There are many variations of the traditional sweet and dense fruit product, of which marmalade is just the best known. There is jam, comfiture, powidl, jelly, and there is also slatko. The latter is a Serbian specialty, used also in Bulgarian, Greek and Jewish cuisines. It means literally ‘sweet’, and is traditionally served on a small plate, with a spoon and a glass of water. Such was usually the first part of the ceremony of taking in guests. The consistence of slatko makes it also perfect for being mixed with yogurt, muesli, and tea (Russian tradition), or poured over ice cream. The difference to many other comfiture-like products is the preparation process: sugar is cooked to syrup, the whole or chopped fruit added in the very end.
The most popular fruits used for slatko in Serbia are wood strawberries, plums, quinces, tart cherries, figs, blueberries and blackberries. These are mostly common tastes, with exception of wood strawberries and quince, to which I want to pay more attention.
My love to the wood strawberries is endless and even more so as they are a rarity – not cultivated, always locally and seasonally consumed, hardly known in many European countries, not to mention overseas. Who doesn’t know the seducing smell of fresh strawberries? True, the ones from supermarkets rarely smell, but those from our gardens or farmers’ markets do! Then imagine the same fruit – just smaller, with its sugars and aromas concentrated, growing in the half-shadow of forests, especially in the mountains. This is for me a smell from the childhood, and a taste of better, more natural and fragrant strawberry – a wild one! Slatko is one of few products that make it possible to enjoy these pleasures also out of season, and in the regions where you will never find wood strawberries.
Another story is quince, called in Serbian dunja, which almost disappeared from modern Polish and German cuisines, but enjoys its old position on the tables in Serbia, Italy, or Spain. In the latter two countries, there is cotognata (Italian) or dulce/carne de membrillo (Spanish) produced, which are basically the same and could be described as a very thick jelly, to be wonderfully combined with cheese, croissants, toasted bread, or just plain without anything else – served in a Japanese-like minimalist way, in slices on white rectangular plates. In Serbia, one of the most valued rakijas (Serbian spirit) – the famous dunjevača – is produced from quinces. My favorite brand of slatko – ‘Bakina tajna’ (Grandma’s secret) by Foodland, which offers awesome, mostly organic stuff without any colorants or preservatives – adds to its quince slatko chopped walnuts. All in all a very fine composition of tastes!