In Grandma’s Kitchen (Part I)

One of my fondest childhood memories is being in the 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 the 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


1 stick of butter/equivalent amount vegetable oil

2-3 cups breadcrumbs

4-5 Tbsp granulated sugar

A few dashes of cinnamon

Cook the potatoes in salted water until done.

Put a large stockpot of salted water to boil.

Mash the potatoes and add the egg yolks, butter, salt, and flour (This can be done in a standing mixer with the dough attachment)

Add more flour as needed to make a moist, firm dough.

Roll the dough out on a floured board and place pitted plums onto the dough.

Sprinkle the plums with cinnamon and place a sugar cube in the center of each plum.

Cut the dough in squares around the plums and form dumplings (dip fingers in water to “fasten” the dough together if necessary).

Place dumplings gently into boiling water.

Cook until the dumplings rise to the surface and remove with a slotted spoon; set aside.

Melt the butter in a frying pan.

Add the breadcrumbs and brown them over medium heat.

Once the breadcrumbs are browned, add the sugar and cinnamon.

Layer the dumplings and breadcrumb mixture in a heatproof casserole dish.

Cover and warm in the 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 the 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 the 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 the white part is trimmed off, otherwise the rind will be bitter)

1 cup sour cream

1 Tbsp flour (special blending flour for sauces/gravies works best)

Put the water, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon rind in a pot.

Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until the liquid is well flavored.

Discard the cinnamon stick and add the cherries. Cook over gentle heat for about 5 minutes.

Mix the sour cream and flour until well blended. Add a ladle full of the soup liquid and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the soup and simmer gently until slightly thickened (about 5 minutes). Adjust sweetness by adding more sugar to taste.
Let the 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.

Sour Cherry Cake

1 medium/large sized jar of sour cherries

150 g butter, softened

150 grams icing sugar

4 eggs, separated

A pinch of salt and a pinch of cream of tartar

180 g flour

1 tsp baking powder

Additional icing sugar for dusting on top

Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a rectangular cake pan with waxed paper.

Cream together the butter and icing sugar until fluffy, add egg yolks.
Slowly add the flour and baking powder, mix well.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

Slowly mix the beaten egg whites into the batter until well incorporated.
Pour into prepared cake pan and spread evenly.

Sprinkle the cherries on top of the batter.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a tester comes out clean.

When the cake is cool, trim edges and cut into squares. Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream if desired.

Another classic recipe is rétes (strudel). Although many Hungarians make strudel dough by hand–a long and messy process–filo pastry from the freezer section does the trick.

Almás Rétes (Apple Strudel)

1 kg grated apples (granny smith work best)

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 cups plain bread crumbs

Ground cinnamon to taste

1 package of defrosted phylo pastry

1 stick of melted butter

Preheat oven to 350F.

Unroll filo pastry and put 4 layers on a clean kitchen cloth.

Spread the apple filling in a long strip (about 3 inches wide) at one end of the pastry.

Top with sugar, cinnamon, and a layer of breadcrumbs.

Fold the sides of the pastry inwards and roll the dough to make a long roll.

Brush to top of the roll with melted butter.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the rétes is golden brown.

Trim edges and slice into pieces at an angle.

Dust with icing sugar

Other rétes fillings include:

Sour cherry filling (drained, jarred cherries work best)

Substitute cherries for the apple in the above recipe.

Sweet Cheese filling

You can use a mixture of cream cheese and ricotta (250 g), mixed with 2 egg yolks, ½ cup of sour cream, a teaspoon of grated lemon rind, 200 g sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and ½ cup raisins. Fold in 2 beaten egg whites and spread the filling in a long strip (about 3 inches wide) at one end of the pastry.

Another favorite sweet main dish my grandmother made was the Hungarian version of rice pudding, usually served with a white wine sauce. This was a Friday favorite.

Rizskoch (Rice Soufflé)

Butter/oil spray for baking dish

A handful of breadcrumbs

350 g short grain rice

1 liter milk

A pinch of salt

100 g butter

120 g icing sugar

3 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 350F.
Prepare an over proof dish by greasing with butter.
Place rice and milk into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Cook over gentle heat, stirring often, until the rice is half cooked.
Set the rice aside to cool slightly.
Mix the butter, sugar, and egg yolks and mix into the half-cooked rice.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Fold into the rice mixture and mix well.
Spread the mixture into the prepared dish and bake for about 30 minutes (or until the top is golden brown).

Borsodó (White Wine Sauce)

1 cup/250 mL white wine

80 g icing sugar

3 egg yolks

Juice of half a lemon, plus 1 tsp grated lemon rind

In a double boiler, whisk egg whites, sugar, wine, lemon juice and rind together.
Continue whisking until the mixture is heated and thickened, but do not let it boil.
Serve hot or chilled over the rice soufflé.

Palacsinta (Hungarian crepes) are an indispensable dessert in Hungary, and another Friday dinner classic. These thin pancakes can be served with simple fillings (jam, cocoa, or cinnamon sugar) or more elaborate fillings such as sweet cheese or ground nuts mixed with a bit of rum and sugar. Fresh fruit or apples sautéed in butter and sugar until soft and caramelized are also a nice filling.


1 cup flour

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 ¼ cup milk

Pinch of salt

1Tbsp melted butter

Vegetable oil or butter for frying.

Place the flour and salt into a bowl.
Make a well in the center and add the eggs.
Begin whisking and slowly add the milk, breaking up any lumps (you can also use a hand mixer to do this).
Stir in the melted butter.

Heat a few tablespoons in a skillet/frying pan.
Pour a ladle-full of the batter into the pan, tilting the pan to coat the entire surface.
Fry until the underside is golden brown and use a spatula to flip the crepe to cook the other side.
Re-oil the pan and repeat.
Stack the crepes on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Serve with desired filling.

Enjoying Great German Desserts

German people love to eat, and they certainly know how to cook. My grandfather was born and raised in the communal society of the Amana Colonies in Iowa, and I’ve attended many family reunions and dinners in the Colonies over the years. Food was designed to stick to the ribs and keep hard-working men healthy and strong. Although my grandfather passed away while my mother was still a little girl, some of the recipes for foods he loved have come down through the family. Special German dessert recipes for cookies and rich pastries, such as Peppernuts (sugar cookies) and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), were a beloved part of my childhood.

Peppernuts were among the German dessert recipes I remember. You start making Peppernuts with 1 cup of softened butter, one cup of lard, and 3 cups of sugar. Cream them together until fluffy. Add 4 eggs and beat until very creamy. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking ammonia, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 4 cups flour. Beat well. Form into small balls and bake at 350 degrees until the edges are brown, around 10-12 minutes.

All the cooking in the Amana Colonies was done in communal kitchens. After graduating from 8th grade, girls were put to work in the kitchens under the direction of a head cook. Their job was to turn out all the food, including preparing the German dessert recipes, which the colonies would eat each day. At mealtime children were sent to the kitchens with covered pails so that they could pick up the food allotted to their family and bring it home. Everyone worked hard, and no one worried about calories.

Apple strudel is another of the delightful German dessert recipes that smells heavenly while it’s baking. For this recipe you need to start with 10 1/2 oz. of flour, 1/6 oz. of salt, 1 1/2 oz. of melted lard, and 5 1/3 oz. of warm water. This will give you the basic dough for the dessert. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Divide into 3 loaves, brush each with melted butter, and allow to raise in a warm place for an hour.

While you’re waiting for the bread dough to rise, you can mix your filling. Start by peeling, coring, and slicing 5 1/2 lbs. of Golden Delicious apples. Mix 5 1/3 oz. of sugar with 1 1/2 oz. of dark rum, 5 1/3 oz. of raisins, the zest and juice from two lemons, and 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon. Toss this mixture with the apples. Mix 10 1/2 oz. of bread crumbs with 10 1/2 oz. of melted, unsalted butter. Take one loaf of dough and stretch it to fit a strudel sheet. Cover 2/3 of the sheet of dough with bread crumbs. Spread apple filling on the remaining third. Cut the edges even and roll the dough up. Place on a cookie sheet, brush the top with melted butter, and bake at 400 degrees for for 60-90 minutes.

My Yugoslav or Serbian Heritage Food Memories, KIFLI

I grew up with the knowledge that my Dad’s parents came to the U.S. from Yugoslavia in the very early 1900s. I understand now that Yugoslavia was a union of countries at the time, but the area where my grandparents came from was Kucur, Backa, in the province of Vojvodina, in what is Serbia, today. My Yugoslav, or Serbian, grandparents lived on a farm in rural Ohio. They had chickens, so eggs were plentiful. They grew crops. They lived far differently than my Mom’s town folk during the Depression and World Wars. My Mom recalled that early in her engagement with my Dad, she went over to his parents’ house after church one Sunday, for breakfast. She was appalled that Grandma had more than 13 eggs in a bowl, to make scrambled eggs. She felt it was nearly obscene to have that many eggs for a family of five. That brought home to me the huge differences between town and country in those times.

I really never knew my grandpa as he passed on before I was 2 years old, but I recall my Yugoslav Grandma most for her desserts. There was no one better. It was her one hobby, for lack of better word. She made strudel from fine flaky dough similar to phyllo and filled with poppy seed, nuts or cheese. She made Kifli, flaky little pastries that were rolled out into squares and filled with things like Prune Lekvar, ground poppy seed filling and apricot filling. Here is the Kifli recipe I use.


1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast, about half a packet

3 cups flour

1/4 pound lard

1/4 pound unsalted butter

1 egg, whisked

1/4 cup whipping cream, or heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup poppyseed filling, prune Lekvar or apricot filling

confectioner’s sugar, for rolling and sprinkling

Crumble cake yeast or instant dried yeast into flour. Work in the lard and butter as for pie dough. Add egg and cream and work with hands until the dough pulls from sides of the bowl. Do not over mix.

Sprinkle your work area with powdered sugar and roll out a portion of the dough. Using confectioners’ sugar to roll the dough is important as adding more flour would toughen the dough. Cut rolled dough into 3-inch squares.

Fill these small squares by placing a scant teaspoon of filling of your choice in the center. Bring up opposing corners, dampen the edges with milk or cream and pinch together, then fold the pinched piece over. Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets for 15 to 18 minutes at 375 degrees. Bottoms will be golden and tops will just start to become golden color. Remove from oven, place on a rack to cool and sprinkle with more confectioners’ sugar.

Makes about 100

Grandma made so many pastry varieties, and unfortunately the Kifli is one of the few to survive as a recipe in our family. I never learned to make the strudel dough, though I recall as a child, watching Grandma quickly manipulate a small ball of dough into a paper thin piece that covered the entire tablecloth covered kitchen table and hung down over the edges for at least another 8 – 10 inches. This was an amazing feat I can recall to this day. She would sprinkle on the poppy seed mixture or apple mixture and then coax the dough up and into a very long, loose roll. Placed on a cookie sheet in a large coil, she baked this confection, and sprinkled it with powdered sugar. Grandma cooked and baked back when cooking with lard was an everyday occurrence. And now, once again, lard has come into vogue.

Grandma also made many different foods for Easter or Christmas. Beets with Horseradish for Easter, and a cheese like ball made with eggs and milk, she called Siretz. She made Bobalky at Christmas, and thankfully that recipe was passed down to us. She made the most fantastically flavorful soup, sometimes with beef, sometimes chicken and sometimes with both together. She made her own noodles to use in the soup. She made a tomato sauce she called Machanka to eat over the meats from the soup. What made the soup so very memorable to me was the saffron. The smell, the color, the way the smell of the saffron in the soup permeated the house when we walked in. The love of saffron is a legacy from my Grandma, to this day. I am so grateful to her for the wonderful flavors and memories of foods passed down from her Yugoslav, Serbian heritage.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope it was informative and helped you along your own culinary journey. You will find many more recipes and helpful tips on my web site. I am on Facebook at A Harmony of Flavors and share a recipe or tip each day to the fans that have liked my site. I hope to see you there soon.