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Spirited Memories of Istrian Rakija - Trapa

The following are November and December 2004 extracts of messages from subscribers of our discussion forum "istria-talks". See How to make Rakija - Trapa.

Miro Gagliardi (of Pula / Pola, Istria) says:

In istrijanski: Dragi pretelji, trapa, oli rakija je jeno te isto. Za delat rakiju ni tako lako kako se pensa'. Svaka regija ima svoje tradicijoni. Poli nas, dobra rakija more se ucinit samo od dropa ko je dalo dobro vino. Rakija je kruna na glavi svakog vinogradara i za to se posvecuje posebna paznja. Dobra rakija mora imat tri karakteristike: glavu, tilo i rep. Glava je za medeziju, tilo za uzitak a rep (kega u mom kraju zuvu hlema) sluzi za prat noge trudnih tezaka eli za rezentat lase. Hlema more imat do 12-15 gradi. Tilo od 50-55 gradi, a glava i priko 70 gradi. Za znati ko je rakija stabela, dosti ju je potresti u providnoj boci i vidit koliko drzi pisture, peno za tin se ponjusi za vidit ko lipo zadaje. Kad se operu lasi ontar se rezentajo z Hlemon i dojdu lustri i ozivnu. S glavon se delaju samo inpaki kad ki ima veliku febru.

Rakija poli nas se more kupi anche na markatu i slobodno ju dela ki god ce. Bilo je zabranjeno delat ju samo pod Talijon.

In polesan: Cari amici, la trapa, o acquavita xe la stessa roba. Per farla no xe cussi' facile come che se pensa. Ogni region ga le sue tradizioni. De noi, la trapa bona se pol far solo dele vinasse che ga da' vin bon. La trapa xe la corona de ogni vinocoltor e per questo se dedica un'atenzion speciale nel produrla. Una bona trapa devi gaver tre carateristiche: la testa, el corpo e la coda. La testa xe per medicina, el corpo se godi e la coda (che noi ciamemo hlema) se dopera per lavar le gambe dei contadini stanchi e per resentar i cavei. La hlema pol gaver 12-15 gradi, el corpo ga 50-55 gradi, e la testa oltre i 70 gradi.

Per saver se la trapa xe bona, basta darghe una xbatudina in-t-una fiasca trasparente e veder quanto che se tratien le bolicine, pena dopo se le nasa per sentir l'odor. Quando che se lava i cavei se li resenta con la hlema per ravivarli e farli diventar lucidi. Con la testa ghe se fa i masagi ala gente con la febre alta.

La trapa de noi se pol comprarla anche in marcato e liberamente la pol produr chi che vol.jera vietado produrla solo soto l'Italija.

In English (translated by Bruno Clapci): Trapa or Rakija are the same thing. To make rakija is not as easy as one would think. Every region has its own way of traditionally making rakija. Here at home, one can make good rakija only if the grape husks produced good wine. Rakija is the crown on the head of every vineyard and for that reason one pays great attention. Good rakija must have three characteristics: head, body and tail. The head is for medicine, The body is for enjoyment, and the tail (in my part of Istria it is called hlema) is used to wash the legs of the tired peasants and for rinsing the hair. Hlema contains 12-15%, the body contains 50-55% alcohol, and the head contains more than 70% alcohol.

To see if rakija is of a good quality one has to shake a bottle vigorously and little bubbles are formed around the rim of the bottle on top of the rakija. The bubbles must remain there for a while, then one smells the bottle and notices the quality. After  hair is washed, rinsing it with hlema will make it lustrous and alive. When someone has a fever, the person can be massaged with the head rakija, and that will help to reduce the fever.

Rakija can be purchased at any supermarket and anyone can produce it. It was illegal to make rakija only when Istria was governed by Italy.

Klaudijo Lazarić (of Kršan, Istria) says:

In Hrvatski: Dragi pretelji, skoda da niste blize pa da puli boce nacinjene rakije ka ima 63 % alc. pocakulomo o temu fenomenu. Mislin da Grappa i rakija ni bas sejno- rakija recemo za ovu domacu, a Grappa je pojam za onu industrijsku. Ova nasa ima u pravilu 55 % alcohola i vise, a industrijska maksimalno 40%. Uz to ova domaca "ima" dusu", puli nje se sedi i gleda kako curi po konci i triba za saku litru od 40 minuti do jene ure. Mislin da cu do kraja setimane poc do Mireta, pa ce i on kakovu besedu moc rec o mojoj Rakiji.

In English (translated by Bruno Clapci): Dear friends, it is unfortunate that you are not close to this new bottle of rakija which has 63% as we are talking about this phenomenon. I think grappa and rakija are not the same thing. Rakija is home made grappa is produced by the industry.Our rakija has 55% alcohol and the maximum alcohol that grappa has is 40%.Our home made rakija has a soul.We sit beside it and it drips and it takes anywhere from 40 minutes to one hour to get one litre. I'm considering paying a visit to our Miro this weekend and we will see what he has to say about my rakija.

Miro Gagliardi replies to Klaudijo:

In Polesan: Cari amici, jeri go trascorso do' orete meravigliose ciacolando con Klaudijo. Un bafon (bon come tuti i bafoni che conosso!) simpaticissimo, mai conossudo prima d'alora. Gavemo trovà subito un tema de discorso a noi caro, l'Istria. Gavemo verto le spine dele ciacole, che solo i oblighi de'lavoro ne ga costreto a interomper fin el prossimo incontro. El me ga regalà una fiasca de vin nero, bon, però el devi maturar, e dopo una fiasca de medenica=medenjača=mielita fata a forma de sacsofono. Sicome che de noi xe 'l proibizionismo, la go assagià de sera. BBBBOOOONNNNAAAA!!!! sui 55 gradi. Son convinto che la risvejassi anche Tutankamon.

In Istrijanski: Dragi pretelji, ucera san pasa' dvi prelipe ure cakulajuci z Klaudijon. Jedan mustacion (dobar ka i svi mustacioni ke poznana!) simpatiko, nikad ga nis pozna prvo od tega dana, tako da smo nasli zajno temu razgovora nama jako dragu, Istra. Doprli smo spine ciakula, ke smo morali zaprit zarad dela ko nas je cekalo, ali samo do nerednega inkontra. Darova mi je bocu crnog vina, dobro, samo mora'jos uzrijat, i pokle jenu bocu medenice=medenjače=mielite ucinjene ka i saksofon. Kako poli nas je proibicijonizam, pokusija san je na vecer. DDDOOOBBBRRRAAA!! okoli 55 gradi. Uviren san da bi zbudila anke Tutankamona.

Francine Gumina (of Melbourne, Australia):

My nonno used to make his own wine in his backyard shed and once brought over a bottle of grappa. Of course I was a teenager and was much too strong for me to drink but apparently, it's illegal (so they say) to make your own grappa as the percentage of alcohol is much higher than the legal limit - I don't know how strong my nonno's grappa was, but all I know is that it was a lot stronger than any other alcohol we had!!!! (That's what I was told.)

I remember seeing a few 'drops' added to espresso!!! (So called delicious???) But questioning Klaudio's post, how can grappa only have 40% alcohol compared to rakija (what is the translation for this word?)? Wouldn't homemade grappa be a lot stronger compared to the grappa industry Klaudio mentioned?

Klaudijo Lazarić answered:

In Hrvatski: Francine, grapa delana doma, kako reces ilegalno, mi zovemo rakija. Ona ne podljieze nikakvoj sluzbenoj kontroli, pa more imat alkohola i iznad sluzbeno dozvoljenega postotka. Tu se krije i opasnost zbog onih proizvodjaca ki ne paze i ki ne znaju kada se pored etilnog alcohola pocne izdvajat i metilni, pa od nekih domacih rakija boli glava i osjeti se cudan okus u grlu. Metilni alcohol razara mozdane stanice i otrovan je i zato triba bit pazljiv i poznat nike stvari u proizvodnji. 

In English (translated by Pino Golja):Fracine, grapa that we make at home, as you say illegally, we call rakija. Rakija production is not controlled, so it could have a percentage of alcohol above any officially allowable level. Here is where there is also a danger for those producers who are not careful and who do not know when besides the ethyl alcohol can start separation of the methyl alcohol, that is why you can get headache and strange taste in the throat drinking some of the domestic rakijas. Methyl alcohol destroys brain cells and it is poisonous and because of that, one has to be very careful and understand some of these things during distillation.

Francine Gumina replies to Klaudijo:

Thank you for your response and now I understand why my nonno only made a very little amount and that it was not drunk regularily. I think we still have the same bottle of grapa that nonno gave us all that time ago - unless it's finished and I'm not aware of it. So from what you say about the grapa industry, Klaudio, does that mean that grapa is legal in Istria and surrounding areas? (meaning bottled and sold to the public?) [Pino, thank you for taking the time to translate the post - most appreciated!]

Bruno Clapci (of Coquitlam, BC, Canada) says:

We used to make rakija every year and all the men who lived close by would come to taste it, and they always offered some jokes or wisdom about rakija. Usually, they would drink two nips of rakija (bicierino). They always said that if they drank only one nip the other eye would go blind so they could not see. I think it was an excuse to drink two nips instead of one, but that is Istrian culture and who is going to dispute it.

[...]

I used to work on naval ships at Cockatoo Dockyard in Sydney, Australia. We were refitting Australian navy submarines and we worked the afternoon shift. A friend of mine, Berto Zupicic, who was in charge, brought one litre bottle of rakija and gave it to me. Anyway another friend, Dave Lakem, who was working with me that night helped me polish off the bottlle. We worked in the aft torpedo room and there were some bunks empty.We both passed out and when I woke up I felt I had a beautiful sleep. Never in my life  have I  had a had such a beautiful sleep. Never before and never again. There were no headaches, we both felt rejuvenated, and that is the truth. There is definitely something in Istrian rakija, I do not know what, but there it is.

[...]

Here is a little story that I hope Bepi Vidas does not mind me telling. I hope he tells us more in detail. Teta Maria Ruzic asked two young 18-year-old brothers, Meto and Vitorio Stepcic, to make rakija for her. The two boys and Bepi Vidas went to work on the rakija. When one makes rakija one had to constantly taste it and throw a little of rakija into the fire to see if it burns and contains enough alcohol. Well, the three young man were very happy souls for they were tasting it a little too much. We were laughing about it. How could these three drunk men produce good rakija? But they did it anyway. It just shows you how our Istrian parents teach their children responsability. Under any circumstances they will accomplish their task. Now that I left the cat out of the bag, I hope Bepi Vidas will tell us the whole story.

Pino Golja (of Petaluma, California, USA) says:

My recollection of rakija distillation and drinking in Istria is that I have never been so drunk before or after. I must have been ten to twelve years old during one of these rakija making days in Sveti Martin. This particular afternoon, there were four households that were making rakija. I, and a couple of my friends of the same age, decided to visit all these sites one after the other. Normally, if you saw a kid tipsy, you would refuse to give him more drinks, but not our rakija distillers. We got to taste rakija at all for places and by the time we were done, we could not walk, we were stumbling around to the amusement of the adults. I remember that day each time somebody brings up drinking and drunkenness.

Here is an observation that I still remember about good rakija: It has to be very clear and when you shake the rakija bottle slightly, a string of pearls forms on the surface along the edge of the bottle and the longer it persists before it breaks up, the better the rakija. Zunta is normally not clear, but faintly yellow or brown, and it will not form a string of pearls.

Ed Brumgnach (of Whitestone, New York, USA) says:

La meio grappa in Istria la xe fata in Boljunski Katun dalla famiglia Komar in Opatija (not the one near Rijeka). Lori i fa tutti i tipi con erbe dalla campagna e Ucka. Ed od Katuna.

Anton Selar (of ?, Canada) says:

I always have a bottle of rakija with 'ruda' in it in my 'medicine' cabinet. The stuff is strictly for medicinal purposes, for the occasion (ssssh...) when I suffer from the infestation of worms in the intestinal tract (za gliste). This seems to be a disease quite common among Istrians, it could be that it is genetic or maybe contagious, I don't know; from the conversations I had lately with my folks back home it seems there is an epidemic in Istria. But at least there is no lack of medicine. Today, after all the Christmas celebrations, those bl...d worms seem to be quite active, so I must go and take my medicine, doctor's orders.

Anonymous (of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) says:

On the recipe section: for the man who has hair on his chest, and for his wife that walks ahead of him, I hope you have included semi-dry figs sotto Trappa. [Ed. note: of course we have!] The fig swells beautifully, and I recommend only one fig per serving - in winter, served with Crema Pasticcera calda, adequately spiked with...?? You guessed it!!

For Christmas, I remember small gift jars with a medley of "fruits" inside, and the inside wall of the jar was lined with orange or sweet pompelmo round slices, plus cinnamon (canela) sticks and even cloves (ciodi de garofano) to make patterns with the round slices... You can have the fruits, I'll take the fragrant trapa. Food for thought?

[...]

We all forgot to mention: "Monte Grappa" The best grappa in Italy is from Bassano.

I prodi Alpini lo sapevano, prima di attraversare il famoso ponte, portavano la borraccia piena per "dopo" di dar la mano. Anche i San Bernardi lo sapevano... trovavano i perduti, solo per farsi aprire il barilotto. (Che vita de can.)

Nessun gha menzionado la "Stock" con tuti i depositi de maturasion, in tuta l'Istria. Durante la guerra, la gente del villaggio gha salvado tutti i barili de cognac e de trapa, de 20 anni vecia, dai bombardamenti. Nesun gha domandado niente indrio, e i novi arrivadi beveva solo slivovitz che spusava de susini andadi mal. Cussì...

Fatalità gha voludo, che ste povere anime samaritane, gha dovudo meti tuti i fruti soto quei liquori straveci... in caso che non i andassi de mal, e riscio de perdi tutto. Che vicissitudini!! Però, la meior "trapa" in Istria, iera quela de Bepi Padovan de Malio, anche lui cadeto alimentare... "mulise", con "brovada" de rape, su "budino di Maize" (Polenta in po nase).

Ahh...! Che memorie, che memorie... ! I tempi passati! Adesso sti giovani no i sa' gnanca cossa che xe bon. Invece de trapa, i bevi grappa che la xe solo acqua-ranta-otto gradi. El se imagini?

[...]

Xe un grupo de gente nei Indo Kush (Kafirstan), che i xe i discendenti de Alex il Grego (I se ciama Kalash). Ancora i da sacrifici agli "dei", ma dopo i se rosti i capretti, li magna, e i bevi vin, e dopo Arak. Gho provà sto Arak, e Ostia!... iera trapa!

Non bona come la nostra, ma bevibile, anche “tre-bevibile” con quel fredo. Per confonder i antropologhi del futuro, in una bela vale tra l’Hymalaia, Kara Korum e Pamir ghe go imparà a dela sai brava gente, come far trapa, ma ghe go dito che se ciamava grappa, xa che no iero sicuro se i capiva l'Istrian, a quele altitudini. (Sebben che noi vegnimo da quele parti.)

Una roba xe sicura: ghe piasi più grappa-trapa, che Johnny Walker. In quela vale i faseva xa il vin (amabile), ma i butava i raspi sul ludame. Zà che i gaveva tubetti de rame in paese, e l'irrigasion iera a gravità canaleti che i zig-zagava dai ghiacciai perenni attraverso i campi. Iera facile de far un + un = grappa - trapa.

Le vidi le iera piantade in fossi fondi, e coverte de inverno. Il posto se ciama Hunza Valley, e i disi che xe l'attuale Shangrilla. La gente la, vivi in "media" fino a 120 anni.

[...]

Se travasemo un goto de trapa, e se trebevemo un sluk a la salute de Bacco. Piero, nostro fradel in Spirito, ga finalmente risolto il rebus dela Fenice. Adesso se poderà dir che nei nostri tempi se "Treberava" da Venesia a Trento, da Udine, a Trieste, da Pola a Fiume, e tuta la Dalmasia.

Dove che iera fredo, tropo in monte, o tropo in vale, i rakijava fino al Danubio. Forse xe stado anche per sta benedeta trapa che i xe vegnudi a scaldarse in Istria. Sveta Kapija.... Te bevemo co’ rispeto...

Anca Klaudijo ga’ ragion. Xe vero che se pol far Trapa piu’ de 48 gradi, ma alora no ocori beverla, basta nasarla. No la xe bona se la xe “acqua-ranta-oto”  invese de 48. Ma piu’ de quel... bisogna meterse le mutande de Terliz... no nylon, per carità.

Klaudio Lazarić replies:

Marino, ma daj - mi Istriani smo kripki i se ovo ca je manje od 55% ne nan dela nanke frisku. Samo i grisimo, das rakija mora odlezat barem jeno leto i oni put dobije onu mekocu i dobije pitkost. Ako se domislis bicerini s kih su nasi stari pili rakiju su bili mici kako naprsnjak, alora rakija je bila forta- ma nismo imali 0,000 i se je dalo dihat. Moja rakija ima od 63-65 %, ali kad se uleze nakon leto dan ona zgubi par gradi i dobioje na ukusu, uni put je prava medizija. Storin anke z medon i s travami ili se doda raznega voca i onda je festa od gusti- samo pit z dobru meru, das bi  "sunula" kako mi recemo va suplje! 

Mario Lorenzutti (of London,Canada) said:

Mi me ricordo che gnanca voi de Strugnan no schersavi riguardo la trapa, iera quasi un rito, duti la faseva, e duti diseva de aver la meio. Mi me ricordo co iera la stagion e te pasavi in giro le case  te sentivi un forte odor de trapa, te ciapavi la bala solo nasando. Me ricordo sti omi indafarai  intorno el  l'ambico, col bicer in man per provar ogni tanto come che la vigniva - se la coreva tropo, bisognava butar sora l'ambico un poco de aqua freda per regolar la corsa - insoma iera un saco de acorgimenti che bisognava far. Qualchedun, co se tendeva l'ambico, meteva soto la senera anche qualche patata che la se rosti... Ala sera quasi sempre sti omi i iera sempre bei rosi in viso, mesi inciucai, sia dal odor, sia per gaverla provada tante volte.

Gnente andava perso, i resti dela vinasa i andava finir in campagna per far ludame - insoma iera riciclagio completo, da noi a quei tempi no se butava via gnente. Mia nona la tegniva la più forte e me par che iera la prima per farse i masagi, me par de vede ancora la botilia,dentro la meteva un giglio de S. Antonio, te sa, quei fiori  bei bianchi che vigniva la de noi, sicome che la iera sai devota al Santo, quel doveva far la diferenza, insoma un masagio, e per forsa te dovevi star ben. Nesun osava contradir S.Antonio. Quela iera la botiglia dei miracoli...con grande sodisfasion de me nona...pasava duto. Poi no mancava mai la botiglia con la "ruda" quella iera per el mal de pansa, e per el stomego pien, un digestivo. Insoma, la trapa curava un poco duto....el dotor del paese iera quasi disocupà. Quela volta in Istria duti iera esperti in medicina: se ingrumava el Santonego in saline a Strugnan, la trapa con la ruda, la trapa col Giglio del Santo, el Brulè de vin bianco per i rafredori, per no parlar de l'"Abisinsio" o la colana de aio torno el colo contro i vermi. Camomila in casa no mancava mai. In poche parole, duti iera esperti de medicina pratica, costava poco, ma le cure le funsionava...

Da noi a Isola, iera un che metteva pan vecio in moie con un poco de trapa, a lo lasava la duta la note, dopo a lo meteva in un cadin dadrio de casa, la i penegarioi (passeri) i andava a magnar, naturalmente sti poveri usei i se imbriagava, i no podeva più svolar, lu a se gli ingrumava, a li spelava, e la moglie ghe faseva una bella seneta "Polenta e Usei". Vedè a quante robe che serviva la trapa.....ostrega d`istriani......che ingegnosi che se iera a quei tempi.

Denis Sankovic (of Cleveland, Ohio, USA):

I was in the "Old Country" back in 1980 and was about to return to the US. My grandfather was getting ready a couple of bottles for my father. He transferred from the large "cask", for lack of a better word, to a smaller bottle. From that bottle we transferred to the final bottles. Only problem was that he had overfilled the first bottle and there was some left over. You couldn't put the rakija back and you couldn't waste it, of course... so my nono sat there and drank four shots straight until it was gone. Needless to say, he slept most of the rest of the afternoon.

Franko Pavicevac (of Bayside, New York USA):

In istrijanski: Justo kad ste mislili da smo finili s tu rakiju, ja iman jedan komentar i 2 pitanja:

Kako je vec reka Bruno i Ive, nasa rakija ima "dusu". Kad ni bilo medigi ni medezije s nju se je licilo sve, od prozeba (prehlade) do bolnih kosti. S nju se je ponudilo suseda i pretala. i davalo za regol juden z groda. I danas va restoranih ponudiju "rakijicu" na kucu - i mislin da je to lipi nacin da se va novo i progresivno ugradi i malo tradicije. Samo i tu je prisla drzava i zmislila oni famozni 0,0 pa vise put moras odbit tu ponudu od restoranteri.

Pitanja su prvenstveno za Klaudija i Mireta:

Prvo je: ki ima boju rakiju - tako da znon kamo poc drugo leto

Drugo pitanje je lagje: zoc se pazi da ugonj previse ne gori kad se dela rakiju? Kad san bi otrok vajka me je mucilo pitanje zoc kad delaju rakiju gosiju ugonj da rakija ne tece prebrzo. Najprvo naloziju ugonj z najbijen drivon a unda ga polivaju z vodu da ne gori previse. Pokle, kad su nas va skoli vadili lediste i vreliste, san zakljuci da se ugonj mora drzat pod kuntrolu da previse alkohola ne ispari i ujde va atmosferu na mesto va bocu. Sada si ti reka nisto za etil i metil - pa san pomisli da se forsi tako jenega pusti neka gre a drugi da ustane va rakiji. Odgovorite mi ku je to justo ali je niki drugi razlog da se ugonj ne pusti gorit prejoko. Ku vas dvo ne znote cemo morat pitat Nevija ali Sandreta.

In English: Just as you were hoping we were done with the rakija discussion, I came up with a comment and two questions.

I concur with Ive and Bruno that our rakija has a soul. Before we had doctors and medications rakija was used to cure everything - from simple colds to aching bones. It was also offered to friends and neighbors when they stopped by and given as present to city people. Even today, in some restaurants, they offer a shot of rakija on the house. I though this was a nice way of incorporating something from our traditions into modern living.

The two questions are primarily for Miro and Klaudijo. The first one is 'which one of you has the better rakija?' This way I know where to go first next summer.

The second question is easier: 'Why do they keep fire from getting too strong when making rakija?' When I was a child I was puzzled by the fact that rakija-makers first provided the best wood to make a big hot fire under a kotol (dish for distillation), then poured water on it to reduce the heat when rakija started to pour out and to the bottle a bit faster. Later they taught us in school about boiling and freezing temperatures and I concluded that the fire needs to be low so that the alcohol doesn't evaporate and escape into the atmosphere instead of going into the bottle. Now Klaudijo mentioned two types of alcohol and I'm wondering if they were trying to let one go and the other stay! Please let me know. If you two don't have the answer we'll have to ask Nevio or Sandro.

Bruno Clapci replies to Franko:

Hi Franko, alcohol evaporates at lower temperature, its boiling point is lower than water. For that reason if one keeps the temperature low one gets more alcohol to evaporate. We also know that specific heat of alcohol is lower than water which means that it takes less heat to heat one gram of alcohol to one degree centigrade than it does to heat up one gram of water to one degree centigrade. Ed can probably explain the phenomenon in a much simpler way. This my theory.

Franko Pavicevac retorts:

Bruno, yes, that was my theory, too, but I wanted our rakija-makers (or scientists) to confirm, deny, or correct it.

Sources:

  • Ed Brumgnach, Bruno Clapci, Miro Gagliardi, Pino Golja, Francine Gumina, Klaudijo Lazarić, Mario Lorenzutti, Franko Pavicevac, Denis Sankovic, Anton Selar and Anonymous.

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Created: Sunday, December 19, 2004; Last updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014
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