Pestilj

Cakes, pastries and sweets - Serbia

Pestilj is an almost forgotten Serbian plum-based sweet. Its name comes from the Turkish word pestil that refers to dried fruit pulp. For over one hundred years it has been a delicacy that represents the old rural southeast of Serbia. This product is made in late summer and autumn from local plum varieties, and will be sweet or sweet-and-sour depending on the varieties used. In earlier periods, red and yellow plums (called Dženarika) are used, and in later stages, the Stanley variety of blue plums is also used. Pestilj can be consumed immediately after production, or stored in a dry, dark cool place for up to four years. To make pestilj, the plums are boiled over medium heat with the addition of a very small quantity of water. Once softened, they are blended in the pan. They are cooked until the liquid thickens, usually 2-2.5 hours. Then, a few tablespoons of a mixture of wheat flour with a small amount of corn flour is gradually stirred in. After another thirty minutes or so, the pan is removed from the heat. The mixture is considered cooked then stirring with a wooden spoon leaves visible traces in the liquid for a few seconds. The mixture is poured onto thick, fist-sized cabbage leaves, and sticks to the leaves as it cools. While still warm, the plum-mixture is threated to be hung later. When dry enough, the pestilj is hung and dried in the sun for about twenty days, turned every 3-5 days. The finished product can be stored wrapped in plastic, in a paper bag, frozen or hung in a dry place. Pestilj is a product that could be easily carried over long distances, and slowly chewed while traveling. Historically, it has also been used as a soup base in winters, cooked in hot water to create a pleasant, sweet-and-sour soup. Variations on pestilj exist in different parts of Serbia. In the villages of Gulenovci and Visočki Odorovci, a similar product is made without the addition of flour and poured into wooden molds. In western Serbia, a plum cake is made in a similar way with plums and flour. Pestilj is mainly made for personal or family consumption, and it is difficult to know just how much is still made each year. It is, however, increasingly rare and faces competition from industrially made and commercially packaged sweets that are sold at shops for low prices.