Hungarian Food Fest
April 2, 2017

A few years ago, I got together with my cousin for a little Hungarian cooking extravaganza. Her dad and my mom were first cousins and they were great friends. But those two have passed away, and it is our opportunity to be cousins and friends! When I lived in New York, we were intentional about getting together as often as schedules allowed. One time we decided to get together at my home in Tuckahoe so we could do a little cooking. 

Our original goal was to make szilvás gombóc (plum dumplings) because we both like them but had never made them. Sadly, it isn’t the season for those little Italian plums (the best substitute for Hungarian plums in the United States) so we had to come up with an alternate plan. We decided to make almás rétes (apple strudel) and gesztenyepüré (chestnut purée) —neither of which we have made before! But please don’t be concerned. We didn’t just eat desserts all day! We also made rakott krumpli, túrós csusza, and paprikás csirke (with homemade nokedli). Wow! We sure ate a lot!

My confession is that we did not make everything from scratch. I have made spaghetti sauce before but there is also some great spaghetti sauce in a jar. I definitely do not make my spaghetti noodles from scratch although I have done it. Once. I haven’t ever made the tortillas and taco shells when we have a Mexican meal so I am not above using some prepared things for convenience or speed. Sometimes, the main goal is to put food in the mouth! Someday, though, I will get brave enough to roll out my own strudel dough, but yesterday was not that day.

Baby Steps!

Even though we used a shortcut here and there we were both inspired to do even more Hungarian cooking. There is nothing wrong with using shortcuts. Sure, there might be a little compromise in flavor here or there but if you don’t take “baby steps” you won’t ever get anywhere. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Wherever you are now, take another step further in the process of learning how to cook some Hungarian foods. I get so frustrated when I read comments by others on food pages blasting out criticisms on someone’s Hungarian food journey. Encouragement is a much better motivator. I think sometimes people like to hide behind their Hungarian ancestry to defend their tendency to be direct and they think it gives them permission to be rude. Nope. Kindness goes a long way and will actually yield much better results. If you have a lot of experience cooking Hungarian foods from scratch, please invite others to learn from you with a hands-on experience. It will help the traditions get passed along! Whatever the reason, not every Hungarian tradition was passed along in every family. There are so many reasons why. Let’s not get caught up in that but let’s move forward by lovingly sharing what we know so the traditions can get carried on to the next generation whether someone is in your direct bloodline or not!

I am not a stranger to the kitchen. I have cooked a lot of different types of foods through the years and I have had some great success as well as a few disasters. But, for whatever the reason, as I was staring down at the phyllo dough (mind you, already prepared) and the filling ready-to-go (we used apples, raisins, and walnuts with a few other things) I was just so nervous to put it all together, but I have no idea why!

All I can say is having friend along on the adventure is a great thing! My sweet cousin read several recipes in my cookbooks but also online and was quick to say “let’s Google that” if we were still unsure about a part of the process for all the things we cooked together. (Remember, we don’t have access to the family experts any longer so we just needed to get brave and not take ourselves too seriously.) She would patiently read, then read aloud, encourage me, and we finally decided that no matter how it looked in the end, all of the elements going into it were things we liked so it was going to taste great. We took turns buttering the dough and rolling it up and decided it was crazy easy. Why hadn’t we tried this before? But, there is no time like now. There are some things you just need to step out and try. Everyone needs an encourager in their life!

It is so nice to have an encouraging friend!

The rétes was so ridiculously easy to make and so wonderfully fresh when it came out of the oven that it will be a long time before I buy some at a pastry shop. Now that I have done it with assistance I think I might be able to do it on my own, but it sure won’t be as fun! My cousin and I thought of all the different kinds of fillings we could use. Her dad used to love káposzta (cabbage) in his rétes so it would seem fitting we would give that a shot next time. And she adores mák (poppy seed) in general and it’s wonderful in rétes so that will be on our list too. The apple strudel was delicious with coffee for our afternoon break! And then we went on to tackle the rest of our list. Not everything looked pretty but it all tasted fantastic! And we had a great time working and playing and visiting about all kinds of things!

Do you have a special project that you would like to tackle? Find a friend! Do you have a friend who needs someone by their side as they work through something? Be a friend! We all have things to do that are much more fun with a friend. And the hard stuff? It is much better with a friend too. And if they are family members, even better! We had so much fun together we are planning another Hungarian food day in early May. We are hoping those Italian plums will be available so we can tackle the szilvás gombóc!

And, someday, I will tackle the dough for the rétes. I just need a little more time to get the courage.

Thanks, Cuz, for being by my side!

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