queen of hungary water

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I love the idea of Queen of Hungary water, often credited as the world’s first alcohol-based perfume.  The original idea is lovely: a medieval distilled rosemary flower infusion made in the spring when the violet-colored little blossoms burst open and can be preserved in a strong spirit.  And that time, my friends, is now.

Jennifer Heise, a SCA educator and herbalist, provides a helpful history of Queen of Hungary water, including some court intrigue and speculation about which queen of Hungary may have been the first to use it, plus some good ol’ medieval advice about taking the water to heal your withered limbs.  I based my recipe off Heise’s research and experimentation with liquids and herbs, deciding that I would try only the flowers and flower buds of rosemary, since i have them.  I also added a few buds of my lemon-scented Greek bay flowers that are forming now, thinking “if it grows together, it goes together.”  It smells quite nice already, just 16 hours or so after I did my plucking.

498px-Titian_Venus_Mirror_(furs)And why did I make this?  Well, it’s the name, really.  Queen of Hungary.  There she is.  A queen swathed in auburn fur — fur collar and cuffs and a giant fur hat with a spring of rosemary for a flourish.  It’s probably too warm in Hungary for all that, but in my mind she’s the Sacher-Masoch tyrant in Titian red.  Black kidskin gloves and a little riding crop. Hot temper. Her lips are reddened by paprika and she pinches her cheeks to bring out the glow when she’s not out taming wild Magyar horses or shouting orders to the cavalry. Queen of Hungary, a hungry queen.  Not hungry in the way I’m hungry, which is for some lunch.  But hungry in a mad way, hungry for the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Sigh. I’ve written about her before.  I’ve turned her into a winter squash recipe, even, Squash Whip Queen of Hungary, and wrote about her for the Eugene Weekly.  I love that combination of rosemary, bourbon, and sweet dark orange squash.  I still see her in all those colors.

But now it’s spring, and now I’m thinking I might play up the green of it all. Heise notes one can use the Queen as a period-appropriate perfumes for SCA events and the like, but I wonder if the perfume will really linger.  I’ll likely use the concoction cut with a little water as a skin toner.  Or if things get much worse, I’ll just drink it with a little bubbly and lemon as a Hungarian 75.

UPDATE 4/29:  The queen has turned warm brown and sweet.  It wasn’t at all what I expected!  The flavors are like a soft brown bread, wholly unlike rosemary at all, and the tincture is the color of vanilla extract (so it would stain the skin if used as perfume.  Hm.  Am thinking I should have followed the advice of the recipe more closely to use dried herbs and not flowers.  More experimentation to come with the tincture!

Queen of Hungary Water

  • As many rosemary flowers and flowerbuds as you can pick, separated from the green resinous leaves
  • 100-proof vodka
  • optional, one or a few of the following: a swath of orange or lemon peel, a few bay buds, lemon balm

Pick flowers and buds, being careful to pick on a dry day in the morning for maximum scent.  Spread out on a tray to remove browned bits and let bugs reveal themselves.  Do not rinse, just shake a little and clear out detritus.  Add flowers and buds and optional add-ons to a jar, packing lightly, then top with vodka.  You want to aim for half flowers, half vodka, but it’s not a precise measurement.

I’ll revise the recipe once I know how mine turns out.

grüning board

After Thanksgiving, we thought we’d head up to Portland to take a break from Eugene, conveniently avoiding the bomb scare in Pioneer Square by leaving on Saturday.  And it’s a good thing, too, since we were rather more in the mood for some fine dinin’ at that point, not splinters of a 200-foot Christmas tree in our hair.  Of the many delights we tried, I’m most happy to note that yes, Virginia, Central European food is hot.  I knew the charcuterie and fermentation craze would bode well for my people.

Exhibit A:  Grüner restaurant.  I succumbed to the siren call of an almost Hungarian pörkölt (called goulash on the menu, it has a slightly more complex flavor profile than my favorite stew, with more herbs, tomato, and a hint of caraway), even though I begged my friends to tie me to one of the beech limbs that decorate the restaurant and stuff my ears with liptauer cheese.

We also had a radish and pumpkin seed salad, whose presentation is 75% of the dish.  Shaved, sweet radishes are really quite delicious, especially with bursts of flavor from the pumpkin seeds and chives.  The salad was dressed with pumpkin seed oil and apple cider vinegar with a little beard of microgreens atop a (tastless, but oh well) slice of black radish.

Two kinds of trout, one smoked and one roasted with a leek and fennel stuffing, and a choucroute with fat, huge sausages were also good ideas.  Not such a good idea: paprika rim on a Eastern European fusion drink with Zwack and whoknowswhat.  Gimmicky.  But I’m sad I didn’t try the wheat schnapps.  Wheat schnapps?  Yes, wheat schnapps.

I’ll be back.

 

 

keeping cool with sour cherry and apricot soup

I should dedicate this, the second summer appetizer in my series of summer appetizers with obscure ingredients, to the folks at Hentze farm, where I bought the blushing, lovely apricots and the already-pitted sour cherries, submerged in their juice.  It made my life so easy, and easy livin’ is what summer is supposed to be about, right?

Sour cherries and apricots whisper Hungary to me.  My trip to Budapest in 2006 for a conference was one of the highlights of my life.  If my soul had a foreign home, it would be Hungary.  Of course, I’d soon die and have to be buried in a piano box because I would eat so much, but I’d die happy.  At one restaurant, I ordered sour cherry soup (meggy leves), thinking it would be a light starter.  Of course, being Hungary, it was thickened with sour cream and topped with whipped cream.  And every bite was delicious.

My version of the soup is lighter and appropriate for a July grilled meal.  The soup is still rich, but unless you want to serve it as a dessert (which you absolutely can), forgo the whipped cream and replace the sour cream with thinner, lighter crème fraîche.  Noris Dairy makes a delicious, slightly runny “sour cream” that is basically crème fraîche, so I use that.  You might try lightening up your sour cream with a bit of heavy cream if you can’t find crème fraîche.  If you can’t find that, you certainly won’t be able to find Hungarian apricot brandy, which is not imported much in the States, so substitute cherry brandy.  Or make your own apricot liqueur!

Using fresh sour cherries and apricots make this soup extraordinary.  It’s better to substitute fresh Bing or other cherries than to use frozen or canned sour cherries, since this is all about fresh summer produce.  I don’t bother peeling the apricots, but it might make the texture more elegant.

Sour Cherry Apricot Soup

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or dessert

2 cups pitted sour cherries
3 cups cherry juice
½ cup fruity red wine, such as Merlot
1 cup quartered fresh apricots
1 T. sugar
½ cup crème fraîche
1 T. powdered sugar
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3-4 whole cloves
1 T. apricot brandy (Hungarian barack palinka) or cherry brandy

Pour juice and wine into pot, add cherries, apricots, and sugar.  Place spices in small cheesecloth bag and tie with kitchen twine.  Submerge in juice.

Simmer cherries and apricots just long enough to soften them up, about 5-10 minutes.

Mix crème fraîche and powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Remove soup from heat and remove spice bag.

Scoop out about half of the cherries and apricots and puree in the food processor, then return to soup pot.

Quickly whisk in crème fraîche until thoroughly mixed, and add brandy.

Pour into small serving bowls and chill for several hours before serving.