita in their own home. And prepare Pite (pitas) they did, particularly the dark haired dame fourth from the right, Baba Rada Popovich. When this much time and devotion is put into the food the result is the perfectly satiating sweet or savory effect that Baba’s pita has. Following our grandfathers’ and great uncles’ battles during WWII, once in the DP camps, it was the women commandeering when and what the next meal would be.