Kiskassa Harvest Festival – In Pictures
I may have been in Singapore for the set up of Moon Festival but I find myself in a tiny village in southern Hungary instead for a harvest festival. Perhaps more confusingly, it is a German minority festival with a gypsy theme. What I was excited about though is that the community gets together to make puppets, parade down the streets eating and drinking, and make Hungarian desserts.
We arrived the day before the festival to help with the retes (strudel) making. One of the grandmas told me villages used to get together and do this during weddings. Then she told me I should marry a nice Hungarian lad so they could hold a retes making party for me. Well, hot damn, that’s the first time all year anyone’s had a benefit for me with their proposed weddings. It was even more endearing when she brought homemade langos for everyone as a snack. I ran back and forward between the retes making and decking the culture hall dance room out with crepe paper streamers and grapevines. And here I thought I’d never use my middle school dance decorating skills again.
All good festivals start with grandmas around a giant pot on the stove.
And what’s the only thing better than one grandma cooking? A whole village’s worth!
Kneading at the speed of light. I seriously don’t get how they pull knead like that.
The dough rests before being pulled to stretch over the entire table. They then pull off the extra bits off the edges and fold up the edges using the tablecloth.
The dough is brushed with butter (or margarine) and sour cream. See the tablecloth through the paper thin dough?
Next you fill the dough with tasty things like cheese, apples, or in this case cherries.
This one is being filled with marrow (squash) and poppy seeds. That grandma chuckled that you aren’t passing a drug test anytime soon.
Using the tablecloth to roll up the retes.
Then you cut and put the segments on a tray.
Last is the most important step, you pause, to sing dirty songs in Hungarian and have a few shots of palinka. See the mischievous looks on their faces?
Then you repeat the process until you’ve filled an entire room full of trays of retes.
That you throw into the wood fired outdoor oven to bake.
Then when they come out burnt, all the grandmas fight a good bit about who did what wrong.
The next day we showed up early to help with the kurtoskalacs, a chimney shaped cake cooked over an open fire. The bread is doused in sugar and caramelizes into a crispy exterior and soft interior. I personally needed a little coffee to get going this early in the morning.
Kneading large amounts of dough by hand, the hard work intensive Hungarian way of doing things.
I had quite a bit of help to get from wet, shaggy dough to this lovely ball. My forearms hurt after a while. I’m not cut out to be a Hungarian grandmother. I can’t knead and I don’t smoke or drink nearly enough.
After letting the yeasty dough rise you roll it out.
Then you cut it into strips and wrap it around a bunch of buttered tubes.
If you can roll a bacon wrapped hot dog, you can roll a kurtoskalacs. I realize that may not be a common skill, but that’s how I roll.
Then in typical healthy Hungarian fashion, you brush yet more butter on it before rolling the whole thing in sweet powder.
Finished kurtoskalacs with poppy seed, chocolate, nut and vanilla sugar coatings ready for some wood fire.
Then we retired back to the farm to rest before the afternoon’s parade and activities.
The town and culture hall were decked out in grapes, grapevines, paper streamers, and slightly terrifying scarecrow-like puppets. This one in particular seems to have a soft spot for box wine and mini-Heineken kegs.
First order of business? Put on a traditional Hungarian skirt over my jeans. The two cups of wine help.
The townsfolk dressed in not particularly politically correct dark face to be gypsies. I’m not sure why cross dressing was necessary.
The other normally dressed townsfolk came on carts pulled by not always willing horses and donkeys.
The harvest festival is to celebrate the year’s goods. This is a wine press making must (grape juice).
Each house hands out things made from harvested goods. This is zsiroskenyer, fresh bread covered in goose or duck fat, paprika and some red onions. The Hungarian trinity is fat, paprika and meat. Other houses handed out various baked goods.
Some houses had wine or palinka, a strong fermented fruit liquor. This house had both maize palinka and red/white wines.
I took a more careful look at the decoration on the table. Well, these Hungarian grandmas are saucier than I thought!
Then everyone retired to the culture house to watch some music and dancing. I appreciate that dressing like a gypsy means putting on face paint and leather pants.
This time I passed on doing folk dancing in a circle and I unfortunately did partake in the local liquor again. Perhaps the high amount of Hungarian techno both days and fanny packs just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t plan for this festival but it has turned out pretty darned well. Whenever I’ve had a little too much energy now I can try making traditional Hungarian pastries. Until then, I’m going to eat my heart out here.