Homemade Proja and Authentic Serbian Watermills
This is a story about homemade proja and authentic Serbian watermills. Now that the festive season is over, I suggest you bake real homemade proja today made of flour ground in a watermill.
Thanks to proja and corn bread the Serbs survived the Turkish occupation. Corn flour is a part of our tradition, and it has also been proved to have numerous positive properties. It’s very nutritious, rich in carbohydrates, it’s gluten-free and good for digestion. Homemade Serbian proja is made with only three ingredients: ground corn flour, salt and water, without any cheese, meat and alike. You can buy corn flour in any supermarket, but to make real proja you need corn flour ground in a watermill, which can be used for projarica, cicvara, kačamak and alike.
Watermills used to meeting places for the Serbs, places where they could talk and socialize. They were also used for electricity production and represent an excellent example which shows how to use power of nature and how to be in harmony with it. In ancient times, there used to be watermills on the majority of our rivers. So, once upon a time, on one of our cleanest rivers, the Gradac, there were as many as 15 watermills, but nowadays there is only one left, Ilovačića watermill, which is two centuries old but still resists the ravages of time.
Ilovačića watermill is immovable cultural property. The mill with four stones used to be located at the exit from an old street called Tešnjar on the river Kolubara, on the land where the palace of Jevrem Obrenović was. Later it was ceded to Jakov Nenadović, and its tenants continued to change until 1955 when it was deserted. In 1989 it was moved to the river Gradac, where it operates to-day.
A fifteen minutes’ walk from the center of Valjevo there is an ancient mill with two stones running on water from the mighty river, grinding corn in a natural way, as it used to be done in the time of the Nenadović family. While the mill stones keep turning, carpenter and miller Sreten Milovanović makes wooden souvenirs. His skilled hands make wooden chairs or tripod chairs, mixing spoons, bowls…
If you happen to be around, come by and see the beautiful river Gradac, enjoy magnificent nature along the winding canyon up to the river’s source, near Ćelije monastery. Take a rest in one of numerous restaurants and cafes all along the beautiful picnic site, and if you are lucky enough, you will be greeted by otters, the symbol of the Gradac. On your way back bring some corn flour as a souvenir from Ilovačića mill or some other wooden souvenir.
Check out the video about Ilovačića mill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ8-ADC06uE
Our daily paper the Blic also wrote about this mill and Sreten Milovanović:
If you happen to be passing by or you come here intentionally, make sure you visit yet another extraordinary mill which, without a doubt, deserves special attention because it serves as a reminder of true values which are beginning to perish. It reminds us of honor, fairness, trust, it restores our faith in people and the good in them. For 11 years the motto of Đedina mill on the river Obnica, in Pričević village, next to the main road between Valjevo and Loznica has been Take it and pay if you can.
Their door is always wide open for any traveler, on the wall there is an inscription which clearly states that all customers should take flour on their own and if they have money, they can put it in a wooden box. There are also two wise sayings for customers from Dragan Živanović, the owner of the mill: If you doubt somebody, don’t do business with them, if you do business with somebody, don’t doubt them and Every man saves his honor on his own. It sounds incredible that something like this really exists today. Take a look at the following page: https://www.b92.net/biz/vesti/srbija.php?yyyy=2017&mm=04&dd=29&nav_id=1255428
Customers react rather positively to Dragan’s gesture and so far no one has taken flour without paying for it. This noble miller has published a guestbook entitled You lose life and trust only once. The comments of around 600 customers from all continents are collected in this book and all of them agree on one thing, something like this cannot be found anywhere else in the world!
Once you buy real corn flour, milled with love, in unity between man and nature, you can make real homemade proja.
- 500 g of coarsely ground white corn flour
- 250 ml of warm water or sparkling water
- a pinch of salt
- grease or oil for greasing
Mix flour with warm water or better yet sparkling water and add a pinch of salt. The mixture should be a bit thicker than a pancake mix. Stir using a mixing spoon and pour in a greased casserole.
Bake at 220°C for about 20-25 minutes, i.e. until a dark brown crust is formed. Cover baked proja with a dishtowel and let it cool down.
Cut it into cubes or triangles, any way you like, and serve in place of bread with sarma (cabbage rolls), podvarak (baked sauerkraut), prokule, stuffed peppers or homemade cheese and kajmak.
Author: Rada Sević
Translation: Marija Đurđević
Photography: Wikimedia and Agromedia