My Hungarian grandma came to the United States when she was just a teenager. Her husband came before her to find a place for them to settle. She left her family behind to travel to a land of opportunity where she and her young husband believed they could create a better life for their family. Young Rose arrived with their first-born, a son, who was still a baby.
I’ve often wondered what it was like for my grandma to be in a strange country, a place where she could barely communicate with the people around her and where she had no family or friends, just her Hungarian husband.
Over the years, Rose’s family grew as she and her husband ran their own boarding house and restaurant in Chicago. One day, when their four sons and one daughter were still very young, Rose’s husband decided to leave. He wanted to go back to “the old country.” Eventually, the strong and very hard-working single mother married again. She and her second husband, Paul, had one more son and one more daughter. They moved to a farm in Indiana to raise their seven children. Their daughter, Rosemary, the baby of the family, became my mom.
The five sons and two daughters grew into adults and moved away from their Indiana home, but I do not remember even one Christmas when they were not all together at the farm to celebrate together, coming back each year with spouses and children of their own.
When I was growing up, our Christmas tradition began with a long ride in the car from our home in a northern suburb of St. Paul to the farm in San Pierre, Indiana. Our car would be packed with presents my mom had beautifully wrapped. (Her secret desire was to work as a gift-wrapper at Dayton’s during the holiday season.) My dad became an expert at packing up the trunk of a car. Every year he intricately pieced every package, each suitcase and all the tins filled with my mom’s homemade Christmas cookies into the large trunk of the car, as if putting a puzzle together.
Christmases celebrated at my grandparent’s Indiana farm were full of laughter, my aunts and uncles speaking to each other in Hungarian (their poor spouses had no idea what they were talking about and the children didn’t really care), and lots of Hungarian food prepared just as my grandma had learned in “the old country,” the land of her birth and the place where her birth family had stayed.
We would wake up in the mornings to the sound of my grandpa putting logs in the stove in the kitchen. And before long, from my cozy cocoon under the down quilt my grandma had made, I would begin to smell the sweet and thin Hungarian pancakes that she was lovingly preparing on that old wood-burning stove.
A large holiday meal was not complete without a huge pan of my grandma’s Hungarian noodles, turos teszta. Homemade egg noodles tossed with creamy cottage cheese and a generous amount of crunchy bits of bacon were prepared in the largest cast iron skillet she owned. This dish wasn’t reserved for holidays, though. We enjoyed this easy-to-make meal all year long. When I was growing up, while my friends would be eating weeknight meals of macaroni and cheese, at my house we would be eating turos teszta. I have a feeling my grandma and grandpa often ate turos teszta when they were growing up in their “old country.”
Today, feeling a bit melancholy as I thought about Christmases of the past and missing all those people I loved so much who are no longer with me, I made a big pan of turos tezsta for lunch. With each bite, I could almost hear my grandparents and my mom and her siblings visiting with one another in Hungarian. I could almost see my uncles fighting over the last bits of crunchy bacon in the large cast iron pan. And, when I realized the extra saltiness I was tasting was coming from a couple of tears that had landed on my lip, I smiled.
Merry Christmas to you. May the season be filled with happy memories of traditions from Christmases remembered and the fun of making new ones.
My Grandma’s “Old Country” Turos Teszta
2 pounds sliced bacon
1 (16-ounce) bag medium egg noodles
1 (22-ounce) container small curd cottage cheese, room temperature (maybe a little bit more, if you like)
Freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream, room temperature, for serving
Slice bacon crosswise into about 1/2-inch wide strips. Fry the sliced bacon pieces in a large skillet over medium heat. When the bacon is very crisp, use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon from the pan to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour all but 1 or 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan.
Boil egg noodles until done, following directions on package.
Drain noodles and put into the skillet with bacon fat. Stir to coat noodles. Add bacon pieces and cottage cheese. Stir to mix. Turn heat to medium and stir just until heated through. Sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately. Have sour cream on the table. Each person can put a dollop of sour cream on their serving of turos teszta. Serves 6 as a main dish, more if served as a side dish.
Tips from the cook
Be sure to use full-fat cottage cheese. Reduced-fat and no-fat cottage cheese will make the dish a watery mess. Use full-fat sour cream, too. It’s the only way I will guarantee the success of this dish:)
Sue Doeden is a food writer based in Bemidji, Minn. Her columns, recipes and photos appear weekly in select Forum Communications Co. newspapers. She also appears on Lakeland Public Television's Wednesday newscast at 10 p.m., and teaches cooking classes. Her recipes can be found online on her blog Sue Doeden's All about Food.