1,500 dozen — that’s the total number of pusharatas made for the annual Christmas Sale held by the Slavonian Ladies Auxiliary. This tradition started back in 1984.
The Slavonian Ladies are Croatian by birth or by marriage to a member of the Slavonian Men’s organization. The popularity of the pusharata locally can be traced back to the arrival of immigrants from Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia) who settled on the Coast in the late 1800s, attracted by the thriving seafood industry.
Upon their arrival, these Croatians did not have many personal pocessions, but they brought many family recipes that were passed down through generations, one of which is the famous pusharata — a small, fruit-filled donut covered in a sugary glaze.
The Croatian tradition is to serve pusharatas at holiday functions, family gatherings, weddings and especially Christmas. This delicacy represents traditions rich in history and heritage.
Weeks before the annual holiday sale, the Slavonian Ladies get busy shopping for ingredients, chopping fruit, assembling gift boxes and getting the batter ready for the night of cooking. On the afternoon of Dec. 22 each year, the process begins. Auxiliary members young and old gather at the lodge on Maple Street in Biloxi to undertake the all-night process.
Several small fryers are set up, and a small metal scoop is used for cooking to create the perfect round pastry. The pusharatas are laid out to cool, then coated with a sugary icing. Once dried, they are placed in gift boxes to be sold to customers who have ordered these delicacies months in advance. The waitlist of people wanting to buy pusharatas is always extremely long.
If you are not lucky enough to land a spot on the coveted list, pusharatas also are sold each year at the Biloxi Christmas in the City festival in downtown Biloxi. This year’s celebration will be held on Dec. 3. Sale proceeds go to scholarships for members’ children who are high school seniors.
Many pusharata recipes have circulated around the Coast, and some of them can be found in the newly published Slavic Ladies Auxiliary cookbook. This second-edition cookbook came out in August and makes a great Christmas gift.
THE ORIGINAL SLAVIC LADIES AUXILIARY PUSHARATA RECIPE
- 5 pounds self-rising flour
- 2 ½ cups sugar (1/2 cup for the fruit below, 2 cups for the flour mixture)
- 2 cups raisins
- 3 tablespoons nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons whiskey
- 2 tablespoons vanilla
- 4 large apples
- 4 large oranges
- 1 lemon
- 3 cups chopped pecans
- ½ gallon milk
- sugar glaze (below)
– Combine the dry ingredients: flour, two cups sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and baking powder. Peel and core the apples. Peel and pit the oranges and lemon. Mince the fruit or run it through a blender or a food processor, but don’t liquify. Combine with ½ cup sugar.
– Combine wet ingredients: whiskey, vanilla and milk. Stir wet ingredients into dry, then mix in fruit, raisins and pecans.
– Heat ½ to 1 gallon cooking oil in a deep fryer. Drop balls of dough (the ladies use a special scoop or a standard coffee teaspoon) into hot fat, being careful not to crowd the pieces. Fry until golden brown, then drain on paper towels. Coat with sugar glaze.
Sugar glaze: Combine two to three cans of evaporated milk with six pounds confectioners’ sugar and almond extract to taste. This is an inexact science. It’s best to start with the sifted sugar and add the milk gradually, stirring all the while until you reach a glaze consistency. Add the extract a small amount at a time to taste, and remember that the extract adds moisture, too.
It’s recommended to allow pusharatas to sit uncovered overnight until thoroughly dry. Do not store in a tightly covered container, as this will soften your glaze and make them mushy. If gifting, present them in a simple paper bag or in a box placed in individual paper cups. (makes 300)
Marion Pitalo Platt’s Croatian heritage comes from her father’s parents, who hailed from the islands of Hvar and Brac, Croatia. She has been a member of the Slavonian Ladies Auxiliary for 20 years and served as past vice president in 2009 and 2010. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.