Heritage-wise, I have an odd mixture in my family: I'm of Irish and Serbian descent, mainly. Growing up, we attended Irish family reunions with the McHughs and attended Feis where my cousins danced. As far as the Serbian side goes, I know only what my grandfather taught me.
I'm fairly sure he was close to 100% Serbian; I believe his parents emigrated to the United States. He told me stories of going to the store and translating for his grandmother who didn't speak English. During the Great Depression, he and his young friends stole meat out of neighbors' ice boxes that hung outside their windows. (That makes me laugh. He was quite mischievous.) He didn't get along with his abusive stepfather - he never talked about it, so I don't know for sure - but at age 16, he ran away from home, lied about his age, and joined the US Navy to fight in World War II. I believe that he fought in the Pacific and, even before he died, he couldn't bring himself to watch more than five minutes of Saving Private Ryan. He said it was too much.
He was a fascinating person. And I miss him a lot.
Pap-Pap taught me lots of Serbian words and, although my family doesn't have many traditions, "Serbian Christmas" is one that we still hold on to. We celebrated "regular Christmas" on December 25th and Serbian Orthodox Christmas on January 7th, according to the Julian Calendar. We didn't receive gifts for Serbian Christmas; it was more of a cultural holiday.
Now, I'm not sure what is actually Serbian tradition and what my Pap-Pap bastardized, haha. For example, his traditional foods included chicken noodle soup and fried chicken from the local deli. I have a sneaking suspicion that those foods are not on the traditional menu. But my family still makes them to this day, haha! We did put straw under the table, which (I believe) represents the manger where Jesus was born. Click here or here to read more about Serbian Christmas traditions, most of which we did not do.
We do always have Pogacha, a traditional Eastern European bread. (For years, my mom and I thought it was POL-gacha, because that's how my Pap-Pap said it. A quick Google search proved otherwise!) One Web site states, "Pogacha is a white bread claimed by Serbians, Croatians and Macedonians. There are as many recipes for it as there are shapes." Even though it comes in many shapes, we always baked it in disc form. A very clean dime is added to the dough; the person who receives that chunk gets good luck for the whole year (allegedly). I can tell you stories about children crying because they didn't get the dime...and adults frantically searching their pockets for loose change to shove in the bread. "Oh look, a second dime! It's a miracle."
And so it goes.
My grandmother always put wine in her bread, so I've kind of adapted this recipe to her style.
Adapted from Eastern European Cuisine
1/2 c. warm water
1 tsp. organic sugar
2 1/2 tsp. yeast
3 tsp. sea salt
1 c. water
1/2 c. dry red wine
3 T. oil, either melted coconut or organic canola
4 - 4 1/2 c. flour (I used a combo of whole wheat and bread flour)
In a small Pyrex container, pour the warm water and sugar. Add the yeast and stir once or twice. Let it sit and proof for 5-10 minutes.
While that's proofing, add 4 cups of flour and the salt to a large mixing bowl. Grease another large bowl with some coconut oil and sprinkle on some flour. (You can just leave it in the same bowl, but it will be super-annoying to get out of the bowl when it's done. Just sayin'.)
When the proofing is done, make a well in the middle of the flour and add the yeast mixture and the other liquids - the wine, water, and oil. Mix it all with a wooden spoon or your hands. The dough should be pretty tacky. If the mixture seems too wet, add the additional flour.
Transfer the dough to the other, greased/floured bowl. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap and let it rise for about an hour.
As time winds down, heat the oven to 360°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat.
When you take the dough out of the bowl, it should have almost doubled in size. Place the dough on the parchment paper and shape it into a large, round disc - about 2 inches or so in height.
Bake the bread for about 40 minutes.
If you want to participate in Serbian culture (or at least my family's, haha), break the bread with one another. Traditionally, the head of the house breaks with his wife or first born, and then those people break with their children or spouses and so on. Whoever gets the dime gets good luck for a year!
Props to my husband for posing in these pictures and breaking bread with me :-) Enjoy this hearty bread with a delicious soup or sauce.