Fifteen or so gallons of Hungarian chicken soup, at least 20 pounds of Paprikas (made with pork), 12 chickens, 20 bags of noodles, 8 loaves of bread, and 8 varieties of pastries later, I can say this was a weekend to remember. For those of you following my Second Tuesday blog, I recently wrote about my desire to bake with my grandmother for a weekend and rather than ruminate about it, I booked a flight to Florida and did it!
In my home town of Plant City, Florida, home of the Strawberry Festival, the Hungarian Club hosts a meal for the Hungarian community on the second Sunday of every month except during the summer months of June, July and August. For two and a half days, my grandmother, a few of her 14, yes 14, children, a scattering of her 31 grandchildren, and friends prep to feed the over 100 expected guests.
Besides the pickles, a common accompaniment to Hungarian meals, everything is made from scratch by the 10-20 helpers. The apples for the strudel, which were peeled and cored by hand. The onions are diced just so – no fast action like you see on some culinary shows! The lemon for the donuts and some of the cookies were prepped with a hand zester.
I knew right from the start that the weekend would be fun. On the counter were three bottles of serious liquor with shot glasses next to them – at 8 o’clock in the morning! Around six adults were scurrying in the kitchen and then one would go to the liquor bottle to pour a shot seeing how many people he or she could corral. Inevitably, at least half the group would come over. This happened several times that first morning, and I, being the guest, was definitely encouraged to be in on the action. Yes, grandma and I were doing shots at 8:30 AM!
The weekend was run like a serious operation. Each person was given a job to do, and I quickly learned that my grandmother was in charge. Anytime a task was not clear or not working correctly, people would go to her. If she noticed you making a mistake, she corrected it – kindly, but bluntly. (So that’s where I get it from!) This morning, we realized that only some of the plates had a Valentine’s chocolate on it while others did not. My grandmother chimed in, “Well the person in charge of this needs to fix this. I’m sure once she arrives, she will notice!” And of course, an hour later, I turn around and the chocolates are perfectly placed at every seat.
Sometimes, there had to be covert operations. For example, one of the gentlemen is in his 80’s and thus, does not have a good sense of taste anymore. Rather than offend him, the group devised a plan. After he makes the soup, call him out of the kitchen to “answer a question” and then my aunt and uncle pour in the seasoning to make sure it tastes the way it is supposed to. Then he returns to the kitchen and we all rave about his soup.
I was fascinated to learn that every scrap was used for something. For example, the pork for the Paprikas was cubed and the remaining fat was put aside. While the Paprikas was cooking, the fat was put in pan over high heat, allowing the fat to seep out. What was remaining was strained and put in a bowl and snacked on with the addition of salt and a piece of bread. The fat that “melted” out of this “snack” was then used for frying the donuts and browning the noodles.
Since I was young, I was trained that cooking involved throwing things together until the taste was just right while baking was all about precise measurements. This weekend changed my entire perspective. Today, while my grandmother made the dough for donuts, she poured milk into a pot and heated it. She then poured the lukewarm milk in with the dry ingredients, butter, and lemon zest. As the batter mixed, she realized the texture was not right and concluded she needed more milk. She then grabbed the milk jug and started to pour until the amount felt just right. I see a whole knew freedom for me when baking!
I’ve always been comfortable baking. While this weekend was not about me sitting with my grandmother, having her instruct me step by step on how to make various baked goods, I still learned quite a bit. I was able to watch and assist with the making of a variety of dishes and asked questions along the way. This helped me understand important nuances for when I try the recipes myself.
More importantly, I had the opportunity to spend time with my grandmother and other family members in a way that has helped me further appreciate my heritage. Since I don’t interact with them on a daily basis, I had almost an outsiders’ view of the Hungarian culture and began to realize where many of my traits come from – they aren’t all based on how I was raised. It’s in my blood. The perfectionism, strong work ethic, keeping many balls in the air. The most fun part was teasing each other as we carry these traits to different extremes.
|Butter Cookies with Strawberry Jam Filling|
|One of the culprits during 8:30 AM shots on Saturday.|
|Puff pastry with either lemony cream cheese filling or nuts|
|Cutting the Dough prior to adding filling.|
|Nothing goes to waste. Apples for the Strudel were shredded after which the juice was squeezed out so we could have apple juice. Yes, some added good ol’ hard liquor to their juice.|
|Lunch for the workers. The spoons used to mix the main course were longer than my arm!|
|Kneading dough for homemade bread.|
|Me and Grandma.|