The peka has been used in this region since ancient times – examples of the peka with a clay lid have been found at many of the Illyrian archaeological sites.
According to Milovan Gavazzi, a prominent Croatian ethnologist, the peka appeared with the culture of the hearth fields in the late Bronze age in the area of the Danube valley, the Alps and the northern Balkans.
However, it is difficult to say whether the clay or iron lids are older, i.e. whether the first peka was made by a potter or a blacksmith. Initially, the peka did not have a pan, just the lid, and the food was cooked on the hearth itself. Only later in the Dinaric regions did this product evolve into the version with the shallow pan upon which the clay or iron lid is placed, and the surrounding ring that aids to keep the coals on the lid. The way of preparing food in the peka has not changed much over time, making each peka an in situ museum of culinary history.
It is important to light a fire using good quality wood (grapevine, beech or hornbeam), and let it burn out until only the coals remain. The food is placed in the pan onto a flat surface, covered with the peka lid, and the coals are sprinkled on the lid, but not too thick, as these are dishes that are prepared slowly. It is a useful trick to keep a fire burning in one corner, to ensure the coals remain alight as long as needed, about 90 minutes. The lid needs to fit the pan well, as no air should enter the peka during baking. This can also be prevented by sprinkling ashes around the edges.
Dishes prepared in the peka are a special explosion of culinary pleasure, and are also very healthy as the food is cooked in its own juices, without the need for adding any fat. No other way of preparing food has such a pronounced blending of flavours and aromas.