I’ve received a few really fun emails from readers saying things like: “I’m Irish but my grandmother made potica. I had no idea it was Slovenian!” Just another reminder that good ideas — especially when they’re based on butter and ground nuts — spread quickly from culture to culture. I mentioned below that you can find versions of potica all through Central Europe. The reason for this is because Slovenia was once part of Austria. What interest did Austria have in Slovenia? It’s fairly obvious if you look at a map. Landlocked Austria was the seat of an empire, one which needed access to the sea (it’s right there at the tip top of the Adriatic, next to Italy). Slovenia was that access. And since empires assimilate cultures as much as they do geographies and economies, potica became part of the imperial baking repertoire. So a lot of Central European immigrants to America knew how to make potica before the ever got here.
The Irish not so much. However Irish people in American learned about potica starting around the turn of the last century, when large waves of Slovenian immigrants (some of which were Austrian or Hungarian according to their passports, but Slovenian by ethnicity) arrived on our shores. Like most immigrants they were desperately poor country folk, who quickly gravitated to industrial cities and mining towns, where unskilled labor was always in demand. As a result you can find plenty of Slovenians in the American “rust belt”, especially Ohio. In mining areas like Pennsylvania and northern Minnesota they also abound. And so of course does potica. Often it’s served right alongside another food that’s the darling of miners in America: Cornish pasties. Is this a great country or what?