Friday, October 29, 2010

Homegrown

My grandfather, Lajos Bund was a young boy when his father, Josef, enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army in the Great War.This left the rest of the family to scratch a living from their farm in Northern Slovenia. After Josef was killed in action, the family moved to Budapest, where Lajos’ mother, Anna, opened a grocery store. With the poverty that devastated Hungary after the war, she struggled to feed and clothe her young family, and I can only imagine the pain that led her to surrender her four children for adoption. By the time Lajos was nine years old, he and his sister were living in Middelharnis in Holland with their new family.

Lajos grew into a determined, popular and gregarious young man and he developed a passion for business and good food which was shaped and influenced by his adoptive family and by the various twists and turns his life had taken.

His first business venture was a gourmet chocolate shop in Middelharnis, where he became well known for his lavish and award winning window displays.

Lajos fell in love with and married my grandmother Altje, and they had five children who often helped in the chocolate shops and delicatessens after school. When World War II broke out, Lajos was imprisoned by the Nazis, leaving Altje and the children to run the businesses. Against all odds, Lajos survived and after the war, the family migrated to Australia, for a new life that began in Newcastle, NSW.

Lajos and Altje bought another delicatessen and built the business up over a number of years, introducing Novocastrians to a world of new flavours. When they were in their sixties, they sold the deli, and bought a farm near the Central Coast of NSW where they kept chickens, pigs and dairy cows, among orchards of mandarins, lemons and oranges. The farm was a wonderful playground for a tribe of cousins, which included my sisters and me. A typical Sunday saw the entire family gathered for lunch that always included freshly killed roast chickens and garden vegetables, accompanied by lots of rowdy, but good humoured discussion on current events, mostly in Dutch and Hungarian.

The paddock-to-table philosophy was alive and well, and I have vivid memories of arriving at the farm to see a number of freshly killed, soon to be eaten chickens hanging upside down from the clothes line, draining before cooking. The strong smell of wet, hot feathers hanging in the air is with me still.

The dairy cows, who came when called by name, would gather at the fence to nuzzle and lick our hands, making us giggle. My grandmother made her own butter, yoghurt and cheese and we always had mountains of fresh cream and milk on hand for baking her cakes and puddings. As kids, we loved staying overnight at the farm because breakfast always included porridge that was made with the fresh milk and cream that had been hand milked earlier that morning.

These are great family memories and I feel fortunate to have been exposed to such a fundamental appreciation and love of fresh food and cooking. The recipe for Lajos’ Roast Chicken is as comforting as one of his great big warm hugs, and features his all-time favourite spice, cinnamon. I have also included a Strawberry Soup recipe, another family favourite that works well after the richness of the chicken.

Lajos' Roast Chicken
Serves 4
1 x 1.5kg free range chicken
8 bay leaves
2 lemons, thickly sliced
1 bunch of thyme

Spice butter
2 tsp ground pepper
3 garlic cloves
3 cm knob ginger grated
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
120g unsalted butter

1 tsp salt

Cider vinegar and lemon dressing
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 small onions, finely sliced
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp salt
1 garlic clove, chopped
½ cup olive oil
Cinnamon quill

To make the pepper butter, mix pepper, garlic, ginger, salt and ground spices in a small bowl. Mix in the butter and set aside to infuse.

Trim away excess fat from inside the chicken, leaving neck, parsons nose and wings intact. Place in a lightly oiled roasting tin, breast-side up. Using your hands gently ease the breast and thigh skin away from the meat without tearing the skin. Place half of the reserved butter mixture between the skin and the meat of the chicken, smoothing and spreading evenly under the skin. Place sliced lemons, thyme and bay leaves inside cavity. Rub the remaining pepper butter over the skin. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 190C. Roast chicken, uncovered, for ¾ of an hour and turn oven off. Remove chicken from oven and cover with foil and return to oven while making the dressing.


For the dressing, cut the skin and pith away from the lemon, following the curve of the fruit. Cut the lemon flesh into segments and then chop roughly into small pieces. Pound garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle and then add lemon pieces to bruise. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well and set aside.

Remove chicken from pan and chop into pieces and arrange on a platter with lemon pieces and bay leaves. Pour the mixture over the chicken, making sure all the chicken is coated. Add the pan juices and re-cover with foil. Leave chicken to sit in juices for five minutes to infuse before serving.

Serves 4

Strawberry Soup
2 punnet strawberries, washed and hulled
1 small rockmelon
1 cup sparkling dry white wine
3 tbsp honey
1 cup cold cup rosehip tea
½ cup plain yoghurt mixed with vanilla bean seeds

Slice one punnet of strawberries and mash the strawberries from the remaining punnet with a potato masher. Remove seeds from melon and scoop out flesh with a melon baller or a teaspoon. Combine all the fruit in a large bowl. Stir, wine, honey, rosehip tea together in a separate bowl and pour over fruit. Chill for several hours before serving. The soup is more fragrant if served at room temperature. Serve with a dollop of vanilla bean yoghurt. Column first published Canberra Times October 27 2010.  Photos Steve Shanahan



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