Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cooking Guess by Golly: Hungarian Gomboc

I have been thinking about gomboc for a long time. Years.

My mom's family is Ukrainian. Her dad (my gido) came from the old country with his family in 1904, when he was 3 years old. Her mom (my baba) was born in Canada to recent Ukrainian immigrants. Most aspects of ethnic cooking are passed from mother to daughter and it was no exception in my family.
Most of my mom's ethnic cooking and the recipes she passed down to me and my sister are Ukrainian.

My dad's family is Hungarian. His dad (my grandpa) came to Canada at the age of 3, also in 1904. My grandma, Dad's mom, was born in Canada to recent Hungarian immigrants, just like my baba. It's interesting how similar the stories are.

My grandma was renowned for her Hungarian cooking and food plays a big part in my memories of her. My hands-down favourite were her gomboc. While my grandma was alive (1907-1982), my mom never made gomboc - and I suppose they would have never tasted quite like Grandma's; just like my perogies don't taste quite as good as my mom's. After Grandma passed away, my mom made them only a few times. I don't remember seeing either Mom or Grandma actually make these; and I don't remember helping. I've never made them myself. My dad sometimes made a "lazy" version of gomboc - adding the cream of wheat topping to regular cooked pasta. He called this "noodlies." Noodlies were good, but not as good as gomboc with prunes.

While looking online for info about gomboc, I was surprised to learn that in Hungary, they are made with fresh plums (called Szilvas Gomboc). For most of my grandma's life, fresh plums would have been difficult, if not impossible, to find. She spent most of her life in rural Saskatchewan, on a small family farm. I've heard stories of my grandpa walking from their farm in the Prud'homme area to Rosthern, and walking back home with two 100-lb bags of flour on his back. Today, it is 40 miles (64K) one way by highway; it's possible Grandpa took more of a as-the-crow-flies route, but nevertheless, it was quite a trek for groceries. Plums were probably deemed unnecessary even if and when they were obtainable. Prunes would have to do.

Since my mom passed away, I've looked through her handwritten recipe book many times. I always pause at the gomboc recipe, but it is daunting! It is one of those "guess by golly" pioneer recipes - start with mashed potatoes, add flour until the dough isn't sticky; meanwhile cook prunes. No measurements. No quantities. And, I have no idea how to cook prunes. I finally decided to look online to see if I could find something more definitive. That's when I found out about the plums. Also, it seems like Grandma deviated with her topping. The online recipes I viewed used breadcrumbs (breadcrumbs!) in the topping instead of cream of wheat. So, I kind of melded everything together and ended up with an end product that I rate as pretty good for a first timer.


4-5 potatoes
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
apprx. 4-5 c flour
apprx. 30 prunes
1-1/2 c cream of wheat (aka farina)
1 c sugar plus extra to coat prunes
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c hot water water

Cook the prunes by covering with water and bringing to a low boil; simmer for 10 minutes and then drain. Peel and quarter potatoes; boil in lightly salted water until soft; then drain. Cook the cream of wheat slowly over medium-low heat until it's a rich golden brown, like brown sugar. Stir frequently. Do not check facebook while you are doing this. The cream of wheat scorches quickly. Trust me.

When the cream of wheat is browned, add 1/2 tsp salt and 2/3 c hot water. Stir well - I stirred with a whisk to avoid lumps. Cover the cream of wheat until and leave it to cool.
Mash potatoes while they are still warm. Mix in 1 egg and 1/4 c oil. Add apprx. 4-5 cups flour. This is where the "guess by golly" part kicks in. My mom's recipe says that the dough should be soft and easy to work, but not sticky. Depending on the size of your potatoes, you may need more or less flour.

Coat the prunes with sugar. Finish mixing the gomboc topping by adding 1 c sugar to the cooled cream of wheat and mix well.

Pinch off pieces of dough. My mom and grandma would have done this guess by golly. I used a kitchen scale and pinched off pieces that were about 40g each. Flatten the dough in the palm of your hand and stick a sugared prune in the middle.

Pinch the dough closed well. If it's not pinched well enough, your gomboc may open while cooking, dislodging the prune.

You can see that my dough is a little sticky. Once I had the gomboc pinched closed, I dusted some flour on my hands and rolled the gomboc around to make a nice ball shape.

Cook the gomboc by dropping them into a pot of boiling water. You don't want to cram them in or they'll stick together. My pot took about 10-12 gomboc at once. Stir once in awhile so that they don't stick to the bottom. My mom - the Ukrainian - notes that gomboc should be cooked like perogies - e.g. left in the boiling water until they float to the top. This will take about 10 mintes.

Remove the gomboc from the pot and drain. When they are cool enough to handle (but still warm), coat thoroughly with the cream of wheat topping. If the gomboc cool too much, the topping won't stick very well.

Done! Time to enjoy. The photos I've seen online of szilvas gomboc always show them on a plate, cut open with the juices oozing out. Prune gomboc won't make the same juices. I don't ever remember using a fork to eat these. These are Hungarian finger food. Keep the prune pits though! You'll want to see who scarfed the most.

This recipe makes about 30 gomboc, and will feed 2-3 people for a meal; or perhaps 6-7 people for dessert.


lynn'sgarden said...

Wow, Jacki, what a great post with pictures and instructions! I understand why this recipe would hold a special place for you. Bet your mom would be proud and eat the most. Thanks for sharing,

Tootsie said...

you are an excellent teacher!!! that does look yummy!