“Old Country” Hungarian for Christmas

My Hungarian grandma came to the United States when she was just a teenager. Her husband came before her to find a place for them to settle. She left her family behind to travel to a land of opportunity where she and her young husband believed they could create a better life for their family. Young Rose arrived with their first-born, a son, who was still a baby.

I’ve often wondered what it was like for my grandma to be in a strange country, a place where she could barely communicate with the people around her and where she had no family or friends, just her Hungarian husband.

Over the years, Rose’s family grew as she and her husband ran their own boarding house and restaurant in Chicago. One day, when their four sons and one daughter were still very young, Rose’s husband decided to leave. He wanted to go back to “the old country.” Eventually, the strong and very hard-working single mother married again. She and her second husband, Paul, had one more son and one more daughter. They moved to a farm in Indiana to raise their seven children. Their daughter, Rosemary, the baby of the family, became my mom.

The five sons and two daughters grew into adults and moved away from their Indiana home, but I do not remember even one Christmas when they were not all together at the farm to celebrate together, coming back each year with spouses and children of their own.

When I was growing up, our Christmas tradition began with a long ride in the car from our home in a northern suburb of St. Paul to the farm in San Pierre, Indiana. Our car would be packed with presents my mom had beautifully wrapped. (Her secret desire was to work as a gift-wrapper at Dayton’s during the holiday season.) My dad became an expert at packing up the trunk of a car. Every year he intricately pieced every package, each suitcase and all the tins filled with my mom’s homemade Christmas cookies into the large trunk of the car, as if putting a puzzle together.

Christmases celebrated at my grandparent’s Indiana farm were full of laughter, my aunts and uncles speaking to each other in Hungarian (their poor spouses had no idea what they were talking about and the children didn’t really care), and lots of Hungarian food prepared just as my grandma had learned in “the old country,” the land of her birth and the place where her birth family had stayed.

We would wake up in the mornings to the sound of my grandpa putting logs in the stove in the kitchen. And before long, from my cozy cocoon under the down quilt my grandma had made, I would begin to smell the sweet and thin Hungarian pancakes that she was lovingly preparing on that old wood-burning stove.

A large holiday meal was not complete without a huge pan of my grandma’s Hungarian noodles, turos teszta. Homemade egg noodles tossed with creamy cottage cheese and a generous amount of crunchy bits of bacon were prepared in the largest cast iron skillet she owned. This dish wasn’t reserved for holidays, though. We enjoyed this easy-to-make meal all year long. When I was growing up, while my friends would be eating weeknight meals of macaroni and cheese, at my house we would be eating turos teszta. I have a feeling my grandma and grandpa often ate turos teszta when they were growing up in their “old country.”

Today, feeling a bit melancholy as I thought about Christmases of the past and missing all those people I loved so much who are no longer with me, I made a big pan of turos tezsta for lunch. With each bite, I could almost hear my grandparents and my mom and her siblings visiting with one another in Hungarian. I could almost see my uncles fighting over the last bits of crunchy bacon in the large cast iron pan. And, when I realized the extra saltiness I was tasting was coming from a couple of tears that had landed on my lip, I smiled.

Merry Christmas to you. May the season be filled with happy memories of traditions from Christmases remembered and the fun of making new ones.

My Grandma’s “Old Country” Turos Teszta

  • 2 pounds sliced bacon
  • 1 (16-ounce) bag medium egg noodles
  • 1 (22-ounce) container small curd cottage cheese, room temperature (maybe a little bit more, if you like)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sour cream, room temperature, for serving

Slice bacon crosswise into about 1/2-inch wide strips. Fry the sliced bacon pieces in a large skillet over medium heat. When the bacon is very crisp, use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon from the pan to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour all but 1 or 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan.

Boil egg noodles until done, following directions on package.

Drain noodles and put into the skillet with bacon fat. Stir to coat noodles. Add bacon pieces and cottage cheese. Stir to mix. Turn heat to medium and stir just until heated through. Sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately. Have sour cream on the table. Each person can put a dollop of sour cream on their serving of turos teszta. Serves 6 as a main dish, more if served as a side dish.

Tips from the cook

  • Be sure to use full-fat cottage cheese. Reduced-fat and no-fat cottage cheese will make the dish a watery mess. Use full-fat sour cream, too. It’s the only way I will guarantee the success of this dish:)

14 thoughts on ““Old Country” Hungarian for Christmas

  1. OK, now you officially have tears in my eyes with this Christmas memory so vivid to see.
    I have a similar memory of my grandparents farm in SD and a long road trip on Christmas eve with our car packed full of our family of five.
    Danish Santa Claus dessert that only the adults appreciated, Alvin and the Chipmunks playing on my grandpas big victrola phonograph. etc
    God bless.

  2. What a well written piece! I enjoyed reading about your family and your memories. Sounds like a book in the making… The photo of your pasta dish looks delicious. I may have to give it a try. Merry Christmas!

  3. Ahh, the beautiful memories evoked by your wonderfully written and photographed piece. Thank you Sue! (The dish sounds delicious too:-)

  4. Sue, What wonderful memories you have, and great stories! We make turos csusza at our house on a regular basis (do you also add a grind of nutmeg on top? If not, try it). I hope you and your family had a boldog karacsony!

    Carolyn

    • Hi Carolyn. I’ve never tried nutmeg on turos teszta. I’ll let you make your turos csusza for me next time I am in Budapest! Happy New Year to you and Gabor and your sweet little girls.

  5. I enjoy reading your stories along with each recipe! I love to make my grandmothers cut out cookies, a recipe that has been passed down for years. She has been gone 28 years, but we still enjoy the memories of being at grandma’s house at Christmas and all her wonderful recipes. Old recipes are great, but the memories are better! I am looking forward to your next “storipe”, a combo of story and recipe!

    • I agree, Jodi. My recipe box is full of memories of times with family and friends. I hope I am making memories in the kitchen with my own grandchildren. May your new year be filled with good times in the kitchen. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  6. I have a robe….old style COTTON chenille (not Polyester) that makes me visualize Grandma in the kitchen frying last nights leftover potatoes for breakfast……so I make sure I Have leftover potatoes! (with crispy cut up bacon and browned onions in the bacon fat with the potatoes) LOL
    I also LOVE your ‘Storipes’ (someone’s been watching Rachel Ray ;)
    Buttered egg noodles have always been one of my Faves…..how did I Not Imagine them tossed in bacon fat???? Pork fat rules! Could this dish be any simpler? Going to the store this evening for More Cottage Cheese (another staple in this house). Topping this dish with a dollop of sour cream (and maybe a sprinkle of chives) will just make it ROCK all the more! This is a Another dish I will make wearing my cotton chenille robe and it will most likely be Brunch tomorrow. (I can Definitely see a Virgin Mary next to this plate)Thank you!

    • What a great story, Misty. I love the idea of your fried potatoes with bacon and onions. Oh, my! I’m off to take the ribs out of the oven. Must have pork on New Year’s Day. It’s an old Hungarian superstition. Eat pork, not chicken, on New Year’s Day. Pigs root forward, chickens scratch backwards.

      • Oh yeah…..Grandma had a thousand ways to streeeeetch 2 pieces of bacon to feed 6……and the ham cut up in the scrambled eggs and the scrambled eggs made in the pan the ham was browned in….flavor stretcher….hahahaha. Those days of stretching have never left some households if they have memories like we have!

  7. Oh my……it was FABulous….the bacon…bacon…bacon!!! Served it for Brunch on Sunday and had sides of canned Pears….Peaches….and some Fresh Pineapple. And of course the Virgin Marys and/or coffee/tea choice. That Dollop of Sour Cream you stated is a real must have for the bit of tart with the salty bacon and the sweetness of the fruit sides really rounds it all out! This is my NEW Go To Brunch……if not Dinner menu…..

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