One of my fondest childhood memories is being in kitchen with my Hungarian grandmother. I loved watching her chopping vegetables, kneading dough, and leaning over bubbling pots in a kitchen that was always filled with wonderful aromas. I’d always help her after school—shelling peas or beans, scrubbing and peeling vegetables, and when I got older, helping to prepare dinner. My favorite was Friday dinner—we would always have some kind of savory soup followed by a noodle or sweet dish. I was always a sweet tooth and looked forward to egg noodles with eggs or jam, palacsinta (Hungarian crepes eaten with jam, cocoa, nuts or sweet cheese fillings), and, in late summer, silvas gomboc (plum dumplings) topped with cinnamon sugar breadcrumbs.
Silvás Gomboc (Plum Dumplings)
The dough: 1 kg potatoes 3 egg yolks Tbsp butter A pinch of salt 1 cup flour
The filling: 2 pints of prune plums, pitted 1 box of sugar cubes Ground cinnamon for sprinkling on plums
Topping: 1 stick of butter/equivalent amount vegetable oil 2-3 cups breadcrumbs 4-5 Tbsp granulated sugar A few dashes of cinnamon
Cook potatoes in salted water until done. Put a large stockpot of salted water to boil. Mash potatoes and add egg yolks, butter, salt, and flour (This can be done in a standing mixer with dough attachment) Add more flour as needed to make a moist, firm dough. Roll dough out on a floured board and place pitted plums onto dough. Sprinkle plums with cinnamon and place a sugar cube in center of each plum. Cut dough in squares around plums and form dumplings (dip fingers in water to “fasten” dough together if necessary). Place dumplings gently into boiling water. Cook until dumplings rise to surface and remove with a slotted spoon; set aside.
Melt butter in a frying pan. Add breadcrumbs and brown them over medium heat. Once breadcrumbs are browned, add sugar and cinnamon.
Layer dumplings and breadcrumb mixture in a heatproof casserole dish. Cover and warm in oven until ready to serve. Serve with additional sugar sprinkled on top.
Sweet dishes, cakes, and cookies are a major component of Hungarian cuisine and Hungarian cooks are great at taking advantage of fresh, seasonal ingredients for their creations. Summer is a wonderful time to eat in Hungary—the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables is amazing—gooseberries, melons, sour cherries, squash, beans, peas, tomatoes, and an abundance of fresh herbs to flavor and garnish dishes. Most Hungarians with a back yard plant fruit trees and vegetable gardens. My grandparents continued that tradition after they immigrated to Canada--we had a huge garden where we grew beans, peas, cabbage, different varieties of squash, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, as well as essential herbs such as parsley and dill. We also had a cherry tree, pear tree, and a sour cherry tree. Sour cherries have recently become more widely available in North America—you can find fresh ones at local farmer's markets in summer and canned/jarred varieties are available in specialty grocery stores (Trader Joe’s carries a good brand). Two of my favorite recipes feature sour cherries. The first is a wonderful chilled soup that refreshes even on hottest summer day. The second is a simple, versatile dessert for those craving something fresh and fruity after dinner or with afternoon coffee.
Meggyleves (Sour Cherry Soup)
1 medium/large-sized jar of sour cherries (also known as Morello cherries), strained. 1 ½ liters water 150 g (or more to taste) 1 tsp ground cinnamon plus one cinnamon stick 2-3 pieces of lemon rind (make sure white part is trimmed off, otherwise rind will be bitter) 1 cup sour cream 1 Tbsp flour (special blending flour for sauces/gravies works best)
Put water, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon rind in a pot. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until liquid is well flavored. Discard cinnamon stick and add cherries. Cook over gentle heat for about 5 minutes. Mix sour cream and flour until well blended. Add a ladle full of soup liquid and mix well. Pour mixture into soup and simmer gently until slightly thickened (about 5 minutes). Adjust sweetness by adding more sugar to taste. Let mixture cool to room temperature and chill for 4 hours or overnight. Serve as a first course or as a dessert.
The strained sour cherry juice can be mixed with chilled mineral water is a refreshing drink.
This soup can also be made with gooseberries or apples. I have also had a tasty version of this soup made with a mixture of pears and plums and thickened with yogurt instead of sour cream.
This simple cake is a classic and can be put together in less than 30 minutes.