Drinks and Spices

The most important drink is water taken from the wells in the yards, and from good-tasting springs. There are many springs in the mountain regions, especially in Székelyland and Upper Hungary where the water is slightly tart in taste and more or less aerated (borvíz, csevice), which the population of the surrounding area became used to. They even shipped it to distant settlements in pitchers on carts fixed up for this purpose. In the Great Plain they pushed a pierced straw deep into the marshy soil and sucked up the fresh, clean water.

Among the alcoholic beverages, wine (bor) has had the greatest importance in all ages (cf p. 226). It was regularly consumed in winegrowing regions by both men and women. In other areas it was drunk only on festive occasions, at major work periods, and pig-killing feasts. Among hard spirits the various fruit pálinka (brandies), mostly plum and apricot proliferated from the 18th century and were distilled in most peasant houses, in spite of strong prohibition by the authorities.

156. Wine-flasks covered with leather

156. Wine-flasks covered with leather

Home-made beer was made in many places during the 19th century. In Székelyland it was made equally out of wheat, corn, and barley. They sprouted the washed cereal in the attic, then dried it on a gently fired hearth (szalad). It was crushed, maybe ground, in a hand mill, placed in {299.} a tub with a hole in the bottom, then hot water was poured on it. They put bread crust, onion peel and hops into it, partly for colour, partly for taste. It was stirred when the yeast caused the beer to ferment, and after it settled down, it was strained and drunk for the time that it kept (that is, for a few weeks).

Hydromel, widely known from the Middle Ages on, lost its significance only during the last century. It was made of honey and water mixed in a 1:2 proportion and then boiled. It was cooled and strained through a heavy cloth, then the thick liquid was stored in barrels. In many places its production was associated with honeycake makers. The fermented boza of the Great Plain, especially of the Kunság, also belongs among the various beers. Baked corn cakes were mashed, water was poured on the mash, and the whole was fermented. The boza became light in colour while it was fermenting. When it settled, they strained it.

Various vinegars, made in every house, were used as flavouring. Wine- and apple-vinegar are known over a large area. People chop up apples for the latter, grate them, pour on water, and when it is fermented, in a few weeks or perhaps a month, it is strained and used to provide the pleasant tart taste of many dishes.

Salt, indispensable for the preparation of dishes, was shipped to the Great Plain from the mines of the Eastern Carpathians in wheeled vehicles, or by boats on the Tisza. Salt wells were used in certain regions of Székelyland (Marosszék), and the women knew initially in what proportion they had to mix salt and sweet water for the preparation of certain dishes.

157. Salt-cellar

157. Salt-cellar
Balassagyarmat, Palóc Museum

{300.} Pepper used to be in most general use among the spices, but from the end of the 18th century this was completely pushed into the background everywhere except in Transylvania by the newcomer from the south, paprika. In Transylvania, they liked to use tarragon and flavoured both soup and meat with it. They put saffron into soups, which not only gave a pleasant taste but lent food a rich golden colour. Peasants also endeavoured to make their dishes tastier with onion, garlic, marjoram, dill, anis, horseradish, and other spices.