Spring and summer in Hungary aren’t tracked by time. (How could they be when the heat leaves you so sluggish, minutes take hours . . .unless you’re swimming in the lake or visiting with friends, in which case hours take minutes.) Instead days move through blossoming trees and changing appetites. With each passing week another fruit comes into season and the previous fruit goes out. So for instance, last year I arrived here at the start of cherry season. That meant my mouth was permanently stained with the sweet dark juice of cherries, which essentially explode as you pop them into your mouth. Until I started finding the bugs. Then I couldn’t bring myself to ‘pop’ any more cherries, no matter how tempting. Those little white worms are everywhere. However, not a single other person in Hungary seems to mind. Now we’re in peach season, which is my favourite (mostly bug-free), and watermelon season. Before we leave for Canada, it will just be creeping into apple-picking-time. Fruit litters the street, suburbs and gardens. Free, juicy, organic fruit.
I love idea of tracking time with food. From pig killing season, bread making day, to the growing of ripe produce across the year – it’s all about the food.
A long time ago the Turkish made a play for Europe. They essentially invaded the region – them and every other culture, it seems to me. Anyhow, during this time of the Turkish invasion (lasting a way long time), the Hungarian fighters managed to beat them back. There is a man on a horse (statue) here in Pecs in the main square. He is accredited for pushing back the Turkish.
Anyhow, the Hungarian win was a win for Christianity (I’m not purposely mixing religion and storytelling, but it’s true – that’s just how it was perceived at the time). And the pope declared that churches everywhere would ring their bells at noon to honour the Hungarians who fought for Europe. Now all across the world, not only in Europe, church bells ring at noon – signalling lunch for many, but for those in Hungary who keep it in mind, also signalling respect and memorial.
The other day Zsolt and I were working in the garden when the bells began to ring, and it made Zsolt recount that story. Who doesn’t love listening to church bells ring over a city? These traditional markers of the day are so familiar that I don’t even think to ‘expect’ them. And yet once the bells are tolling, I can’t help but stop my work and listen.
There is an excellent culinary dish in Hungary that’s familiar in all the homes. It’s called Kaposta. I almost 100% for sure spelt that word wrong. Basically it’s stewed sour cabbage with pork meat balls mixed with rice and wrapped in cabbage leaves, plus the addition of fried onions, smoked sausage, possibly bacon and of course paprika. (And salt.) It is thick, tasty and one of my favourite meals. Served with a heaping of sour cream with Eros Pista on the top (a puree of hot pepper) and you’ve just entered home-cooked paradise.
Yesterday while we were eating this meal, Zsolt’s mother remarked that it’s really good for hangovers. Apparently weddings in Hungary will always make available kaposta to their guests after midnight has passed, in order to ease the following day’s hangover. Looking back on a friend’s wedding we attending, this is true. We ate the awesome cabbage stew after midnight. This tells you two things about the Hungarians: they like their liquor in times of celebration, and they really know how to please a guest.
And there you have it. Three stories about Hungary, my home away from home.