A multivitamin known for hundreds of years
Pickling of vegetables is a preservation process that can take place by fermentation or the addition of a vinegar solution. Consumption of vegetables preserved in this way made it possible to supplement vitamins even in winter. In Hungary, cabbage acidification has a long history, as cabbage was the most important vegetable until the naturalization of peppers and tomatoes from America. Our ancestors provided a supply of sauerkraut that lasted at least until spring in almost every household.
It was simple to prepare, the chopped or whole cabbage heads were left to ferment in a barrel or tub, in salt water, at warm room temperature. The cabbage chopped on the cabbage planer was squeezed in a pickling vessel between two salt sprinklings by barefoot trampling, later by using a stuffing rod. Black pepper, horseradish and dill were used for flavouring. Sauerkraut and its juice is one of the basic ingredients of Hungarian cuisine; it is used to make stuffed cabbage, Szekler cabbage, “toros” cabbage or “korhely” (drunkard) soup.
It is interesting that in the 18th -20th centuries, the cabbage planer also existed as an occupation. Those who practiced this occupation went from house to house, and they did both planing and pickling. The “cabbage-making women” made the pickles in their own households and sold them. In Vecsés or Hajdúhadház, many people made a living from this activity. The proximity and markets of the capital meant a lot to the former town, and in case of the latter, the raw material was grown nearby in the region of Hajdúság, Nyírség and Rétköz.
The first Hungarian-language horticultural book, the work of the Jesuit monk János Lippay ‘The Posoni Garden’ was published in 1664. In this, a separate chapter deals with the topic, with the title ‘Pickling, Salting and Making of Some Vegetables, Roots, and Fruits’. This is how he wrote about the process of preserving cabbage:
“Cabbage, that is Headed cabbage, is pickled or salted in many ways: as whole, in pieces or chopped. They pickle it whole by taking a small barrel, as many as they want: it is washed well and boiled (…). Then, at the bottom of the barrel, they put sourdough leaven, and put the hard heads of cabbages on it, and press them (…) After that at the mouth of the barrel, they fill it with salt water, close the mouth of the barrel strongly and put it in the cellar on barrel stands like wines. Every week, they turn it over a few times: and so, it will keep well for two years.”
The writing discusses the beneficial effects of cabbage juice at length: a medicine for the stomach, suitable for cough relief and other mouth, throat and ear diseases, and even for fungal poisoning. We already know that it is good for the liver, but it is not a panacea for poisoning. In any case, it was known in the 16th century, in the age of great geographical discoveries that by consuming sauerkraut, certain diseases, especially scurvy affecting sailors, could be prevented.
Cabbage pickling also appeared in gardener and seed trader Ödön Mauthner’s journal ‘A kert’ (The Garden). In Gyula Zádor’s article of 1899, he describes the process in detail, and even encourages home pickling with a slightly rebuking tone in an editorial supplement, which also shows that urban conditions did not motivate people to do so. The fact that canning production began at this time may have contributed to this.
"We would like our esteemed readers and readeresses of the capital to pay attention to this article as well, because it's true that it's more convenient to get the ready-made cabbage in barrel from the grocer by the bowl, but how great a difference there is in taste, and especially in purity, between the grocer's cabbage and our own, will be known to all who take the trouble to put away their own cabbage for the winter in the way described.”
Besides cabbage, the most common pickled vegetable is cucumber. This has been mainly fermented, which is a rapid acidification process in which lactic acid fermentation is most often induced by a piece of bread. The main cucumber-growing areas are the Nagykőrös and Kecskemét regions, from where the barrelled cucumbers were transported in carts to the markets of the area and the capital. By the time the consignment arrived, the pickles were ready. Later, in the second half of the 20th century, the booming canning industry was significant in the region.
In connection with the pickling of cucumbers, The Posoni Garden mainly mentions cucumber pickled in vinegar with dill, and its several variants. It also suggests cherry, peach or grape leaves for flavouring. Fermentation also appears as a method of preserving cucumbers: it is the “cucumber for the summer without vinegar”, the key to which is dill, salted, leavened water and constant heat. However, he does not have a good opinion on the health effects of raw cucumbers:
"This fruit is not considered very healthy by the doctors: because its moisture, especially if you eat a lot of it, damages the blood vessels of people, resulting in hard-to-heal inflammation and cold sores.”
Pickled carrots, plums and lemons
Peppers were also pickled in the region between the Danube and the Tisza; in the past with pomace, and then in the first half of the 20th century, pomace was slowly replaced by vinegar. The pickling with pomace took place as follows: in the pickling barrel, a row of pomace and a row of peppers were alternated on top of each other, and then salt water was poured on it. Usually, the end of the pepper crop was pickled, which would not have reached the ripe state, as was the case with green tomatoes and unripe watermelons.
Carrot pickling was widespread, especially in Transdanubia: with the above-mentioned pomace technique, whole carrots could be preserved, but occasionally they were chopped or planed, and the process was similar to that of small cabbages.
To us, pickled carrot may seem unusual, but the beetroot, which is closely related to the carrot, is still popular today. In connection with the latter, you can read the following advice in one of the recipes of the Posoni Garden: after a thorough washing, the beetroots are cooked in their peel together with their “middle leaf, stump” so that vegetables do not lose their beautiful colour while boiling. This can be followed by peeling, slicing and seasoning with horseradish, cumin, anise, black cumin, and coriander. At the end, fill the vessel with a mixture of wine and vinegar. In addition, the writing gives advice on the pickling of artichokes, asparagus, peas, carrots, mushrooms and unripe plums, and even: "Unripe lemons, oranges and their flowers are usually made in salty water."
From the pantry to the store shelves
We need to talk about the canning industry on this topic. The Weiss brothers established the first Hungarian canning factory in 1882; it was the Berthold and Manfréd Weiss First Hungarian Canning Factory. Meat products were originally produced for military purposes, but they also dealt with canned vegetables. With the subsequent expansion – they started to produce the cans themselves - the Manfréd Weiss First Hungarian Cannery and Ore Goods Factory was established. Since 1924, canned foods have been produced under the Globus brand.
Shortly afterwards, the canning industry also appeared in the Great Plain: the first Kecskemét Cannery of the Fruit and Vegetable Canning Factory started operating in the “hírös” (famous) fruit growing Kecskemét in 1901. The conditions were also present in the already mentioned Nagykőrös: the predecessor of the Nagykőrös Cannery started production in 1922. At the beginning of the 20th century, many companies produced canned goods on a cottage industry basis, without mechanisation, the main products of which, apart from jams and syrups, were pickled cabbage and cucumber preserves.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Lippay János: Posoni kert, kiben minden kerti Munkák, Rendelések, Virágokkal, Veteményekkel, Fákkal, Gyümölcsökkel...le-irattattanak... II. könyv. Nagy-Szombatba, Academiai bötükkel, 1664. Hungaricana Könyvtár