I was kindly invited to join the traditional Tepka event held at Hotel Triglav at Bled last Saturday in October. I’m familiar with the tepka tree and its fruit since I was a child and I was curious about the event experience. As a child I wasn’t really interested in tepkas. They were far too common and they looked ugly, especially when dried. I was also unable to appreciate their sweet honey taste and their nutritional value. All I remembered was unpleasant filling of eating sand when biting into over ripped fruit. What I felt like sand were actually small sugar crystals. For me as a child this was enough to forget about them … until now when I grew up older and wiser. I think.
Now I find a new interest in tepkas, searching for farmers who still grow them in a traditional way, without using chemistry. I’m looking for natural dried fruits to include them in my winter menu to surprise dear ones and friends who, I’m sure, share similar unpleasant childhood memory of them.
What is tepka?
Tepka is a large tree with a wide crown. It grows from 15 to 20 meters high and from 10 to 12 meters wide. The branches are thick and bent, hanging over in arc shapes. Tepka trees bloom over a week later than the Williams pear. The flowers form large groups of compact inflorescences. The tepka pear is an ancient sort and the most wide-spread genuine domestic perry pear. It is exceptionally resilient against disease and pest and does not require any special care with the exception of rejuvenation. Provided by no heavy rain or frost during the blooming period, the tree bears abundant fruit.
The tepka tree reaches an age like no other fruit tree in Slovenia – 100 to 150 year old tepka trees are no rarity.
The etymology of the word tells us that the word originally denoted a perry pear or a pear that was used to make perry. The world probably derives from the verb tepsti (to beat), perhaps as the pears were first cut to pieces or trampled before going into the press. Other popular and thus not expert testimonies and explanations are also preserved. One of such was told by Janez and Francka Zeni:
“We believe that the tepka pear is the most original, non-fake and genetically unmodified fruit that our region and beyond has to offer. There are numerous stories about how this type of pear spread so vastly across Slovenia. The most interesting story is that Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, who ruled the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and thus also Slovenia, ordered its people, especially the rural population, to massively plant and propagate pears in order to prevent hunger. Those who refused were to be beaten (to beat = tepsti). And the pear was hence known as the tepka.”
Tepka as food
People used tepka pears as food. They ate the fresh fruit, pressed them to obtain perry, distilled spirit made of tepka pears called tepkovec, used them to make compotes, enjoyed them as with cheese and curds, prepared fillings for dumplings, etc. Tepka pears were preserved by drying them on or in bread ovens.
Dried tepka pears preserve their typical aroma and taste for up to 25 years or more.
Tepkovec from Gorenjska is a natural spirit obtained by distilling the fermented mash of tepka pears and is a protected agricultural product. The perry pear of tepka has a distinctly sweet taste and gves a distillate of a specific taste and smell.
Pear water was excellent for quenching thirst and farm housewives often cooked pear compote that also included other types of fruit. Fruit wine was mostly drunk during important farm activities (harvest, mowing, etc.) and on holidays when there was no money to afford another type of wine.
The inhabitants of Zasip in Bled are called Prgarji. They got this name from tepka pears. In difficult times, when food was scarce, women dried tepka pears and ground them into flour that they called prga. This flour was used to bake bread that was very dry and hard. Tepka pears were also cut into small pieces and added to bread dough or to pearl barley and porridge.
The prga flour was used to bake bread that was very dry and hard.
It needs to be said that when tepka pears mature, they turn brown and were thus always considered to be “rural” pears, while Williams pears turn white and were thus considered more “noble”.
Tepka pears were thus an important part of rural meals, giving enery for hard manual labour. They used to be given to children instead of bread. In addition to honey, which was never found in abundance, dried pears/tepka pears were the only sweets found in the diet of the rural population.
In popular medical science, tepka pears were used to alleviate and treat diarrhea, both dried and fresh and well chewed. Cooked or softened in warm water, tepka pears regulate digestion. Accounting books of the Ljubljana city hospital from the 17th and 18th century show that this facility used to buy larger quantities of tepka pears and dried fruit for its patients – apple wedges, prunes and dried pears.
Home-made pasta filled with tepka pears and Kranjska klobasa sausage, radicchio cream (serves 4)
Recipe of the new Slovenian cuisine by Uroš Štefelin
- 10 g white flour
- 20 g buckwheat flour
- 600 g yolks
- 20 g eggs
- 2 g salt
- 1 spoon olive oil
- 1 sausage
- 75 g shallot
- 100 g tepka pears
- 1 egg
- 2 g fresh thyme
- 25 g breadcrumbs
- Olive oil
- 500 g red radicchio
- 150 g shallot
- 100 g sugar
- 0,75 dl Crème de cassis liqueur
- 0,5 dl olive oil
- Salt bacon
Wrap the prepared dough in clingfilm and place it in the refrigerator.
Filling: cook the sausage, peel it and cut into smaller cubes. Sauté the shallot in olive oil until translucent. Cook the dried tepka pears and cut them into cubes. Use the shallot, sausage, thyme, eggs, tepka pears and breadcrumbs to prepare the filling, which you than place on the rolled dough that you can cut as desired (tortellini, ravioli, krapi, žlikrofi etc.). Saute the shallot for the radicchio cream and add sugar and the radicchio cut into thin strips. Saute until radicchio is limp, add the liquer and port and cook until the liquid is reduced. Once cool, mix the radicchio, adding olive oil and salt to taste. Place the pasta on a plate, adding some radicchio sauce. Place two thin slices of home-made bacon on top.
Today, tepka pears have lost their important nutritional role that used to hold in the past. They were replaced by wine, beer and sugar. They still perform one function though: together with perry pears, they remain the most characteristic trees of the Slovenian cultural landscape. They are present and noted everywhere, especially during blooming time. We probably have the highest number of preserved tepka and perry pears compared to any other place in the world.
The content and recipes in this post are from the publication “Tepka, tepka, tepka pears … let’s preserve them!, published by Hotel Triglav, d.o.o., Bled, 2012
Triglav Hotel ant its Restorant 1906 aims towards long-term promotion of the culture of wining and dining, keeping food and beverages in harmony. They search for inspiration in the cultural heritage of food, which unveils the harmony of people and nature and their consideration of it. In the desire to discover, get to know and develop the cultural heritage of local and regional food, they explore the environment, food, eating habits and meals. In their endavours, they rediscovered tepka, a perry pear that in past centuries use to grace every homestead in villages and occasionally even in market towns and cities. They researched the tepka pear together with their partners the Gozd Bled Forestry Cooperative, artist Huberto Široka and the Matijovc Farmhouse as well as with the help of local residents.