Monday, September 6, 2010

Pogácsa - You’ve Come a Long Ways

In virtually every Hungarian fairy tale, when the young protagonist sets out on the great adventure, he or she (always very poor, of course) carries a supply of ash-baked pogácsa as the way-bread that will sustain. Pogácsa is most closely related to the scone of the Anglo-Saxon world. It is short-bread, quite crumbly, and the shortening used, at least in the fairy tales, is bacon fat. The old-fashioned, the real thing, was quite grey in color and looked like the inserted picture (courtesy of a Hungarian blog here). Pogácsas just like that were baked in our house—in an oven, to be sure, rather than in hot ashes as in the tales. We actually loved to eat them. They had a layered feel and crumbled in the mouth, and carried memories of bacon.

I was trying to remember the name and expected it to be hidden away forever, but suddenly it was there, about a minute after the effort of remembering. Ashbaked pogácsa—hamubasült pogácsa. Today I discovered that the romantic associations I’ve always had with this scone or bisquit have remained alive and well in Hungary. Indeed it is a very popular food product. It recently even hosted a national festival. And humble ash-pogácsa has come a long, long ways.

Wikipedia even has an article on the subject and shows a nice picture of the modern style of this product, shown here above another picture equally glorious. The sources in turn are here and here. Pogácsa may be also be made with yeast dough and combined with all kinds of fillings—cheese, pork, cabbage—and seasoned in all sorts of ways. What surprised me most, however, is that the Hungarian pogácsa and the Italian foccacio are close relatives, at least in name. Wikipedia tells me that the Hungarian name came from the Latin panis focacius (bread baked on the hearth).

Wow! That goes back a long ways. But then, come to think of it, Hungary was once Pannonia, a Roman possession, and St. Martin of Tours, the family patron, as it were, was once a Roman soldier who went west from Pannonia when a higher calling came. I bet that he carried a cloth full of pogácsa as he set off more or less bound for very distant Gallia.

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