The annual Chandos Road Festival will be this Sunday afternoon the 27th September. Fortuitously, the Jewish festival of Sukkot begins at midnight on Sunday, which gives us an opportunity to produce some appropriate festival food alongside the salt beef beigels with which we hope to feed the masses!
Sukkot is in part a harvest festival and it is traditional to serve food at Sukkot that represents the bountifulness of harvest time. Vegetables and fruit dishes garnished with pomegranate are served and in Ashkenazi culture stuffed cabbage and chicken soup with kreplach (triangular ravioli stuffed with meat) are popular.
Our Sukkot menu includes Spinach salad with walnuts and pomegranate, Chicken soup with kreplach and Hungarian stuffed cabbage.
Of all the unskilled work that I’ve found myself doing since we opened Aron’s, there are two jobs that have transported me back to another place and time. The first is filleting salt herring and the second is shredding cabbage to make sauerkraut.
It used to be common place in the Hungarian countryside for families to be semi self-sufficient. I was fortunate enough to know one such family very well and it was always a pleasure to visit them and help with seasonal work in their small holding. Maize was grown to feed their two pigs. They had a huge walnut tree, lots of apples, peaches, apricots, quince, strawberries and vegetables galore. Vegetables would be pickled or more accurately fermented in brine which would then keep for months through the winter. Baby melons, green tomatoes, peppers, tiny “pearl” onions, carrots, cucumbers and of course cabbage.
The outer leaves of the cabbage were first removed whole and retained as “wrappers”. The remaining leaves were then finely shredded with a huge long bladed knife and submerged, along with the whole leaves, in a brine flavoured with caraway seeds and juniper berries.
Stuffed cabbage was one of the dishes that would be made when the whole family gathered to help with the bi-annual pig killing. Everyone had individual responsibility for one or more parts of the piggy process and I was left alternatively begging for work or consuming countless plum palinkas and proffered tidbits until I was incapable of doing anything except watching.
Our recipe uses minced beef rather than pork and instead of smoked pork bacon we will use our own smoked lamb bacon. But otherwise the stuffed cabbage we will serve on Sunday will be essentially the same.
The meat is mixed with rice, paprika, onions, garlic, herbs and eggs to bind it and it’s then formed into patties and wrapped in individual cabbage leaves. The cabbage bundles are placed in layers in a large pot and covered with more onions, the diced smoked bacon and plenty of shredded sauerkraut from which the excess salt has first been rinsed. Water to cover and simmered gently for about 3 hours.
We’ll serve it with a slice of fresh bread and a generous dollop of sour cream.
When I shred cabbage it takes me back to autumnal days spent on the Great Hungarian Plain enjoying the hospitality of Sanyi and Margitka and their extended family.