2019 Grateful 24: Green Tomato Day

The responsibility that comes with having a garden weighs heavily on me. It dictates what I do and when I do it. I’m tied to the kitchen. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get Mother Nature on my schedule. Her lastest parry has been of the green tomato variety. Read more

2019 Grateful 27: Pass the Zucchini

I’m at a loss as to how to explain to her-next-door that there are only two of us. Twenty eggs. (Eggs come in boxes of 10 here.) Two kilos of uborka (pickling cucumbers). A kilo of cherry plums. Two kilos of peaches (or maybe they were apricots). And two massive zucchini. And this was just last week. With so many fruit trees in the village and so many locals growing their own veg and such, getting rid of what you can’t (or don’t want to) use is like a convoluted game of pass the parcel.

When the farmer up the road at home drops into my mother with eggs, she bakes him a tart in return. She mightn’t want to bake. She mightn’t have planned to bake. She mightn’t be in the mood to bake. But bake she will. There’s some sort of unwritten code that demands it. I always thought she was mad. I figured my city-loving genes would have long-since throttled any lurking country ones, given that a greater percentage of my life has been lived within the madding crowd than without. But no. I’m turning (or perhaps have already turned) into my mother. (And that’s not a complaint – she’s a grand woman.)

No matter what I’d planned to do that day or what I might have wanted to do that day, if the eggs arrive, I have to bake. Anything. Something. I think though that herself has gotten smarter. She’s seen the Pavlovian pattern. I’m sure she realises that if she drops off eggs AND zucchini, then zucchini bread will follow. Perhaps I’m giving her too much credit, but I certainly have my suspicions.

So, when life hands me a mammoth zucchini. I bake. Walnut and zucchini bread. Loaves of it. And then I pass the parcel to anyone who might drop by that day. Or the next. The painter got lucky last week. He’s sold on it. But when I gave him the first one to sample, his wife sent him back with uborka that I added to the bucket already awaiting pickling. Village life is a never-ending cycle of give and take.

After nearly three years, I’ve finally mastered the unregulated gas oven. I bake now by smell. But that means I can’t leave the kitchen lest I miss the crucial turn-around point and the even more crucial turn-down point. But when I get it right, I get it right.

Recipe for zucchini and walnut bread

Some of you have asked for the recipe. That, too, I’ve fiddled with to the point I can do it blind. Here it is. (Forgive the translation – it’s for me.)

In the first bowl, mix

  • 3 cups of sieved flour (finom liszt if you’re in Hungary – not the rétes liszt)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda (1 teáskanál szódabikarbóna)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder (1 teáskanál sütőport)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (1 teáskanál só)
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (1 evőkanál fahéj)

In the second bowl, mix (manually rather than electronically – am not sure why this is better but it makes a difference – I found this out the day I couldn’t be arsed taking out the mixer)

  • 3 eggs (3 tojás)
  • 1 cup of sugar (1 csésze kristálycukor)
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil (1 csésze növényi olaj)
  • 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract (3 teáskanál vanília kivonat)

Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ones (not the other way around) and when it’s mixed, add

  • 2 cups of grated zucchini at least (Legalább 2 csésze reszelt cukkini)
  • 1 cup of chopped walnuts (1 csésze dió)

Grease two pans with just enough butter to make them shine – too much and they’ll burn. Oil doesn’t work … I’ve tried.

Put in the oven and bake. I can’t help you with temperatures  because I’ve no markings on my oven knobs.  I turn it to 8 pm for about 10 minutes and then turn the pans around before turning it down to 7 pm and waiting for anywhere between 20 and 35 minutes. Again, no clue what the difference in time is – but when you start to smell it,  keep an eye on it. When you can stick a knife through the centre and it comes out clean, you’re done. Take them out of the oven but let them sit in the tins for a few minutes. I found this out because the phone rang one time and I got distracted. But letting them sit makes a difference. Then cool them on a wire rack.

Store, not in a tin, but in Tupperware in the fridge. Or freeze them wrapped in baking paper. They’ll keep for 10 days or 2 weeks in the fridge and only need a couple of hours to defrost from the freezer.

loaves of zucchini and walnut bread

I’m slowly getting the hang of village life and on a good day, I revel in the bounty. On a bad day, I curse it. But thankfully, I have more good days than bad.

2019 Grateful 28: Wallowing like Buffalo

It’s all happening in the village today. Well, technically, it’s all happening a little bit outside the village in Kápolnapuszta at the buffalo reserve. It’s their annual fete, complete with buffalo burgers, buffalo gulyas, and the Hungarian staple, kürtőskalács (chimney cake). Read more

2019 Grateful 33 – Édes cseresznye

Operation Cherry was a moderate success. I managed to save some but it was truly sad to see how much was wasted. Yes, I’m obsessing but forgive me: édes cseresznye (sweet cherries) have been my life for the last three days. Read more

Cherry blossom

Operation Cherry Begins

When I turn down an invitation to a lamb birthday BBQ, it’s serious. When I decline knowing I’m missing out on a glass or three of Zengő wine, it’s even more serious. When I pass on an afternoon with good mates, you know something is up. Read more

Life-or-death decisions

Not once, but two or three or four times a day, I make life-or-death decisions. I decide what lives and what dies. Sometimes those decisions are easy; other times I’m crippled by indecision. Read more

2019 Grateful 34: Fields of Red

I found myself explaining recently that my summer travel would be severely curtailed as it was fruit season. The cherries, the plums, the apricots, the tomatoes – they wouldn’t look after themselves. I needed to be there to figure out what to do with them so that I could still enjoy them next year. My mate looked at me, somewhat aghast and said: Okay – who are you and what have you done with my friend? Read more

The long way home

I’m not one for taking a walk just to walk. I do it, of course, but on some level it seems rather pointless. Yes, I know there’s the benefit of exercise and getting those steps in every day can be a challenge. But walking without purpose for some reason doesn’t sit well with me. If there’s a shorter way to get from A to B, I’ll usually take it. The long way home isn’t for me. Read more

potatoes

The price of potatoes

When I was at home last, Boss was complaining about the price of seed potatoes. €45 they wanted. He wasn’t impressed. I’m not sure who they are or what he ended up planting but plant he did. In the village, himself has been on a planting frenzy – everything but potatoes. He can’t see the return on labour – all the work that’s involved when Hungarian spuds aren’t expensive and we don’t eat many anyway. And then I read the news:

Domestic potato stocks have run out!

What is going on with my worlds? Where have the potatoes gone? Why are they so expensive? Apparently the price in Hungary was up 66% year-on-year in February. I can’t say as I’ve noticed.

I was curious. I was waiting for a laundry cycle to finish and had time on my hands. So I did some research.

The European potato harvest has been the worst in 40 years. Prices on the Belgian open potato market are 11 times higher than they were last year. And while this mightn’t worry you unduly if you’re not into boiled spuds and parsely or spuds  roasted in goose fat, think about the knock-on effects. The price of chips (French fries) is going to skyrocket. And if the potatoes are smaller in size, there goes the fully loaded baked potato as a summer BBQ side. And because there was a 25% drop in production, fewer seed potatoes are available and so they’re more expensive (must tell Boss) and this means that fewer will be planted for the next harvest, continuing the cycle.

György Murai, a member of the Hungarian Potato Council (who knew!) said on a radio show during the week that most potatoes imported to Hungary come from France, and they’re red. The French, appararently are partial to the yellow potato and don’t mind sharing the reds. Does this mean that I won’t be able to get yellow salad spuds for my warm potato and artichoke salad this summer? Or what of my pasta e patate, that Neapolitan class of pasta and potatoes?

Interestingly, not too long ago, the growing of potatoes was outlawed in France:

In France and elsewhere, the potato was accused of causing not only leprosy, but also syphilis, narcosis, scronfula, early death, sterillity, and rampant sexuality, and of destroying the soil where it grew.  There was so much opposition to the potato that an edict was made in the town of Besancon, France stating: “In view of the fact that the potato is a pernicious substance whose use can cause leprosy, it is hereby forbidden, under pain of fine, to cultivate it.”

With other spuds are arriving from North Africa, from countries like Algeria and Morocco, it looks like the Hungarian potato will be hard to find this summer.

Even more curious now, I did some more reading and discovered that after rice, wheat and maize, the potato is the world’s largest food crop. A veritable vitamin ball, the humble potato has a bit of all the important ones:

An excellent source of vitamin C
A good source of potassium (more than a banana!)
A good source of vitamin B6

And it’s fat-, sodium- and cholesterol-free. Who knew? Where are the marketing guys on this one?

The potato originated with the Incas in Peru back around 8000 BC. Much, much, much later, while the Spanish Conquistadors were checking out what Peru had to offer, they were so impressed with the humble spud that they brought it back to Spain. This was around 1536. Then later, in 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh brought them to Ireland, planting 40 000 acres of them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork.

The local gentry were invited to a royal banquet featuring the potato in every course. Unfortunately, the cooks were uneducated in the matter of potatoes, tossed out the lumpy-looking tubers and brought to the royal table a dish of boiled stems and leaves (which are poisonous), which promptly made everyone deathly ill. The potatoes were then banned from court.

I’ll be looking with interest to see where the potatoes on offer this summer come from. My summer BBQ menu might need some adjusting, too. But isn’t it interesting what you can learn when you’re waiting for washing-machine to beep?

 

 

 

2019 Grateful 38

I’d been looking forward to April 18th for weeks. The first day in the lead-up to Easter Sunday. The day I’d finally get to leave the city and head to the village.

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