December 13, 2006

From Hungary, for Hanukkah, From Long Ago

AS Mindel Appel showed me the contents of her freezer, my pulse began to race.

Out came her homemade kokosh cake, similar to babka. Next were shlishkes, little potato dumplings that can be tossed in sugar, breadcrumbs and butter, or stuffed with lekvar, a kind of prune preserve. Finally, she brought out a Hanukkah delicacy, the cheese Danish called delkelekh.

As a writer concentrating on Jewish food, I always get letters and e-mail asking for old recipes from Hungary. Most of what I know about these foods I have read in books. Some are still made in Hungary, and I've come across Americans who make noodles and cabbage with poppy seeds or who remember shlishkes. But with assimilation, shortcuts, the passage of time and the passing of old cooks, many of these recipes may soon be lost.

So I was thrilled to find these famous dishes in this village about 45 miles north of the George Washington Bridge. The women of the Satmar Hasidic community here have preserved delkelekh and shlishkes, and many other staples of the Hungarian Jewish kitchen.

One of the world's largest groups of Hasidic Jews, the Satmar originated in Szatmarnemeti, Hungary (now Satu Mare, Romania). There are communities in Williamsburg and Borough Park, Brooklyn; Monsey in Rockland County; and here in Orange County.


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