Sunday, March 8, 2015

Csirkék! (Chickens!)

There's a long low building running from the street along the side of the yard next to the house here, covered in crumbling stucco and with only one or two small dark windows that seem permanently shuttered from the inside. Further up the slope, there's a tall two-story house with a nice view of the village, freshly painted and sporting large windows looking out over the front porch. A woman named Márti lives on that property - she's the one that sells eggs at the market where Noémi sells cheese on Fridays, and we get all of our eggs from her as well, little pullet eggs with bright golden yolks and smooth brown shells.

What are you doing in my swamp?

Being a big fan of chickens, I was excited at the chance to visit, and thought we'd perhaps have tea up at the house before going into the poultry building below. So I was a bit taken aback when Noémi said that this is where the chickens are housed; Márti lives in the building by the street.

In fact, the long low building turns out to be in quite good repair, and with plenty of windows, on the other side. It's built in the traditional style, one room leading into the other, with a porch along the length of the building and multiple doors. We didn't go inside, but instead went straight up to the chicken house, which I was told was originally built as a stable. I suppose if you're going to build a stable, you might as well make it pretty, especially if you have to look at it all the time. The youngest flock is kept inside in here, and it's where Márti sorts and grades the eggs, with the help of her cat.

I tried to get the name of the breeds she raises, but only caught one of them: these are Hy-Line Browns, from an American company of the same name, based in Iowa. Or from that company's Hungarian distributorship, I assume. As soon as we opened the door into the former stalls, and heard a hundred chickens raise their voices in an inquisitive "wooort?" (no translation necessary; chickens the world over speak the same language), I started smiling, and didn't stop for the rest of the visit. I do like chickens. Cats, chickens, computers, and cheesemaking - that's all I need to be happy and productive.

The other five hundred or so hens are housed inside and out in buildings down the other side of the hill, past the horse corral, the horses having been kicked out of their comfortable home. They don't make a lot of noise, or at least I don't hear them from the house here. I remember being able to hear Mandy's hens from quite a distance, but perhaps sound carries farther up on top of the Devon hills.

I've been using the eggs for the cheesecake I make for the markets each week, using Noémi's francia sajtok, though I had to adjust the recipe's number of eggs to account for the smaller pullet size, and adjust the sugar up to account for the Hungarian love of sweet things. It has been very popular with the customers, and Noémi says she's handing out the recipe and selling a fair bit of cheese to the people who want to make it at home. "American-style" cheesecake (sajttorta) seems to be a new thing in Hungary - the recipes I'm seeing on line are all from 2014 - and apparently it's not something that people in this area are familiar with. My legacy: introducing cheesecake to Budapest and its suburbs. Maybe they'll name it after me, and I'll join József Dobos in the Hungarian pastry hall of fame. I'll have to change my last name to my great-grandfather's Kis, though, or maybe use my great-grandmother's Károlyi. Just to get some utcai hitele.

Csirkék is actually the word for pullets, I have just discovered; tyúkok is the word you use when you're referring to laying hens, and kakasok are roosters. For a genderless language, Hungarian can be quite specific, sometimes. I am going to make tyúkhúsleves (chicken broth) tomorrow, as I am now on a pre-colonoscopy diet that is very unsatisfactory and making me quite cranky, especially after Kate told me that coffee and pálinka are not technically on the list of doctor-approved clear liquids. I might have to spend some time watching the goat kids pronking about their pen in the sunshine tomorrow, or go back to visit the chickens, just to improve my mood.

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