In the “orchard of Hungary,” traditions are receptive to diverse influences
Kecskemét is generally known as the orchard of the country because of its special soil structure – the quicksand – and the apricot trees to bind them.
When analyzing the history of the fruit it is important to state that at the turn of the 18th -19th century the third offshoots of the Hungarian apricots, the so called apricot of the Great Plain was spread all through Europe. The fruit was stated so in the dictionary of pomology, which was later given the name of “the best Hungarian apricot”. The high number of sunny hours and cool nights make the fruit so unique and flavored. It cannot be cultivated in soil low in limestone or in acid soil. The best Hungarian apricot can tolerate winter frost very well.
No apricots all over Europe taste as sweet and juicy as the types grown around Kecskemét. Our ancestors realized that excellent pálinka (apricot brandy) could be distilled from this fruit so besides apricot jam, the most famous product of the town is apricot pálinka, which is made of special tasty apricots. It is a world-famous Hungarian product, one of the peak achievements of rural society and Hungarian agriculture, a Hungarian uniqueness and Hungaricum. Edward, Prince of Wales praised Kecskemét apricot pálinka during his visit to Hungary in 1935 as follows: ‘Pálinka with soda is better than whisky, tea is tastier with pálinka than with rum.’ The cultivation of this characteristic fruit of the region started more than 100 years ago. The expansion of gardening, wine-growing viniculture and fruit-growing all lead to the improvement of the city.
The Hungarian culture of folk dietary customs is tradition-bound and receptive, too.
The Kecskemét and Kiskunság region is by no means an exception. The gastronomic culture is characterized by a rich diversity: the culinary legacy of different nationalities, the impact of the Italian renaissance and the 150-year-long Turkish rule.
The diet of the classes of society differed, too: that of shepherds’ in the puszta / lowland wilderness/; peasants living on the tanya /farmsteads scattered on the outskirts of the villages/; landless day-workers; peasant-burghers tied to both farming and urban life-style; middle class town burghers.
The traditionals stew eaten by Hungarian shepherds. The cooked and flavored meat was dried with the help of the sun and packed into bags produced from sheep’s stomachs, needing only water to make it into a meal. It is one of the national dishes of Hungary and a symbol of the country.
Livestock – large scale horse, cattle and sheep – breeding has a history of more than thousand years. The sandy soil is particularly suitable for vine-producing and fruit-growing, also important in binding the wind-blown sand ever since the end of the 18. century. Vineyards gained even more impetus since the end of the 19. century, due to immunity to vine-pest.
A major event in Kecskemét (since 1934) is the annually organized exhibition “Hírös Hét ” /”Famous Week“/ where – in the poetic words of a Hungarian folk tale – “szóló szőlő” /”speaking grapes“/, “csengő barack” /”jingling apricot“/ and “mosolygó alma” /”smiling apple“/, as well as apricot pálinka and wines, cured meats and dairy products are presented. Research was based on studies, recipe books, oral history. Cooking on open fire is a specialty.
The Mangalica pig
The Mangalica pig breed was once found across Hungary and in bordering countries. The corpulent Mangalica grows very slowly and cannot be kept in closed quarters. It is therefore poorly suited to modern industrial pig farms, and it has been gradually replaced by modern breeds. After almost disappearing completely, the breed was rediscovered in the late nineties thanks to its excellent meat characterized by a high fat content, but low cholesterol.
The pig is distinguished by its rich and curly coat, which is usually blond, sometimes black, and occasionally red. On the Hungarian plains, farmers raise Mangalica pigs free-range and feed them a mix of wild pasture, supplemented with potatoes and pumpkins produced on the farm.
This flavorful pork can be braised slowly in the oven or cooked in stock. Mangalica breeders also cure their own smoked hams and sausages according to traditional techniques. The most traditional sausage type is packed in the pig’s duodenum, the meat is minced finely with the animal’s lard using an electric grinder and seasoned with salt, pepper, sweet paprika, and other spices, depending on the producer’s particular recipe. The sausages are stuffed into casings by hand and cold-smoked over an acacia- or oak-wood fire and are then left to age—ideally for at least two or three months. The sweet paprika used to season the sausage gives the final product a natural sweetness and a vibrant red color (www.slowfood.com).