Monday, January 11, 2010

Potatoes, Ham and Eggs - Hungarian Style

Some recipes achieve a timeless distinction within families. You might not eat them very often, but they’re part of the fabric of your lineage. There’s a story or person connected to the best family meals. You might recall that the first time Mom ever served a particular dish, she mentioned that it was her mother’s or aunt’s recipe, and for some reason that legacy stuck with you, forever attached to those flavors and sensations.

Hungarian Ham Casserole has that kind of association in our family. It usually appears after a holiday, when there might be an abundance of leftover ham. It’s a simple, layered casserole and a hearty winter dish – both tangy and savory – composed with potatoes, sliced cooked eggs, ham and sour cream. A casual mention brings a smile, and almost guarantees a craving.
My mom’s father emigrated from Hungary, so there were influences of Hungarian cuisine in the food we ate. The Hungarian Ham Casserole was something my mother remembers growing up. She explains:
“Aunt Rose (my Godmother) mad this casserole, and my Mother made it. I always loved it. Red or Yukon Gold potatoes work well – but any potato will do. If I don’t have bacon, I dot with butter – but the bacon adds flavor. I have always used no seasonings, but you might want to sprinkle some seasonings between layers. This is good for using leftover ham, but a cut up ham steak works, too.”

In recent years, my brother Jim made this recipe for a New Year’s Eve dinner, and we talked about our memories of the dish, but I never really knew what made it Hungarian beyond its inevitable journey through Ellis Island. The recent Christmas dinner left me with a plethora of ham, so I decide to make the dish and a little online culinary sleuthing adds some new elements to the story of this recipe. I find numerous references for a Hungarian recipe called Rakott Krumpli – a layered, meatless potato casserole. Wikibooks suggests the recipe could have originated from a traditional Jewish meal, eaten during the "nine days.” These are the first nine days of the month of Av, when orthodox Jews refrain from eating meat, in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple.

The reference notes that ham and sour cream would not have been eaten by Jews because the ingredients are not kosher. As with so many recipes, variations are inevitable over generations, and many of the versions – also called Rakott Krumpli – now found online do contain sour cream and ham. Most are almost identical to the recipe below which my mother transcribed for me, although some omit the ham for a final dish that is more like a gratin, add sautéed onion or use sausage in place of ham.

For me, the Hungarian Ham Casserole evokes rustic peasant cooking, as leftover ham, as well as potatoes, eggs and sour cream would have likely been prevalent ingredients in a European farmhouse.

And – even today – there’s still a generous helping of family warmth and affection in every serving.
©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


My Carolina Kitchen said...

This dish is full of wonderful memories and I so enjoyed reading its history. What a great way to use left-over ham. I'm going to bookmark this because I have a feeling it's going to become one of our favorites too.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I'd be one of those people who went back to the original, meatless version. Or I'd try it with cut up chicken sausage or leftover turkey. I love reading about the history and evolution of the recipe.

Julia said...

I love these sorts of family stories! I remember doing this sort of sleuthing on Babka.

My grandmother also came Hungary (and I was amused how similar her handwriting is to your mother) but I don't recall her ever making a variation of this. But she wasn't a very good cook.

~~louise~~ said...

I do believe the stories behind our most cherished meals influences the tastes we remember.

I just did a quick search in The Cuisine of Hungary by George Lang and there was the recipe for Rakott krumpli! With the exception of arranging egg slices and sausage just before the final layer of potatoes the recipe is just as you have created. I was hoping to find a bit more history about the dish, T.W. but Mr. Lang does not include any notes for this particular dish.

Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your "legacy" with us:) It sounds delicious and I do believe I can smell it from here:)

Anonymous said...

I would love this without the ham. We have potato and egg recipes that are just great.

Fondantina said...

nice blog:)
we make this tipe of food with sauaseges instead of ham, the bowl in which we made we grease it with butter and after that we sprinkle with bread crumbs. In the end to the presentation we put clotted cream.
just an idea, I'm hungarian so you may like or :)

Kalyn said...

Oh wow, I would love to try this one. I don't eat potatoes often, but I'd make an exception for this, sounds fantastic.

doggybloggy said...

what a nice comforting meal and any recipe written on loose leaf is a keeper - and if I didnt comment on the chef class post I meant to - that looked like a blast!

Lori Lynn said...

So homey! My mom made a pork chop and spaghetti casserole we called PC&S. Gotta love those casseroles!

Fresh Local and Best said...

It's neat to connect yourself to your heritage and family members through a dish. This looks like a wonderful casserole!

Alessandra said...

Hi, first time here, lovely blog you have, I like the 'romance' behind the recipes :-)

Helene said...

I like the picture of the handwritten recipe. I have never heard of that meal before. I'm sure I would enjoy eating it.

Rochelle R. said...

That looks very yummy. I make ham and scalloped potato with just milk. I bet the sour cream adds a nice tang. My family doesn't have many legacy recipes so I enjoy reading about other families'.

Nanny'76 said...

hello my name is Anna, and I write from italy .. I read with pleasure your blog ... your dish is excellent.... the family recipes, have a different taste almost magical ^ _ ^

Mari @ Once Upon a Plate said...

I adore recipes with a "story" behind them and this one is no exception. And a recipe card in your mother's own hand ~ even more so. I feel fortunate to have inherited my mother's recipe boxes and intend on sharing just as you have done. Thank you for the inspiration.

Mom would make a dish very similar to this, but I don't recall eggs in her recipe. I would love to try your mother's version. Thank you for sharing.

Love your blog! I'm adding it to my favorites and I'll be following along.

Your culinary resume and experiences are fantastic!

JM Barritt said...

Reading your blog made me reflect that this recipe has been passed down through five generations of our family. I passed the recipe to grandson Doug, when he was preparing for an International Dinner in grade school.
Your photo made my mouth water for the delecious blend of flavors.
Most of the simplest of pleasures are those that bring the fondest memories over the years.
Love, Mom

Cakespy said...

Oh my! This looks like some seriously hearty fare...and even more, I loved reading about the stories and memories it provoked. :-)