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Hungary

Swimming against the current

A year of new, the beginning of permaculture and its results. It wore me out and at the same time I am overwhelmed by the results.

This is the last post in the Little Dutch Farmer aka Permaculture series! What went before is post 3: Travel & food: a happy marriage (summer 2021). Post 2: The juggling housewife (summer 2021). Post 1: It’s all about food (early spring 2021). The little Dutch farmer shows winter and early spring when we had nothing going yet. A short update from the here and now shows our coming to Hungary.

There were times, when I cycled in Patagonia for example, that I did not look forward to the day. I’d wake up and know it’d be a hard day. A day with cold gripping at my toes, making me colder the further I’d climb towards a snowy pass. There were many days with rain, one day after the other, the only thing visible a black strip of tarmac and not much else. Cold and mist, clouds and wet camp spots. Such days I had to muster myself to see some beauty and to somehow look forward to the day ahead. Just like when I worked, at times I had to find reason why I would look forward to the day coming. I did however always succeed.

The photo below shows me not enjoying Patagonia, all the folowing pictures are of a higher Hungarian enjoyment.

People ask: ‘Why do you live in Hungary?’ It could have been the dry Chaco among the Mennonite community in Paraguay, or the sleepy villages on the slopes in Ecuador. It could have been the interior of Spain far away from the coast and Romania was also on our thoughts. What we wanted was normality, a bit of a back-in-time approach to life and soil to be self-sustainable.

Middle of September

While being a self titled Farmer it also happens that I do not look forward to the day upon waking up. It’s an unwelcome mood. But waking up and knowing I have to wipe out aN army of flee beetles all the while I need to ferment the cherry tomatoes and the zucchini and get fruit dried as long as there is much sunlight. In addition I need to come up with a meal which aligns with what I grow in the garden. I also have to remove all the infested hay in the veggie garden, or so I believe because a day later I learn it doesn’t have to. Waking up with the knowledge I have to do weeding, preparing sourdough, baking granola and planting new seeds in the greenhouse… is not a relaxing mood.

But as always, I overcome the mood by some concentrated embroidering. A slow start of the day usually kicks hard.

Being in late summery Hungary brings back loads of memories. Like the smell of something spilled on the summerkitchen stove reminds me of the dusty streets in India at dawn where they’d burn wood, among rubble. The atmosphere early morning, a weak sun warming my cold bones from sitting too long in my cold atelier, once a stall for cattle, reminds me always of Lahore. These very strong dejavu’s I experience are almost ghostly, yet always derive a strong positive emotion of when I reached Lahore, just over the border with India. Lahore to me meant quietness, peace and ease. A feeling of ‘finally’, of rest and a promise of what would come. Always something would come, usually positive, even when it was not. These dejavu’s appear rather regular and I am always fond of them, since this means I travel in my mind, sifting only the positive, leaving out the discomfort.

To harvest my own homegrown aubergines, my favorite veggie, made me proud like a peacock.

There is so very much potential (in this so called sedentary lifestyle) that I can not possibly tame my mind. Often I think, and hope, ‘I will relax a bit once all my tasks are done,’ but the truth is, there is no stop to it, not that I know of until now. The herbs I want to infuse, the produce I want to learn to process, and the dishes I want to improve, the bread which can be made into a higher perfection and the variety of canned and fermented, jarred and infused, mixed and toasted. I run wild.

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Learned: to invest in many glass jars. To invest in quality vinegar (unavailable where we are) and therefor to combine a visit to the capital with a very fixed aim. I also learned not just to walk in the forest but to truly look around where you are and what you see, as the forest is packed with edibles.

A tree caught my attention. Usually this tree decorates the front lawn of Hungarian homes. But I can not walk over and tear some leaves off, or worse, pluck the deep red cones on top of its foliage. When I do spot this tree somewhere not belonging to a home, I take some leaves and cones with me. I experiment dyeing and am mildly surprised with the result.

The red cone I dyed textile with is a herb used in Middle Eastern kitchen. Having been excited at cheap restaurants in Iran where they would serve a bit of dried pomegranate powder along their cheap kebab and cardboard-alike bread, I sprinkled a lot of the fruit on my kebab: everything to enhance a mediocre meal. Iran also has reyhan, a herb which never left my brain cavity, as it enhances any meal. Reyhan can be subbed by arugula and sumac is a good rival for pomegranate powder (after a strenuous process). This, for me, is traveling too.

Unfortunately, the arugula is liked by the earth flee or the flee beetle. I’d seen the tiny insect but didn’t think much of it. I should have checked the internet immediately and I should have watered the nut dry earth. Instead I watch my arugula being eaten. When all the newly planted radishes and the even the broccoli sapling and little white cabbage are started to wither, I jump as the flee beetle does: into action.

Geo hung the bowl to dry; impossible not to smile lovingly.

Although I long to be in the autumn colored landscape of Hungary. Somehow I can not get to it: paprikast and paradicsom and cukkini are keeping me occupied. I am stirred up like the fermenting bubbles in the jars of the cherry tomatoes.

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Roasting of paprikas and chilies makes for a nice outdoor cooking, and a superb harissa paste.

I am more in the kitchen than I ever wished for. While the sun would warm me, I am in the kitchen, canning, preserving, hoarding. Life has lost its carelessness. Gone are the days were I only have to care for water and tasteless food.

The beetle beans appear to be something of a failure.

Sandra, the junge Dame in our street tells me that the whole tomato business is not that much work. She does not stand in the kitchen all that long. While I am bend over pots, stirring, peeling, crushing, deseeding, mashing, boiling, cutting, drying, canning and preserving in all sorts of ways, I think she experiences it differently. I think what she says is as much true as saying that sleeping in the forests is not scary. While I process 10 kilogram tomatoes at the time, twice a week, these red round balls keep crushing to the earth. It is like saying to plow through muddy countryside with a kickbike is not tiresome but incredible pleasant: it is only so to the one who was a cyclist for years. But that has to wait (next post).

An Ottolenghi recipe book does wonders (for all who grow their own food and herbs).

Learned: crops do not always grow into a bounty entirely by itself. They might need monitoring for bugs, worms and all sorts of insects. It can be necessary to kill each and every worm, to wipe out an army of bugs and to do away with plants too infested with insects.

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Realized: growing vegetables is more than pushing a seed in the ground and some occasionally weeding. It also is convenient to know what to do with the produce and to know how much you need of a certain crop.

What bothers me is that when the sun shines I want to be outside, a possibility only present when there is no kitchen work to be done.

When the creative itch start aching, I often need to swallow the prickly sticky ball of desire, through a dry throat because working inside the kitchen is making me pant like a dog on a racetrack.

There are these rare occasions that I stop all work and give in to the creativity.

If only I could throw veggies out, it would’ve make my life easier. Worms are now a welcome visitor because then I have a reason to snap of the huge kale branches and simply toss them out on to the compost heap.

Kneading dough awaits me, bread is lacking. The desire to photograph has to wait. Baking granola awaits me. The desire to go to the forest has to wait. But the sun shines, and my eyes travel over the landscape behind our plot. A bakery at the corner of the street would have some charm.

Do I sound like the typical complaining housewife? Maybe I am but I do not feel alike, all I am trying is compressing everything in this post.

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I search for recipes to process all that is growing, including the loads of peppers. I never really knew the difference between hot peppers and chilies or the paprikast from Hungary. On one occasion in Georgia I bought these vegetables for cooking up dinner while crossing a pass. Exhausted and fancying a more than average appetite I had to eat hot peppers instead of paprikas. I couldn’t. And the next day I had to hurry to give in to the rumbling sound in my stomach, down to a village to eat 4 times the amount of what’s usual. Now, however, I am stuck with so many peppers that I have to come up with sensible recipes. I never bought the particular species now proudly waving their abundance in my garden.

Sometimes fermenting results are less than mediocre.

Fermenting is easy and quick. Huge jars stuffed with peppers and salt water. I never ate them, never missed out on them, but that’s what will be on the menu the coming winter. Pickling is less simple but still acceptable on the amount of kitchen time. When I still face a considerable amount of peppers I have to get more inventive and come up with another internet recipe: candied peppers. In my whole life, traveling in sugar loving countries, I did not eat candied peppers and never longed for them, even would I know of their existence. But here I am: making heaps of candied peppers. Good that Geo happens to love them.

Always impressed and slightly jealous at (Turkish) housewives abroad, I now manage to do what they did.

Nights reach 2 degrees and again, it is Sandra who warns me that produce will go bad if not taken indoors or processed. The tomatoes seem not to be able to stop producing and the peppers joyfully keep blossoming and slowly turning their cheeks to a shamefully red.

I have reached a state where it becomes more and more difficult to keep up the desire to can and process. I feel the chef of a restaurant who, for some obscure reason, fails to instruct her personnel, and instead has to do everything herself. Worse, the shop connecting the restaurant has no customers, and the chef herself produces as if she’s tending to an assembly line.

Neither Geo nor I sowed pumpin, we got them unknowingly when we picked up some compost. Now we have 5 huge ones waiting to be eaten.

Learned: to count what has been sowed and sow less the next season. To prune tomatoes correctly so that fruits start to mature earlier and production spreads over a longer period of time. To know what sort of plants to plant, because just wild and blindly planting gives stuff you did not even know the existence of.

Realization: that only now I start to see what sort of life our ancestors must have led and how eager they were to reach modernity. I can see much better the life of less sophisticated tribes and how many tasks they constantly have to keep up. I can see how an incapable folk the modernity has produced and how much we have lost in that process. While I am struggling to find a balance in old-fashioned ways, my predecessors were doing the opposite.

Just before the frost sets in I save what I can and start fermenting on such a high speed that earlier complaints to stand in the summer kitchen too often have faded off. Geo tells me repeatedly in the late afternoons to quit my work but all I can think about are the tomatoes I can save, the fennel planted too late in the season, the multitude of chilies and the beautiful red bell peppers. To let things rot away is not my idea of nurturing them.

Not only the frost helps me to let things die a natural way, my dad needs nurturing too (in my and my sisters opinion, though not in his), and with a distance of a 1200 kilometers apart, I rudely leave behind what I cared for. Perhaps too much?

The 3 books I bought were lost in the Dutch mail, a case of theft by the mail delivery man. Good for me Velt send me the books again, now the serious gardening can start.

The tomato plants and it’s canned jars have been counted because next season I do not want this kitchen confinement again. 55 plants gained:

  • 52 liter plain tomato paste.
  • almost 2 liter of a high concentrated paste such as these tins you buy for next to nothing in even the most remote roadside stall in Africa.
  • 5.5 liter of dried tomatoes in olive oil, the best we ever ate.
  • 7.5 liter of spicy tomato spread to put on sourdough bread.
  • 5 liter chutney.
  • 6.5 liter of whole tomatoes, taking more space around the fruit than actual being a tomato.

I reckon that I very well can do without the jars of candied peppers (no, we can not, it turns out), the way too many jars of fermented and canned pepperoncinies, the dried chilies and the home made Tabasco (since I never ate these things before). A slave of your own garden, that is what I’d become. I guess permaculture means also to take the human into account of the whole natural plan: that’s for next year.

Ultimately learned: PLAN! PLAN! KNOW WHAT YOU DO! READ!

The start of the autumn season has wrung me out, like a stinking dishwash rag. Instead of fluttering in the wind, discovering hills unknown and forests lush with ample opportunity to choose a spot to sleep, I stood in the summer kitchen: a Hungarian asset I loved when we just came here. As I described to many blogs about countryside living, now when a post reach me about how to preserve paprikas, I loath the thought. In my opinion life is outside. Just watching at the sky from behind a kitchen window is not life; that is longing to be out there. And being out there with knowing there are loads of paprikas and tomatoes to be canned, jarred and preserved in all sorts of ways, is not sitting nice either.

Yet, the permaculture way of life is one which has to be learned, understood and refined and heading into it like a blinded bull is perhaps not the most relaxing way. I’d become a slave of my own longing. Working round the clock, to have a pantry to be proud of, and a kickbike way too much unused.

Upon returning to Budapest the welcome could not have been better. Besides that Geo wraps me in his arms, I feel instantly at home, even though it is the airport area. The stress and pressure from the Netherlands falls off like the leaves collecting at the roads toward our home. In Budapest we find a Kashmiri restaurant, discuss the Pakistani and Indian culture while sipping chai with the clientele, and our meal is paid for. To be back in Hungary is being back home. What a welcoming feeling.

A lovely woman who bought a handmade embroidered article from me sent me her praises by old fashioned post card. I love it! Thank you Marjan.

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

4 replies on “Swimming against the current”

Happy new year to you Cindy! I loved this post… I think the world needs to get back to this way of living more. Hard to do in a city, but there are small steps I could take to live more mindfully. Thanks x

Liked by 1 person

Hi Anna, I wish you a very happy, satisfied and beautiful new year too. I think the city people should go back to the countryside : )) Just joking, that would make it crowded overhere and I love the quietness ; )

The topic of consuming less and cultivating more yourself is a very hard to tackle subject. Humans want to go forward and not backward but being mindful is always a step forward and I wish you much satisfaction out of that because satisfaction is a great good.

Have a sunny pleasant Sunday. Greetings Cindy

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