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Hungary

It’s all about food

This is not a guide how to grow veggies, there are enough of those. This is about failures, realizations and the learned when starting something new: the self-sustainable way of living in the countryside of Hungary.

I’d like to say I live a slow life. A slow life in the sleepy countryside. We are relatively detached from negative influences and time does not have a play in our lives. A slow life.

Preparing sourdough bread is a slow going and takes logistic insights, but it tastes awesome and is worth the work.

Definition ‘slow life’: 1. Unplug. 2. Enjoy silence. 3. Turn routine into ritual. 4. Make your own food from scratch. 5. Sit down at your meals. 6. Find a hobby and turn off the TV. 7. Just be present. 8. Get outdoors and go for a walk. 9. Slow down your music. 10. Get out a pen and paper. 11. Embrace boredom. 12. Do only what you love. 13. Read a book. 14. Declutter. 15. Don’t multitask.

The ‘slow living’ began in Italy with the slow food movement, which emphasizes traditional food production techniques in response to the emergence of fast food during the 1980s and 1990s.

I start to use oak galls as a tannin and as a color for dyeing cotton.

According the definition I live a slow life already since I quit my job as a food-photographer (that was when I started to travel age 29). Yet, I wonder: is it the same non-sense as stating that a cycling lifestyle is stress-free and equals freedom, or do I need to get into the groove first?

Gathering a salad made up from edible flower buds takes time. Not to mention some of the flower buds I found were supposingly inedible…

The farmer lifestyle, even the one without animals, is time absorbing. In our attempt to be a little more self sustainable I have to be a manager and use my logistical abilities to be able to keep up with the pace of nature, but only after I’d studied how to use these new green goods.

That means eating more cucumbers and chard than one really wants. Stuffing the mouth with gherkins, those big soppy ones, mainly because I am not sure whether my canning techniques are adequate. Probably not yet. I’d better sown only 3 gherkin plants, not 12.

Chard is easy, it grows fast, abundant and tastes mild. But again, I planted too much to be able to consume it all.

Preserving gherkins can be done with vinegar (use a high quality 5%) or with citric acid.

With the speed of cycling the Mauritanian Sahara desert (which means fast!) I need to learn preserving, canning, boiling down, raw pack, hot pack, drying, bundling, dehydrating, freezing, sterilizing and botulism as well as sowing, fertilizing, cutting, trimming, pruning, supporting, harvesting. All in the correct time, all the while juggling with soaring creativity and kickbike trips. A slow life? I think the definition is wrongly stated.

The countryside isn’t sleepy. Tractors roll by with bales of hay, pigs to be fattened and grain to be stored. Clouds of dusty drought earth rise to the hazy sky when soil is pulled over. Sunflowers turning their crowned heads from left to right in a day. The bleating of sheep, the calls of a rooster and the silent movements of a deer nearby. At night golden jackals may call out. Sometimes a Lada rolls past. A church bell ringing in the distance and the thud of our mail box: another tiny event in the street announced.

Pouch Gujarat is finished and ready to send out SOLD. Price: € 30 price includes shipping.

Middle of June 2021

From public transport traveler to cyclist: it was a natural flow and only logic that the desire rose to be more independent thus away from travelers hubs. A cyclist was hard work, it took logistical insights and it required dependency of thriving on the unknown.

Our strawberries remained small, few and eventually quit delivering, yet their taste we will never forget.

From farmer, or cultivator, or, a word I picked up in Ecuador, perma-cultural worker without any knowledge to a manager of household in summer: the rapid flung from temperatures hovering around 35 degrees in spring makes me a slave of my own desires. I feel like a needy hamster with greedy inclinations to stock up for winter, more than she can consume. I roam the forests to find treasures because I want to learn all that I didn’t.

Between cultivating I search weeds, after I’d learned what it is I had an eye on. Elder flower is easy to spot, less so to pick, as the flowers grow high on trees. Nettles are simple, yet there are rules which one to pick. Cleavers announce themselves by sticking to your clothes but digging up their roots is a minutieus job which I aborted. Letting sour cherries going to waste was not an option so I dry them, keeping the pits in the process to make a cherry-pit pillow for the winter.

The photo above shows nettle syrup, one of the better drinks I ever tasted. See recipe here.

Yet, roaming mindlessly the forests has become a little less stress free. One of the reasons I love cats is for the fact that one closes the gate and off you are. No hassle like with a child or dog. Cats are independent, that’s what I love. Well, Hungarian breed is somehow different. They’d taken a liking to tag along. Skidding, side-hopping and whirling over the sandy tracks they huff and puff in the summer heat, their tongues dangling worryingly far out.

Let me start to tell about the veggies I grow.

Basics: Geo and I bought seeds in the builders-market and gazdabolt, specialized garden shops. None of them are biological and might not be used again when saving the seeds once the plant produces fruits. But that is a problem for later on.

The Pea Story: apparantly, what I’d sown were peas (little round balls in a shell were beans in my ignorant opinion). Sandra, one who knows very much about growing, sustaining and preserving had to point me out my peas.

In my dream world I envisioned picking peas and beans all summer long. Fresh and succulent, viper green, straight off the branches. A crunch when my teeth crushed them and a sensation I never tasted before. Never buying frozen peas and not a fan of peas at all, I love my own produce.

Onions are easy to grow too, they hardly need watering (though they need weeding). Their freshnes is not to be found in supermarkets and therefore worth the effortless effort to plant them.

It certainly has charm to turn a tin of sugared tomato paste into a festive meal with a limp, spotty paprika and very sour olives, done day after day, a year on end in South America. But why did no one ever tell me how fantastic fresh veggies really are? To pick salad leaves from the plant is in itself an untold pleasure. So crisp, so delicate yet so firm. The color and the feel, it is beyond anything. I now instantly dislike supermarket vegetables.

Through a Facebook post of foreigners in Hungary I learned that peas and beans have to be harvested. All at once. Blanched. Frozen. Fresh produce into the freezer! My ignorance had my romantic vision of plucking peas all summer long shattered. Beyond their crisp greenness and starting to turn yellow, I realize I am rather late with my harvest.

Learned: peas and beans need to be harvested before the heat starts. Then the peas need to be unshelled and all blanched and made ready to be kept in the freezer. It is smarter to plant peas and beans in intervals so produce can be longer picked afresh.

Realization: fresh pea and bean produce is not that fresh once in the freezer. And it has lost all it’s charm as I can’t pluck them off the branches anymore.

Third part of June 2021

The Potato story: plants became brown and hung trying to imitate a weeping willow. Geo said the hail storm in May was to be blamed but I had suspicions they’d given up on life because water was hosed endlessly on the plants. Plants which need a dry, sandy soil. A dry, sandy soil is what we live on. In fact, the soil is so dry that farmers never settled in this region because of too dry a soil.

Perhaps the harvest season was near since I (always in the company of Judah, who’s an excellent assistent) dug up many beautiful potatoes. This was a first time in my life to have grown my own potatoes and I am proud. I made a little nest for them with our own freshly cut grass.

Ignorance is (not always) bliss

Learned: potatoes don’t need watering, as far as I can tell, but want a good storage after the harvest is a fact. We do not have such storage. Luckily, I am in my experimental year of growing veggies and all I plant is a test, and therefore only a little was planted.

Realization: growing own potatoes needs space and you need to grow a lot in order to sustain yourself all year long. It might not save you any money as potatoes are a cheap product to buy. I think trying to save money (or the earth, for that matter) should not be the reason to start growing veggies. I believe to be successful in anything should have a first grade egoistic reason: loving it yourself… the sheer fact that we eat own, homegrown, non-sprayed, super biological and most important, tasty stuff is what goes for me. And for others as well…


Lake Balaton Around Tour

A weeklong tour around the Balaton lake, not over designated cycle paths but a bit of everything, avoiding the start of cycling crowds but heavy on wild camping and camp fires.

The Little Dutch ‘Farmer’

Starting anew, not just passing through in the best season, but staying, growing and nurturing in ways new to me (us). How is it to learn that what our grandparents did on a daily basis?

My best cycle ride!

The absolute favorite ride of my 5 years cycling through 45+ countries was the Atacama desert in Chile.

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Trying to be self-sustainable in the countryside of Hungary: weeds and wild, tours and talent included.


By Cindy Servranckx

Years of traveling brought me many different insights, philosophies and countries I needed to be (over 90 in total). I lived in Pakistan, went over 15 times to India and when I stopped cycling the world, that was after 50.000 kilometer through 45 countries, I met Geo. Together we now try to be more self-sustainable, grow our own food and live off-grid. I now juggle with the logistics of being an old-fashioned housewife, cook and creative artist loving the outdoors. The pouches I create are for sale on www.cindyneedleart.com

7 replies on “It’s all about food”

So very beautiful photos again! I enjoyed reading your blog so much, had to laugh a lot because you wrote so many things, I exactly experienced the same way. And yes, slow life means for me being quite busy in the rhythm of seasons and weather but also being free to do things I have a good mind to do it at that moment. I learned a lot the last years, (still learning a lot) like harvesting things have a perfect time and being too early or too late can be a mistake.The logistics of growing and harvesting your own food is indeed a challenge. We had a unusual wet summer, the weeds grow like crazy, but all in all I’m glad for all the rain. The onions needed to be cleaned from weeds every week, the potatoes plants died quite early because of too much rain, but I nevertheless had a good harvest. I have red ones, like yours, normal yellow ones and red ones with red flesh inside and blue ones with blue flesh, all from own seeds the last years. That’s something I`m proud of, that almost everything is from own seeds, in the last years, that’s so wonderful. If you like, I can send you some seeds in autumn, depending how it works this year. You`re right, in the financial way it’s not worth, because vegetable in the supermarket (coming from all over the world) is not expensive, but it’s so tasty and nice and healthy to have the own food and I think it’s not good for the world when we buy onions from example New Zealand and apples from South Africa. Your cat photos are funny, our cat eats a lot of mice every day, (she tries to save my carrots). It’s such an abundance in the harvesting time what nature gives us, it’s without words. And it’s a lot of work, trying to preserve all things in different ways. When I think about our ancestors who managed to preserve food for the whole year, for huge families I’m full of admiration. No, the countryside isn’t sleepy, really not.
Wish you a good time
greetings Caro

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Hi Caro, so nice to see you here replying again. I very much like that : ) and am content you could appreciate my post.

After reading your reply, I wonder whether gardening is new to you too? I had the impression you already grow your own food for some time (at least 5 years or so?). I guess we keep learning, as our desire to grow more and different varieties will increase. What surprises me so much is that the vegetables I started with grow so well, and so abundant. This will be taken into account for the next season.

Will your potatoes give your family food for the whole winter? Where do you store them?

Oh yes, I would be delighted to have onion seeds, especially the blue ones. Also, I save up all the peels of the red and yellow onions to dye cotton with. When you do have seeds left over I will give you our address (privately). I am not accustomed to when exactly sow onions, but I go by what the ‘gazda’ centers sell at the time and usually this indicates that the time to sow has arrived.

It is my goal to save up seeds as well. An aquintance told me that the seeds bought in shops are usually not good/impossible to save up and sow next season. I try however and see what happens. So, right now, I have saved up a few seeds.

Ah, the cats… I dreamed about them again, and I do so almost every night. The cats are in my vision throughout the day: I see them at many places, I even see them running towards me… and as you can guess… yes, they are gone. The two of them have ran off, on seperate days, both independently. It has been 3 weeks ago now. Because we live in the woods it is difficult to search for them, so we went searching only at familiar places. I have no clue why they walked out? But it saddens me more than I thought…

And as you said: it is without words how much nature provides us with. We do have to work much for it but it gives a lot. Indeed, I can only imagine how our ancestors had to work!! I wonder though: would they have had dreams to travel or to study or to be more creative, or only when they knew that there was such a possibility? Well, times were definitely very different and I think I only catch a glimpse, being without grain fields, being without donkey’s to carry and bullocks to plow, being without children, and even being without cats….

Anyway, the little glimpse I have is very enjoyable indeed, and for you too, I read it in every word!
Much great harvest and super tasty food-greetings to you too,
Cindy (and Geo)

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Yes, I grow our own food since 5 years, but sometimes still feel like a beginner ; ) That’s maybe because I try new things and plants, have new spots where I grow it, because I try to consider which plants fit together, and some plants you should not grow on the same spot each year and so on. I also experiment with compost, then the weather is different each year, so always exciting, how it works. I really admire your greenhouse, did you buy it? in a gardening shop? We still don’t have a huge own, just a self made one with one open side for the tomatoes and a little one for early sowing. I also try to grow just the right amount of plants/vegetable what we need and can use/preserve, that’s also not so easy. And yes your right, it’s very handy to sow a lot of things like peas and spinach little by little so you have fresh products over a longer period.
The last years we had potatoes for the whole winter till March, they start to sprout when spring comes so I put the left potatoes in April (depends on temperatures) in the soil for the next harvest. Normally you can harvest the first new ones end of June. I store them over the winter in wooden boxes in the basement. Without light, cool but not under zero, airy but saved against the hungry mice.
I’m sorry, I don’t have blue onions, just red and normal ones, I have potatoes in different colors, (red and blue) if you like to have them. And yes, there are some plants, when you buy seeds/hybridseeds, they don’t produce a “next generation”. Some plants like carrots and onions and a lot more produce seeds only in the second season….. Well, there are so many books and internet blogs from people who have a lot more knowledge than me…. I just often try things and see what happens.
I’m very sorry to hear about your cats. That’s sad. Cats are so independent in their mind, you never know, maybe they are back sometime?
Yes, you’re right, I think our ancestors did not have much time and choice to think about traveling or studying or things they like to do, we are privileged, and I`m aware of that.
all my best wishes to you two
Caro

Liked by 1 person

Yes, I grow our own food since 5 years, but sometimes still feel like a beginner ; ) That’s maybe because I try new things and plants, have new spots where I grow it, because I try to consider which plants fit together, and some plants you should not grow on the same spot each year and so on. I also experiment with compost/fertilizing, then the weather is different each year, so always exciting, how it works. I really admire your greenhouse, did you buy it? in a gardening shop? We still don’t have a huge own, just a self made one with one open side for the tomatoes and a little one for early sowing. I also try to grow just the right amount of plants/vegetable what we need and can use/preserve, that’s also not so easy. And yes you`re right, it’s very handy to sow a lot of things like peas and spinach little by little so you have fresh products over a longer period.
The last years we had potatoes for the whole winter till March, they start to sprout when spring comes so I put the left potatoes in April (depends on temperatures) in the soil for the next harvest. Normally you can harvest the first new ones end of June. I store them over the winter in wooden boxes in the basement. Without light, cool but not under zero, airy but saved against the hungry mice.
I’m sorry, I don’t have blue onions, just red and normal ones, I have potatoes in different colors, (red and blue) if you like to have them. And yes, there are some plants, when you buy seeds/hybridseeds, they don’t produce a “next generation”. Some plants like carrots and onions (sometimes) and a lot more produce seeds only in the second season….. Well, there are so many books and internet blogs from people who have a lot more knowledge than me…. I just often try things and see what happens.
Well, and the garden is just one thing, I spend my time also on a few other things so I know, it could be better done, but I`m happy how it works.
I’m very sorry to hear about your cats. That’s sad. They are so independent in their mind, you never know, maybe they are back sometime?
All my best wishes
Caro

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Hi Caro, sorry for my long delay in answering you. I was so busy… I kept thinking about answering you, also because you asked me about the greenhouse. Here is the info: the brand is Zelsius and Geo bouht it online via Amazon.de (Germany). The size is 430 X 190 cm. and it comes in a parcel like IKEA. Geo apparantly had to buy some accesoires to make it work out better, and he bought sort of hooks to keep the plastic boards sturdy in place: Keayoo. Also he ordered automatic window openers, they function on warmth: Alaskaprint. I can send you the full links if you like. It was not simple for Geo to assemble the greenhouse, but he did it all by himself and it took him only a few days in total (digging out grass, placing fundament, assembling). It looked extremely complicated to me! It’s like IKEAX 100 in difficult level : (

But…. I am glad with the greenhouse, if only my kitchen is not full any longer with sapling and plastic containers. I dislike that a bit. Anyhow, I still need to learn what can go in and what not. Tomatoes were all a huge failure: enourmous amount of leaves and hardly a tomato. I learned too late how to care for a tomato plant, so in the end I just took them out. The ones in the garden are doing fantastic. I can them regularly (bread spread, ketchup, plain sauce, whole peeled, fermented).

In general I guess gardening is almost a non stop learning process? Because one wants to learn more, deeper and better. As you say: how much, what to eat, sowing little over longer periods and not, like me, being stuck with too much of a variety I actually don’t like : ). Where to plant and when? I ordered a book about plant chemistry. I began a catching up race with a lot of carrots, spinach and more sorts of salad. But, like you again, good is good enough, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

We do not have a cellar. How strange for a Hungarian house, right? We have a stable though (my ‘atelier’) but it means we can not store huge amounts of potatoes yet.

Let me know whether you want the full links or more info about the greenhouse, I am happy to send it to you.
The cats did not return.
I am also a try-it-out-and-see-what-happens : )
Wish you a happy autumn coming up, and some more space to do other things. Enjoy your family, home and food! Greetings Cindy

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