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I had a highly Croatian day yesterday (visit chez Nick of my friend Marija cum familiā; visit of Nick chez Andy and Reena cum familiā). At the end of the day, I had a dwarf lime tree, to complement the dwarf orange tree and compact lemon tree; and I had a bottle of Orahovac, to complement the duty free Laphroaig and Baileys.
Mm, Orahovac. It’s not gueuze (mm, gueuze), the vindication of all Belgic lambics. This is West Balkan walnut liqueur: dunk some green walnuts in some rakija (grappa, if that helps), leave in a summer window in Dalmatia for several months, and savour the woody syrupy goodness.
I’d had a shot glass of it at Hrvatski Dom, Footscray with my third Croatian friend Tim; it formed a trio of on-the-house welcomings together with paint stripper (er, Slivovitz, plum brandy) and cough syrup (er, Kruškovac, pear brandy). I fell in love—not least because it was neither of the above; and as lovers often do, I embarked on a quest, through the wilds of Dandenong (which has a large number of Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians), to find a supply of the golden walnutty nectar. The search proved fruitless, though it did generate what was my unupdated Facebook status message for the next several months. I complained about this strategically to Reena next time I saw her—and it paid off: now, from Boccacio Cellars, Balwyn to my humble abode, I have an added source of solace.
The taste was already familiar to me, because Greeks make walnut preserves, as one of their long suite of “spoon sweets”: take any edible fruit (and a few things that are neither—such as walnuts), and turn into a sickly sweet preserve that you can only ever consume one spoonful of at a time.
When I described Orahovac to my mother this morning, she reported that people in her village did the same with sour cherries and brandy. Odd that I’d never heard of it; I know of vissinadha (βυσσινάδα), sour cherry cordial, but not that there was a Greek version of crème de cassis. (Hercule Poirot’s favourite drink? He can have it: it’s closer to Kruškovac than Orahovac in my book.)