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Cooking the Books: Hungarian Cookery Book

I picked this book up at Bruised Apple Books in Peekskill, NY, a fantastic independent used bookstore with a strong sci-fi section. The colorful cover caught my eye and the content sold me. My grandmother on my Dad’s side is Hungarian and I love her cooking, but I wondered: What else is out there? What else in the traditional Hungarian culinary landscape am I missing? This book looked like it had the answers. I paid $4.50 for it.

This is a collection Károly Gundel’s recipes. Gundel was the leading restaurateur in Budapest during the first half of the 20th century. He is probably responsible for driving forward and popularizing much of Hungarian cuisine during that time. He started the prestigious Gundel Etterem in Budapest in 1910 and ran it until it was nationalized in 1949. He also ran the official restaurant of the Hungarian Pavilion in the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

Gundel put together this book for the UNESCO Hungarian National Commission in the early 1950s, just before his death. My copy is a later edition from 1976. The forward itself is worth buying this book for. It goes through the history of what we now consider Hungarian food and its influences from the original Magyars, to the conquering Turks, the Spanish, and the French and Austrian nobility. Here is an excerpt:

Karoly Gundel

To return to modern Hungarian cookery, I must first of all point out that its most characteristic features are the abundant use of lard, onions and paprika, that sour cream (replaced today in many restaurants by heavy cream) is a favorite ingredient.

What I am going to say about paprika will, I am sure, come as a great surprise and disappointment to a lot of people. I must confess that this condiment, which is recognized far and wide as the Hungarian national spice, was not generally known and used in Hungary till almost a century ago. In Hungary cookery-books of the first half of the nineteenth century we find scarcely any mention of paprika, to say nothing of the fact that it was completely unknown in books dating from the eighteenth century.

So where did it come from? Paprika is originally from the Americas and Persia. It was introduced to Europe from the west by Christopher Columbus and crew at the beginning of the sixteenth century and from the east by Turkish traders who got it from Persia.

Going back to the book, this caveat in the introduction is my approach to cooking and recipes in a nutshell:

Now to the recipes. It is very difficult to be precise in giving exact directions. Take salt for instance. Think of the difference in the taste and saltiness of bay salt and rock salt: even the salt mined in different places differs in quality and iodine content. The same is true, to an even greater degree, of paprika and other condiments.

For this reason the recipes, however carefully they have been compiled, must not be accepted as hard and fast rules. I confess to my own limitations. No painter can describe the exact blend of colors he uses to produce a certain shade; no poet can express adequately in words what makes a perfume enchanting; and no cook can give perfect, infallible directions about the method of achieving a certain flavor.

My thoughts exactly. Recipes are general guides to be tinkered with and adapted to suit your ingredients and taste.

The Recipes I Chose

I noticed a lot of similarities to dishes my grandmother makes, as well as things I can never imagine her making. Jellied Carp, for example. I decided to go with a fairly standard gulyás for my first go-around. I usually don’t reprint the recipes due to copyright and respect for the author’s livelihood, but neither concern is relevant here. This book is long out of print, and the author has long since passed on. I suspect many of his children and grandchildren have as well.

Gulyás de Luxe

  • 2 lbs loin of beef
  • 12 oz onions
  • 12 oz potatoes
  • lard
  • 1/2 dram of garlic
  • 1/2 dram of salt
  • 1/2 dram caraway seed
  • 1 1/3 oz paprika
  • green paprika, tomatoes

Cut 2 lbs loin of beef into 1/2 oz cubes and wash well. Chop the onions very fine and fry them a delicate brown in lard. Sprinke (sic) a little salt on the meat, put it into the pan with the onions and stew with the lid on for 30 minutes. When the water evaporate, a little water or stock may always be added. Cut the potatoes into cubes the same size as the meat, add the caraway seed, and the paprika. Pour in sufficient eater to cover the meat. In summer 2 green paprikas, from which the seeds have been removed, and a tomato may be added (all sliced). Bring to boil again and let summer till the potatoes are done.

Before serving boil some fine csipetke and add it to the gulyás.

Csipetke

Make a dough of about 6 oz of flour, one egg and a pinch of salt. Roll out very thin, cut into small squares and boil in the soup for a minute to two before serving.

This book is riddled with typos (likely from the translation), unused ingredients, skipped steps, and unclear cooking time. No matter. That is how my recipes are, too. You have to get a gameplan before starting to cook.

Notes

  1. Gulyás is basically a kind of stew and csipetke is very similar to small dumplings or spaetzle.
  2. I ended up simmering the gulyás for about two hours because it took us a heck of a lot longer than expected to make the csipetke. I don’t know how my grandma makes giant bowls at a time around the holidays. Must take all day. The extra simmering time was good good because the beef was pretty tough when I tasted it early on.
  3. The type of paprika was unspecified, so I used a mix of hot and smoked paprika since I didn’t have sweet on-hand.
  4. The recipe doesn’t say what to do with the garlic, so I included it with the onions at the beginning.
  5. I included green peppers (paprikas, not to be confused with paprika, which actually is confusing) and tomatoes, despite it not being summer.
  6. I found three different competing conversions for drams, so I basically guessed. Roughly 1 scant teaspoon per dram, so I used about half a teaspoon each for the items above.
  7. The csipetke definitely needed some water in the dough. One egg alone didn’t cut it. I had to add water. We ended up making two batches.

Results

The dish turned out great! I’m glad I made it. Next time I’ll start a little earlier in the day instead of waiting until 6pm to start it. There are a dozen more recipes in this book that I want to try, so it might be a while before I make this specific recipe again. The csipetke is definitely going to be a regularly occurring side, though. I didn’t realize how easy it was to make. That is dangerous.


Join us!

If you want to join us in the Cooking the Books challenge, pick a cookbook you haven’t used in a while and make a recipe. Then fill out this form and I’ll guest post it here on Cook Like Chuck.

Let’s dust off those cookbooks and put them to use this year.

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