Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Winter Vegetables

Posted by Andy Hockley on 12 December, 2005

It is, as you may be aware, winter. This means the range of veg. on offer in the market is significantly reduced. This, indeed, is why we spent much of September pickling, jamming and zakuszkaing. But now, as the cold begins to bite, the market is more and more the preserve of potatoes (Harghita county’s biggest export, surpassing even Csiki Sör), parsnips, leeks, kohlrabi, and other roots and tubers (is there a difference between roots and tubers? I have no idea). I have been introducing the denizens of Csikszereda to the delights of roast parsnips, which no-one seems to have seen before. Parsnips, by the way, are called paszternak in Hungarian (or at least they are in Transylvanian Hungarian – Hungary appears to name all of its vegetables differently from us, so I have no idea if this crosses the entirety of “old Hungary”). Since paszternak looks to me like a word of Slavic origin, I wonder if Boris Pasternak actually means Boris Parsnip. There aren’t that many famous writers named after vegetables, really, are there? I’m struggling to think of any to be honest. Maybe it’s a Russian thing. Perhaps Dostoevsky means courgette, Tolstoy is daikon, and Chekhov is curly kale.

[Linguistic aside: Weirdest Hungarian vegetable word, by the way, is that for onion. Now here in Transylvania onion is hagyma, which, while nothing like onion, is not especially weird. But recently I was sitting in the living room minding my own business while Erika made onion soup in the kitchen, when suddenly a blood curdling scream rang through the apartment, followed by the cry “bloody Hungarians”. Other than Erika herself, and Bogi, there were actually no other Hungarians present in the flat at that time, so I was slightly baffled by this outburst. Rushing to the source of the problem I discovered that what the cry was referring to was the cookbook that she was using for the recipe. The dish called for “vöröshagyma”, which literally translated means “red onion”, so that is exactly what she had used. But, in Hungary, and the reason for the outburst, vöröshagyma means the kind of onions that are by no means red. What you or I would call yellow onions, or just plain onions. They (the bloody Hungarians) call red onions lilahagyma (lit: purple onions). At least I think, anyway. I could of course be way off here, and it wouldn’t be the first time]

Back to the topic at hand: I love parsnips, me. The other day I made potato and parsnip cakes. They were excellent. On another winter food related ramble, I also recently made vichyssoise. Now for those who don’t know, vichyssoise is the posh French word for leek and potato soup. In the cookbook which I consulted for the recipe it stated that I could serve it warmed through or chilled as that is how it is eaten in France.

Now, I’ve nothing against cold soup, per se – I enjoy a good gazpacho, and I’m even prepared to believe that cold leek and potato soup would taste pretty good. But there is one glaring problem with this idea. That is that leeks and potatoes are winter vegetables. Who, in their right mind, wants to eat cold soup in the middle of winter? Gazpacho is basically salad in a blender, so that one I fully understand and go along with, but vichyssoise? It’s madness I tell you.

We ate it hot, as nature intended.

In other soup related cultural insanity news, Hungarians eat fruit soups. Apple and sour cherry are the two I’ve seen. There comes a point where you have to bite the bullet and admit that your soup is in fact a cleverly concealed dessert, and I think Hungarians need to come clean on this one.

(By the way, Microsoft Word’s spellcheck function recognises vichyssoise but not gazpacho. I wonder what it makes of mulligatawny? Oooh – it’s recognized. Why is gazpacho given the cold shoulder I wonder? Maybe the dictionary compilers refused to recognise cold soups. I may have to do some more soup/word crosschecking research)

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9 Responses to “Winter Vegetables”

  1. Anonymous said

    The German word is “Pasternaken” as well. I love this stuff (both the food and the language stuff).

  2. MS said

    And the Romanian word is “postîrnac”.

  3. Anonymous said

    OpenOffice.org version 2.0 likes “gazpacho” just fine. Time to upgrade! 😉

  4. Anonymous said

    Romanian language has “pãstârnac”. Other than the special symbols, very similar.

  5. Anonymous said

    If you want to blow their Transylvanian minds get hold of some rhubarb and make them a crumble. It appears to be completely unknown in Romania (took me several dictionaries before I could find one that gave a translation – revent was the word, I think).

    Oh, and few things are more useless than Romanian cookery books. A typical recipe will go something like:

    meat & vegetable stew.

    chop up the meat and vegetables and add them to the sauce. put it in the oven for a while.

    By the way, what’s Hungarian for ‘potato’? Romanian is ‘cartof’, like the German word, but despite being a (relative) neologism I imagine that the magyars will have devised their own completely unique word for them. Whose job was that, I wonder.

    Richard.

  6. Andy H said

    There are three Hungarian words for potato (that I am aware of)

    1. Burgonya, which appears to be the “formal” one that you get on menus in posh restaurants
    2. Krumpli, which is the word used by normal people. I thought for a while that this was a Transylvanian word until I saw it in Budapest too.
    3. Pityoka, which is definitely a local thing. In fact I think it’s so local that it’s not common in Transylvanian as a whole, but merely in Szekelyföld.

    I have no idea where these words come from. Many Hungarian vegetable words appear to come from Turkish, while ones in Transylvania often come from Romanian or Slavic languages.

  7. ovidiu said

    I once tried to make cevice in Bucharest. Although I was able to find limes (nobody in the supermarked knew what they were, calling them green/unripe lemons) I had no luck finding cilantro.

  8. Sorin Adam Matei said

    This thing about not finding veggies in the winter in Romania is a mental thing, too. My mom, who is spending the winter with us, stateside, would just not abandon her weekly potato stew habit…

  9. Sorin Adam Matei said

    This thing about not finding veggies in the winter in Romania is a mental thing, too. My mom, who is spending the winter with us, stateside, would just not abandon her weekly potato stew habit…

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