‘Gherkin season’ is here at last. The habit of collecting and pickling small cucumbers is so strong in Slovakia that is has given a name to an entire period of the year – the hot summer months when everyone is on vacation and nothing really happens in politics or public life. “Uhorková sezóna” or just “uhorka” is characterized by a number of activities which are as unique to Slovakia and the central European region as the name itself.
Most people go to their “chatka”, “chata”, or “chalupa” – which are just different names for various types of cottages. Unlike in many other countries, these are not isolated dwellings where people retreat only on rare occasions. A great number of Bratislavans have their cottages just on the outskirts of the city, or in its immediate proximity, and visit them nearly every weekend. Even many people in smaller towns have their recreational homes.
If there is a “Slovak dream”, having a cottage is definitely part of it. Where does the tradition come from? Not only is Slovakia still to a great extent a rural country, with many urbanites having their roots in the countryside, but it lives on the heritage of the communist era when people, frustrated by the oppressive regime, were glad to escape the grey routine of their weekdays and do, at least and at last, something by and for only themselves. And so people got used to going to their cottages, where they pickled their gherkins.
Picking mushrooms is another typical activity for uhorka. Forestland covers over 40 percent of Slovakia’s territory, so the opportunities are plenty and Slovaks are said to be the most intent mushroom-picking citizens of any nation in the world. Scrambled eggs, steaks, or pastry with dried, grilled, or pickled mushrooms are omnipresent. And so is mushroom poisoning. Hardly a year goes by without fatalities caused by fungi. What does this say about the nation? The optimist would say Slovaks are a nature-loving, risk-taking bunch. The pessimist would point out that it is perhaps the prospect of hitting upon free food which makes the entire enterprise so tempting.
And finally, there is the “opekačka”. There is one important feature that distinguishes it from a Western-style grill party or barbecue – open fire. People get outdoors, find wood, and start a huge fire, cave-man style. In the evening, hypnotised by the flames and emboldened by liquor, they engage in the centuries-old tradition of jumping over the fire.
So…lots of travel to the countryside, adventure and life-threatening situations. Seems like the Slovak uhorka is not so boring after all.