Text and images excerpt from the catalog “Old crafts in Serbia”
Author: Velibor Stojković
GRINDSTONES AT THE FOOT OF ZRNOV
How nice is a warm farmer’s bread with yoghurt! – said a Gypsy.
How would you know?
My father saw a priest’s pupil.
Depending on the source of the driving energy, gristmills essentially have the same construction, but differ as regards the elements of driving mechanisms. Thus, there are water mills – mills using water power, windmills – mills using wind power, “suvace” – mills using the power of draft animals, steam gristmills – using steam power, and electric mills – powered by electricity.
There are two types of water mills – “potocara” and “ladjarica”. The former were built on streams and the latter on rivers. They always represented an essential necessity of the population, fulfilled the needs in terms of flour, were highly appreciated and often mentioned in the Serbian medieval monuments. Along with villages they donated to monasteries, old rulers also gave mills. Communal village mills were also built and used according to a specifically defined schedule. In places where they continued to exist until the late 20th century, their form, materials, some parts with names, order and method of use – all remained almost unchanged. If a water mill on a stream was the common property of several householders who jointly built it, then it was a “poredovnicka” (successional) mill where holders used the watermill in succession. If a mill was owned by one or two householders, then it was their own and worked for an “ujam” (multure), which was why these mills were called “ujmare”. To grind 100 kilograms of grain in these mills, the multure, 6-10% of the total quantity, had to be paid. The multure was measured by means of a 10-kg capacity measuring box called “sinik”. The measuring box was used to pour grains into a bin and to measure the multure. When grain was ground for the multure, nine boxes of grain were poured into the bin, while the tenth was poured into the barn as the multure. The barn, located in the watermill itself, usually had two compartments, one for wheat and another for corn. A small, 1-kg measuring box was also used. Mills could grind up to 200 kilograms of grain per 24 hours.
The “ladjarica” mills are larger and more capacious, and capable of grinding up to 1.200 kilograms of grain per 24 hours. They were named after the rivers on which they were constructed: “moravka” on the Morava River, “drinka” on the Drina, “savka” on the Sava, “jadarka” on the Jadar, etc. The place near the bank where a “ladjarica” mill was set was usually called “brod” (ship). Mills on the Drina – “drinke” – were once placed on three dug-in stocks, i.e. three long dredged boats, and later, following the procedure with “savke”, these “kopanici” were replaced by “tumbas” in the shape of large boats – barges. A mill was placed on two “tumbas”. The bigger one could be up to eleven meters long and four meters wide, while the other one was smaller, nine meters long and up to two meters wide. The entire mill mechanism and a miller’s room were located on the big “tumbas”. The small “tumbas” was five meters away from about the big one and served as the backbone for the spindle (drive shaft) of the water wheel, which used floats or wings to run the whole mechanism composed of dry wheels with wooden gears (“thumbs”), and horizontal and vertical axles (spindles).
This type of mechanism is the most similar to one in windmills. Windmills were widespread in the plain areas, especially in Vojvodina, where prior to their coming, a large number of the so-called “dry mills” – “suvaca”, powered by draft animals, usually horses, were built.
In terms of the materials and places where they were built, water mills and “ladjarica” mills prevailed. In some areas without suitable water courses, “suvace” were built – dry mills powered by draft animals, usually horses. “Suvace” are typical for the plain areas, where windmills began to be built in the mid-18th century. Until the coming of steam mills in the late 19th and early 20th century, all aforementioned types of watermills and mills were widely used. The common denominator for all the devices was the basic principle of work – grain was ground by friction of two stone wheels onto which grain was poured, and this is the basis of the design of an archaic manual grindstone, which was in many areas long kept as an additional, domestic mill.
The process of bread baking in the “furuna” or “furnija” (wood-burning stove) belongs to the old Balkan culture. The bread-baker’s craft is related to the development of urban culture in the Balkans. The rural patriarchal culture did not use the craft collectively, but only individually in the simple “crepulja” (a shallow clay container with a little hole in the middle) of independent families and in bread furnaces (“vurnjaje”) of cooperators. The handicraft bread production began to develop in conditions of the complex economic organization, with food production, commerce, processing of raw materials, and services being interconnected. This was the time when the production of bread for general purposes, better known as the market production, was organized. The technology of this craft is also the same in all cities in the Balkans. In addition to the regular baking of “somun” (flatbread), bread-bakers also baked luxury pastries: pies (“lepinja”), “simit” (sesame seed topped bread), “penjurlija” (cheese pastry), (casseroles, roast meat, etc.), and only after removing bread for sale from the oven. A “somun” is the most important product of this craft, and the word comes from the Greek word “psomi”, meaning bread. “Penjurlija” is made of thinly rolled-out dough topped with grease, cheese and eggs, and the term is derived from the Latin word “pane”, meaning bread. Before baking, when kneaded sufficiently, the dough for all the aforementioned products was left to rise in special wooden molds – “pinakote”.
The term “furuna” is derived from the Latin word “furnus”, meaning furnace. The term “furundzija” has two meanings in the Serbian language: a bread-baker and a stove-maker.
Different preparations of the bread dough and the types of their products define the difference between bread-bakers and bakers. Bread-bakers were the so-called “black bakers” who baked their goods from unsifted (black) flour. They often worked within “mehana” (tavern, inn). Bakers were the so-called “white bakers” and they baked bread from white (sifted) flour as well as luxury pastries (pretzels, rolls, buns). In the mid-19th century, foreigners from Austria and Germany opened the first bakeries in Serbia offering the above mentioned range of products. In the 19th century, the differences gradually disappeared in view of preparation and range of goods, and for some time of the same term – “bread-bakers”, and the formal attempt was made through the establishment of the bread guild that included both bakers and bread-bakers.
All bread-baking ovens are basically round or oval, with the plane section in the shape of a hemisphere. They were built from adobe and mud. Bread ovens were most frequently made from unbaked bricks, adobe or tiles (small, potsherd tiles). First, a stove bench was build in the shape of a simple square, with three-meter long and one-meter high sides to be suitable for use. The “furuna”was then based on it with low vault and the opening for the hearth with the built-in iron door. The vault and the oven were made from unbaked bricks (“ciglaja”).
These stoves used the worst quality wood. The fire was kept burning all day. Upon completion of work, live coals would be shoveled out into a barrel with a lid, where it turned into charcoal, which was purchased by blacksmiths and inn-keepers, while the surplus of ashes was sold to soap makers. The period of the latter part of the 20th century was marked by abrupt disappearance of bakers who could not withstand the competition from the industrial production of bread and various pastries. However, after the period of the U.N. imposed sanctions, general economic stagnation and collapse of the large agricultural system, the abrupt revival of the baker’s craft occurred at the turn of the 21st century, with baker’s shops mushrooming on every corner in Serbian cities and towns. According to the Bakers Union records, there were some three thousand bakers in Belgrade only (in 2004), while some nine hundred bread-bakers worked in Serbian towns in 1887.
Corn or wheat flour ground at the water mill is rare today and has thus become a sought-after specialty. It is brought back from trips as a special souvenir, while polenta and corn bread prepared from this flour are served in specialized restaurants as an extraordinary specialty. Therefore, water mills have to be preserved not only as part of the architectural heritage, but they should be functional in order to continue to allow us to enjoy a “taste of good old-fashioned cooking”.
A return to a hometown after a long journey or for the sake of visiting relatives brings back memories of childhood smells and flavors. The first place visited in the town after a sleepless night is a warm bakery full of wonderful smells. “A piece of cheese or meat pie and yoghurt’’ and “Fresh warm bread with a hard crust’’ are sentences that are repeated countless times and longed for while abroad. Bakers will always be there waiting and making good pies, tasty bread, croissants, rolls, as well as special cakes for patron saints’ days or a roast suckling pig. They will still be waiting in a year or two, perhaps offering a new range of goods in redecorated shops.