The poor man’s gift of the forest

There is indirect evidence that dormouse hunting was practised in Slovenia from the 13th century onwards, direct confirmation is however provided by Valvasor's description dating from the late 17th century and by Steinberg's picture from the mid 18th century.

After the World War 2 dormouse hunting was more or less abandoned. The main areas where it was practised were Notranjska and Western Dolenjska as well as Gornji Grad region. Dormouse hunting was practised by peasants to improve their diet in winter and some dormice were cooked immediately after the hunt; peasants also earned some money by selling the furs and the medicinal dormouse fat.

The dormouse furs have entered the traditional Slovenian wear by providing a winter hat, which is still worn today. It is called polhovka (the dormouse cap).

Valvasor describes the little creature as akin to the squirrel, but also somewhat similar - although larger in size - to the rat. Like squirrel it fed on the various fruits and nuts, particularly the beech nuts, which were obviously plentiful in the beech forests, where dormice lived. They made their home underground in winter, and emerged in summer from their burrows - as many as thousands from a single hole.

Valvasor tells us with great gusto of the hunt for the swarming creatures, which was in effect a simple gathering into traps, sacks and jacket sleeves and high boots. He also tells us that country people eat them roasted and salt them for winter, sometimes several thousand. However city people turn their noses at such fare.