During Serbian winters, thrifty families made the most of scarce resources and freezing temperatures by preparing pihtije. The jellied pork starter, which is still eaten across the country today, originated out of necessity and spare pig parts.
To turn ham hocks and head meat into a cohesive dish, cooks boil the parts with bay leaves, salt, onion, and other seasonings until the meat is tender enough to fall off the bone. They strain the liquid—now filled with gelatin-rich bone matter—and add garlic, carrot, and pepper. Then, the finished mixture is left to cool and set. (Because pihtije is traditional winter fare, this once meant just setting the dish outside.) To finish it off, cooks sprinkle a bit of aleva, or ground paprika, on top before slicing the mass into cubes.
Serbians pair this cold appetizer with turšija, or pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut, pickles, bell and hot peppers, and green tomatoes. And to stay warm, they wash it all down with rakija, a traditional Balkan fruit brandy often made from plums.