It is Friday today and the weather is still warm so a girlfriend and I went up to Normafa. One reason was that as it is on a very high point in Budapest it should be cooler, the other just to get out into the fresh air and just clear our minds. Standing here at the edge of the hill and looking down and across you can fill your lungs with the amazing fresh air and your mind is just in awe at the beauty of the far off hills.
Normafa is about 15 minutes by bus from the center of Buda, it is a wonderful nature reserve forest/park that feels so far from the noise and constant movement of the city that sometimes it is impossible to believe how close you really are. . The slope is straight down but in the summer the trees all have their leaves and so you can not get the feel of the steepness. It is used in the winter for skiing! Not ' modern' skiing but skiing the old fashion way ....no chair lifts.
There is a retes( strudel) shack up here at the edge and in the winter you can get hot wine, hot chocolate and the best retes. There is also the Normafa grill which has a wonderful menu that apart from the great food shows the pictures of how Normafa was in the 30''s . Wonderful sepia toned photographs of a very different world . They even had car races up here and golfing! As we were looking at the photos you realize that Normafa today is not so very different from then . Families still come up here and picnic, hike, ski , just enjoy being together and doing something outside. I love coming up here it, stress just rolls away from you and you can breath.
Normafa actually has an interesting history.
Apparently on the top here was a beech tree that was planted at the birth of the King Mattias. It was struck many times by lightening and so was called the storm-beech tree. The area ,because the King enjoyed being up here ,was always very popular as a picnic place by the nobility , writers, poets and artists. In 1840 the famous opera Norma by composer Vincenzo Bellini ( 1801-1835) was preformed up here in the open by the Kings beech tree. And from this time on the tree was called Normafa ( fa meaning tree in Hungarian) and so was the area.
The original tree was struck by lightening many times and it died and in its place a plaque was erected .
Another tree was also planted in it's place.
Sitting in the Normafa grill looking at the drink menu ( of course , fresh air makes you thirsty!) we wondered if the Bellini cocktail was made after the famous composer. We found out it originated in Harry's Bar in Venice in the 1930's and was named the Bellini after the famous Italian Renaissance artist Giovanni Bellini who the bar owner much admired. We are both Docents of the Fine Art Museum of Budapest so we should have figured out that there was more than one famous Bellini from Italy!
Coming home after all that wonderful fresh air and total rejuvenation I decided as this was plum season I would make "szilvas gomboc' Plum dumplings tomorrow . This is a treat that can be a main meal or a dessert or a snack . It is strange to me but many people have never heard of it. When they try it they love it . I have NEVER met a person who does not like plum dumplings and you can not just eat one.
It is Saturday morning and the most perfect time to make Szilvas Gomboc. You need to put aside a few hours but in the end it is so worth it .
As I am getting ready with the ingredients my husband is mentioning that he is very hungry and to please make a large batch. He again gives me the story ( as if I forgot, this is a story that comes out every time I start to make the gomboc) that when he was young and a swimmer for the Hungarian National Team he ate 30 of these at one sitting. They had contests to see who could eat the most. His story was a not so subtle reminder to me that he can eat a lot and not to make just 8 pieces.
He loves Plum dumplings and I know he will be hanging around the kitchen until they are done and I can fill a plate for him . My daughter also loves PLum dumplings and I know when she reads this she will wish she was here. This was one of the dishes that I was begged to make as soon as the first plum was ripe . There is something about a Plum dumpling that is so good and comforting . You can not just eat one , some people have been known to eat 30 at a sitting and not just my husband. The usual is 4 so do not think you have to go crazy making this with pounds of plums . But I would definitely make at least one dozen.
In Budapest it is hard to find this in a restaurant anymore due to the fact that it is a bit messy and it has more than 2 steps.
So what country started the dumpling? Dumplings of various types are found all over Europe. There is even mention that ancient Rome used dumplings in their soup.
"You could say a dumpling refers to a portion of dough or batter that is usually steamed or boiled.However it can also be fried or baked. It can be a batter or dough rolled out that is cooked by itself or filled with anything from meat to fruit. It can be a main dish, side dish or dessert. A dumpling can be steam, fried, baked and cooked".
This is from the History of Dumplings. Most countries have their favorite dumplings, Hungarians love their Szilvas gomboc.
But anyway here is my recipe , the original that I learned from my grandmother . I will give you 2 easier ,faster version at the end but believe me there is a huge difference in taste.
3-4 potatoes( starchy NOT new)
2. cups flour sifted
1 egg beaten
.7 ounce ( this is a bit more than 1/2 ounce) lard or butter
12-13 plums( approx) , pit removed
1 ounce cinnamon and white sugar mixed half and half approx.
salt ( a pinch )
1 cup breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 3 tbs cinnamon toasted
powdered sugar for sprinkling
The first step is to boil the potatoes with the skin on . Once boiled and while still hot remove the skin and mash completely, do not let them cool out.
Mix the potato mash together with the flour then add the beaten egg , the lard/butter and a pinch of salt . If the mixture is still a bit wet add a bit more flour and knead until smooth about 10 minutes. This should become a really smooth dough.
At this point we have 2 ways of adding the pitted plums.........frist you have to pit the plums and add the sugar mixture, this is replacing the pit with cinnamon and sugar . I prefer to use brown/golden sugar, some people like placing a sugar in the center.
You can roll this dough out to 1/4 inch and cut squares , place a plum together with 1 teaspoon cinnamon sugar mixture and close this tight by joining all the sides you make a little bundle.If the edges are not sealed then add a bit of water to "glue' them together.
You cut off the extra pieces so that you can form a ball in the end.
You should now have bundles of plum filled dough that you have placed on a floured surface so that it does not stick.
Place a large pot of water on the stove and when the water has boiled you carefully add the dumplings around 4 at a time, the water should stay at a slow boil.
You will boil this for about 15 minutes. The dumplings should rise to the surface and you continue to cook for another 15 minutes . Keeping the water at a slow boil will protect the dumplings from bursting out.
The dumplings will initially fall to the bottom and then will rise to the top at about 10-15 minutes. Boil them for another 15 minutes . The total boiling time will be 30 minutes. You can not boil these for 10 minutes and then take them out . You need to make sure the plums are soft and done and the sugar has melted.
When the dumplings are done place them into the frying pan in which the breadcrumbs, sugar, cinnamon mixture and butter have been toasted. You can toast this mixture while waiting for the water to boil and then remove from the heat.
Roll the bundles in this mixture until they are all covered. Sprinkle on some powdered sugar and serve.
Be careful when you roll the dumplings as they will be soft , it is better just to spoon on the mixture.
As we are talking about this being a Hungarian favorite food remember to place a small dish of sour cream near by , some Hungarians even put sour cream on this .
Now for the 2 easier methods.
1.You can buy the frozen plum dumplings, called Chinese frozen dumplings. You still have to boil them and coat them with bread crumbs and cinnamon. The inside of these frozen dumplings do not have the sugar or cinnamon and so you have to add more in your breadcrumb mixture. Continue with the same recipe .It is a fast solution but not the same.
2. You can also buy mash potato flakes , add a bit of hot water to that until it is a thick mashed potato, similar to if you boiled and mashed real potatoes and add this mixture to the flour etc. and continue on the recipe.
The Plum dumplings you make do not have to have plums in them , you can use peaches , apricots or cherries , fresh or canned. This 'treat ' can be made anytime but the best time is when the plums are fresh and autumn is in the air. What ever is left can be refrigerated for midnight snacking or a great breakfast. You will never have to throw out a szilvas gomboc. The gomboc can be frozen but I would recommend freezing without the breadcrumbs . If you freeze with the breadcrumbs use within 1-2 weeks as somehow the breadcrumbs do not last well after that period. You can freeze easily when they have been boiled and are 'naked'.
You can see why very few places serve this , many steps and a bit messy . But you will have grateful family or guests when this is appears on the table.
While we sit outside on the terrace enjoying this, pitzi our cat with the sweet tooth, is roaming around looking for crumbs under the table and rubbing our ankles for pieces.
What better way to end a perfect day then by having Szilvas gomboc and a rum spritzer !