Gardening á la Hungarian Style


Gardening is a big thing in Hungary, and yes, even in the metropolis of Budapest. The yards, courtyards and gardens of Hungary serve a most specific and important function. We’ll get to that in a moment, but first off, I’d like to mention that as far as the blog post and our lives in Hungary go, we will refer to backyards as back gardens. This is how the British refer to their yards (although they are quite a different thing from what most of us have in the U.S.), and it is the common usage here and the literal translation from Hungarian. Okay, now that’s out of the way, onward and upward we go.

Gardens here serve the purpose of producing food. Yes, there are absolutely beautiful flowers and the like, but gardens for the most part bear fruit. In our garden alone, we have a cherry tree, a fig tree, a peach tree and an apricot tree. As my wife tells it, it used to be even more full of edible treats. For one, there were raspberries. Here in Hungary, like the UK, they drink cordial or squash, known here as szörp (syrup). For the most part these days, you buy szörp in the store, but when my wife was little, a lot of people still made it at home, and one of these people was her grandmother. She just went out to the garden, picked some raspberries and then cooked up some szörp. Presently, we don’t have any raspberries, but we do have our fair share of fruit trees and delightful flowers that are largely in full bloom as I write this.

 

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These are just a few samples from our garden of earthly delights, but one must always remember that the better pickings come from fruit producers. We certainly enjoy the cherries, grapes, peaches and apricots, but there is one point of uninterest: figs! Yes, we have figs, but no one here likes to eat them, not even my son who will eat nearly anything. Last year, my wife had co-workers ask that we pick them and bring them to her. My wife let them know that not only do we not eat them, but that we wouldn’t be picking them either. Just the other week though, when some friends were over for dinner, said friend asked if she could come over and pick them as she just couldn’t imagine letting all those yummy (some people) figs go to waste. You see, some people are just more realistic than others. You want our figs, you’ve got to do your own picking.

When it comes to gardening in Hungary, Bálint Gazda is king. This master of the Hungarian garden is 96 years old, and even has his own YouTube channel. He is both well respected and well known. He has seen a lot in his lifetime, including losing all his family except for one brother to the Holocaust. He also had the Communist regime take away his family’s land after WWII. It appears that what has gotten him through is his love of agriculture and gardening. In 1995, he even received a doctorate in agriculture. I always admire and respect someone who sticks to one love and somehow persevers with it over the course of their entire life. Here he is in a video from about 6 years ago. Play along and test your Hungarian language skills.

 

 

How did you score? I’m keeping my results a secret. No fair peeking. Just trust that after two associate degrees in the language, marrying a Hungarian woman and living in the country for 3 years, I did just fine (wink-wink).

It should also be said that Hungarian fruit is really something wonderful. I’m not a big fruit eater myself, but the juicy, fresh fruit that comes out of the gardens of Budapest and beyond really is something to try and then sample over and over again. One story that sticks out to me about this came from a German friend of mine, who backpacked through Hungary after graduating from school. One of her fondest memories from this trip was gorging on all the ripe fruit they found during their travels across the country. Her eyes would sparkle when she talked about not being able to stop eating the cherries, peaches and apricots. They really are something, and if you are here sampling the goods during summer and find yourself a bit overheated in a country without excessive air conditioning, then do what the Huns do. Get yourself a net bag, dawn a pair of skimpy swim trunks and go buy some beer and watermelon. Once you’ve mastered that, then we can move onto roasting bacon in the back garden, but that’s for another blog and requires a bit more experience.

One last thing to note about Hungarian gardens has to do with Hungarian grandmothers, and this is preserving all that fruit that your garden hopefully produces. Being that my mother-in-law has both our home garden and a lakehouse garden to choose from, she’s got lots of preserving to do. First comes the mad search for all the available jars in the house. Then comes hauling all the fruit in from the garden, and in our case, the lakehouse as well. Sadly, just like figs, my wife & I don’t really like canned fruit. Therefore, even though my son’s grandmother, know here as Nagymama, does her best, we are just ungrateful beasts that never show the proper amount of respect to the holiest of holies. Behold (both the sacred workspace and the sacred temple)!

 

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Starting in the kitchen, these jars eventually wind up in the basement, to hopefully be consumed at some later date.

 

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In the first photo, you can see apricot pits, which when broken, contain what my son calls an almond. These insides are slightly bitter and edible, and my son seems to love this most of all when it comes to apricots.

We are very lucky to live where we live in Budapest. We are close to the city but have a lush, fruit producing garden that is safe for my son to play in and would hopefully make Bálint György proud (probably not, but one can hope).

Come on over already and get to trying some of this amazing fruit!

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