Down to Earth: Hungarian Paprika

Foreign exchange students expose Hungarian Paprika

| April/May 1999

  • illustration by michael eagleton

The surprising taste of real Hungarian paprika is not at all like the tasteless red powder found in American ­supermarkets.

For several years, we have hosted exchange students at our farm. For the past two years, our students have been Hungarians. As Eastern Europe struggles to adjust to freedom and a free-market economy, its students are eager to gain hands-on experience in America.

Each of our Hungarian students holds degrees in agriculture and came to the United States specifically to study herb growing and marketing with me. Both came with good book knowledge but virtually no experience with the plants.

Akos, our first student, was thirty years old and well traveled. His family has lived in Hungary for at least 873 years. Akos was full of questions and curiosity about every plant, bird, lizard, crawfish, or turtle he encountered. He became lord of the garden, allowing no weed to grow, no herb to go unharvested, and no flower to bloom without admiration. During his nine months here, he learned about several herbs that we import from his country, including shavegrass (Equisetum arvense), blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), and others.

Peter, our second Hungarian student, arrived last year, fresh from ­studying vegetable production and ­determined to expand his working knowledge of the seasoning and medicinal herbs. His family are newcomers to Hungary, having resided there only 400 years or so. Like Akos, Peter also kept the gardens neat and orderly. He was so astute about which plants needed attention that he spoiled me; I relied a good deal on his observations.

Before we began hosting students, I knew nearly nothing about Hungary. I did know that paprika was a popular seasoning and that genuine Hungarian paprika, given to me from time to time by friends, has quite a surprising taste. I guard my little packets of the real thing so well that sometimes I can’t find them at all.

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