Trowel and Fork

A Traditional Strudel Recipe ‘Pulled’ From The Past

It's said the dough for pull strudel should be stretched so thin that a love letter can be read through it. Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff

It’s said the dough for pull strudel should be stretched so thin that a love letter can be read through it.
Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff

I never actually had my grandmother’s strudel, but for years I was obsessed with it.

She died when I was 4, so I only know about it from my mom. But she tells me that my babina, or grandmother, would pull and coax a ball of dough on the back of her hands, until it stretched so thin that she could pull it over an entire ping-pong table covered with a floured tablecloth.

She made the strudel for my parents’ wedding, and two years later, my mom tried making it for their anniversary. But despite being an accomplished baker, mom’s dough turned out so badly that she threw it at the walls and on the floor in frustration.

For me, this strudel is less about the pastry and more about connecting to a time before politics forced my grandmother from her family and her country. It was a link to the past. As I started asking around and searching the Internet, I found it’s also a skill that’s slipping away.

While on a trip to Slovakia last summer to take a Slovak language course (another of the other things my mom didn’t teach me), I met 28-year-old Julia Vrablova. She was one of my instructors and, on a whim, I asked if she knew anyone who knew how to make tahana strudla, as the natives say.

“This recipe is kind of forgotten, because it’s not so easy to prepare a dough, so people buy it or they make something that reminds them of this kind of strudel, but it’s not pull strudel anymore,” she says.

But Julia casually said she could make it.

What? Everyone told me I’d have to track down an old babka[grandma] in a small village! I thought Julia was far too young! But she explained that although her family never made pulled strudel, she was obsessed with baking. She researched, found women who could make it, and then learned to do it herself.

The ingredients are simple: high-gluten flour, so the dough can get superstretchy; water, oil, salt and a little vinegar.

Julia kneads the dough, explaining that it has to be worked for at least 30 minutes (she sits on the floor to make it a little easier). It’s probably part of the reason why many buy frozen packets of phyllo dough instead.

Other pastry doughs, like for croissants or puff pastries, will get tough if the dough is overworked. But pulled strudel dough is just the opposite: It’s about activating the gluten, kneading it and often hitting it so the dough can be pulled into a thin layer without tearing.

Slovak language instructor Julia Vrablova sought out women who could teach her to make the dough for tahana strudla, which can be made with ground poppy seeds, apple or sour cherries.

Strudel means whirlpool or eddy in German. The pastries probably got that name because the dough sheets are rolled around poppy seeds or sour cherries and apples. It is a staple dish of the former countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which at its height spanned well into Slovakia.

Julia carefully grabs a piece of dough and stretches a piece.

“I’m trying to find out if the dough is elastic enough, because it should be transparent as a paper, like paper for rolling cigarettes,” she says.

And some say you should be able to read a love letter or newspaper through it. The thinner the dough, the more delicate the taste.

But the idea of stretching glutenous dough wasn’t invented in this part of the world. It probably arrived when the Ottoman Empire stretched into this area. The Greeks have phyllo; the Balkans, borek; and here, that layered dough became strudel.

On a floured tablecloth, Julia rolls out the dough, then picks it up and starts stretching it on the backs of her hands, sort of like pizza dough.

“You can really play with the dough because it’s not sticky at all,” she says.

Then she places it back on the table and gently coaxes it until it’s thinner than a wafer. Never mind the tears; they’ll be rolled up in apples and poppy seeds and brushed with melted butter.

After about 45 minutes in the oven, the tops are golden brown and we cut up the rolled pastries. As we bite into the flaky layers, I finally know enough to start practicing the strudel my grandmother made — and hopefully I won’t end up throwing it at the walls.

[yumprint-recipe id=’3′]

Gardener’s Twofer: First Ketchup ‘N’ Fries Plant Hits U.S. Market

Mains, Portfolio | February 12, 2015 | By

Love growing potatoes and tomatoes? This spring, gardeners in the U.S. (and Europe) will be able to get both tuber and fruit from a single plant.

"It's not just any old tomato or any old potato. It's actually a really good, all-around potato at the base," says Michael Perry with Thomas

“It’s not just any old tomato or any old potato. It’s actually a really good, all-around potato at the base,” says Michael Perry with Thomas

It even has a catchy name: Ketchup ‘n’ Fries.

“It’s like a science project,” says Alice Doyle of SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables, the company that’s licensing the variety for U.S. markets from the U.K. company that developed it. “It’s something that is really bizarre, but it’s going to be fun [for gardeners] to measure and see how it grows.”

This isn’t a genetically modified organism but a plant of two different nightshades: the top of a cherry tomato grafted onto a white potato.

“Tomatoes and potatoes are in the same family, and that makes it feasible,” says John Bagnasco, also of SuperNaturals.

Grafting, the technique of taking two different plants in the same family and fusing them together, has been around since ancient times. Today, fruit trees, grape vines and roses are still grafted onto well-established rootstocks. (A New York artist is even attempting to graft branches from 40 different kinds of stone fruit onto a single tree, as The Salt reported in August.)

Grafting is advantageous for higher yields and disease resistance. For example, a tree that is genetically resistant to soil diseases might not produce a juicy peach or a perfectly tart apple. So plant breeders can take branches from trees with tastier fruit and graft them onto the hardy rootstocks.

Sam Van Aken’s grafted fruit trees are still quite young, but this artist rendering shows what he expects the “Tree of 40 Fruit” to look like in springtime in a few years.

Guerrilla grafter Tara Hui grafts a fruiting pear branch onto an ornamental fruit tree in the San Francisco Bay Area. She doesn’t want the location known because the grafting is illegal.

Over the past century, botanists have discovered vegetable or soft-tissue grafting. Grafters will take two separate seedlings — with stems of the same size and shape — and cut them in half. The top of one is then matched with the wound of the bottom. They are fused with a tiny plastic clip and taken into a special greenhouse while they grow into one plant. If the combination is correct, the whole organism should be stronger.

This idea of the tomato-potato twofer isn’t actually new either. In the early 1900s, botanist Luther Burbank successfully grafted a potato top onto a tomato root, creating a viable plant — except that it was, shall we say, fruitless. He even experimented with a tomato-potato hybrid, affectionately named a “pomato.” Since then, home gardeners have experimented with these chimera-esque grafted plants to varying success.

Finding the right partners is tricky at best. You have to find two plants that work well together to produce a balanced harvest of fruit and tubers.

“If you’re growing a potato from a seed, as the potato germinates, the stem is much thinner than a tomato when it germinates,” says Bagnasco. “You have to start the seeds at separate times and try to get the potatoes’ stem up to size.”

The plant is an early tomato grafted to a late-producing potato. The two can be harvested throughout the season. SuperNaturals

The plant is an early tomato grafted to a late-producing potato. The two can be harvested throughout the season.

After five years of experimenting, SuperNaturals decided to license an already successful variety developed for Thomas & Morgan, a U.K.-based plant company. About 40,000 TomTatoes were sold last year in the U.K., says Michael Perry, a product development manager for Thomas & Morgan who worked on TomTato. He says the goal was to make a combination that was more than a novelty plant.

“It’s not just any old tomato or any old potato. It’s actually a really good, all-around potato at the base,” Perry says. “Then on the top you’ve got the potential to have up to 500 super-sweet fruit.”

The nearly translucent Glass Gem Corn looks more like a work of art than a vegetable.

They also had to find an early tomato and late-producing potato, so the two could be harvested throughout the season. It took 15 years to develop the winning combination.

The TomTato is being released as Ketchup ‘n’ Fries in the U.S. this spring, and the producers say the plant is sparking new interest in gardening. Perry says it wasn’t just his usual customers who were interested in this last year in the U.K.

“It was also teenagers and kids — people who wouldn’t have been interested before, so it kind of opened it to a wider audience,” he says.

SuperNaturals says garden centers across the country will be stocking Ketchup ‘n’ Fries in the spring. It’s also available online at Garden America and at the Territorial Seed Co.

Food waste provides fertile ground for tech innovators

Portfolio | October 27, 2014 | By

Food waste is a big problem around the world. The United Nations reports that 1.3 billion tons of food are tossed every year. But now, figuring out how to keep produce and leftovers out of landfills has become fertile ground for tech innovators.  

Throwing out food happens all along the supply chain. Here’s an example: A farmer ships out a truckload of eggplant, but when it arrives, the re-seller thinks the color’s a bit off.  

“They say it should be dark or it should be purple. I’m not really sure what color eggplant is supposed to be, but a lot of times, eggplant is refused because it’s not the color they want,” explains long-haul trucker, Richard Gordon. “Or you might get a load of potatoes with too many eyes in it or too many curves and they reject it for that reason.”

Gordon has transported food along the East Coast for 30 years. When a shipment was rejected, he hated throwing it in a dumpster, so he’d call his brother to help. 

“I would get on the phone and try to find a place for him to donate it to,” says Richard’s brother, Roger Gordon. “We realized one day that hey, you know, Rich is calling me from a mobile computer, we should be able to find a way to take me out of the equation.”

Two years ago, Roger Gordon launched the web and app service, Food Cowboy. It connects truckers, wholesalers, caterers and restaurants with food charities and composters. Food rescuers will pay 10 cents a pound and suppliers can get a tax write-off for the donation. 

When food becomes available, it has to get to a rescuer fast, which is why an instant, established network is important. As a result, food waste apps are popping up across the country. In New York, there’s PareUp, and in northern California,Crop Mobster. Two MIT business students are launching Spoiler Alert in Boston later this month.

“We are creating a mobile marketplace and routing tool to help businesses connect with other businesses to help one another manage their excess, expiring and spoiled food,” explains Ricky Ashenfelter, who created the service with his classmate, Emily Malina. It’s a happy coincidence that Massachusetts just banned large amounts of food waste from heading into the landfill.

Malina says users will pay a monthly subscription fee to set up transactions based on profiles filled out by the retailers and rescuers. “Spoiler Alert would then be used to confirm the exchange, route the driver from the non-profit, in most cases, to the destination where the food is available and then process the transaction,” says Malina.

These start-ups hope that bringing partners together will reduce landfill waste and curb hunger. Roger Gordon estimates Food Cowboy has brought more than 100,000 meals to people who need them. “We have a lot of problems in this country, a lot of really complicated problems, but hunger and food waste shouldn’t be one of them,” he says. “We have enough food to feed every hungry person in America, wholesome food, every day.”

His brother, Richard, sums it up best. 

“No matter how small it is, I hate to throw it away,” says Richard Gordon. “And, I can’t eat that many carrots, you know.”

Featured in: Marketplace Morning Report for Monday October 27, 2014

Undoing Segregation In A Slovakian School

Portfolio | March 11, 2014 | By

Two teams of teenage boys play soccer, while adults and younger children look on from wooden picnic benches on a grassy athletic field behind an elementary school. Later, there will be relay races, tug-of-war and dancing. The organizers are preparing a lunch of paprika-colored sauerkraut soup, bread and slices of watermelon. The motto of the day is “also sport can unite.” Wobbly translation aside, the organizers are trying to make a point in this town in eastern Slovakia.

“We want to unite these children, whether they’re Roma or non-Roma, because all children want to play together and they do understand each other,” says Monika Duždová, a Slovak Roma who helped organize this sports day in this small town of Šarišské Michaľany that has a population of close to 3,000 residents. The gathering here has attracted both white Slovaks and Roma. And it was here at this school that human rights attorneys have focused a fight for racial equality.

This former communist country has a homogenous majority population of ethnic Slovaks. It’s home to several different cultural minorities, including Hungarian, Czech, Ukrainian and even German residents. But here in the eastern part of the country, the Roma minority stands out more than the other subcultures. Because they often have darker skin, as well as a non-European language and culture, they have for centuries remained separate from the dominant population.

As Duždová passes out food and drinks to hungry kids, there’s a palpable dedication and obvious enthusiasm to everything she does. With reddish-brown curls framing her olive-skinned face, she speaks with idealism and conviction about the importance of local children playing together today. She grew up here and raised her family here, where there is an assimilated Roma minority. She moves easily in both Slovak and Roma circles and says she’s proud to be part of both cultures. Her understanding of both ways of life keeps her optimistic about fostering a respect between the two cultures.

“There was no problem with non-Roma and Roma children playing together,” said Vlado Rafael, another event organizer and also a Roma. He said he observed a sense of color blindness throughout the day.

Culture Of Segregation

A few weeks later, that sense of color blindness has disappeared. Students gather in front of the elementary school that hosted the sports days. Clusters of young boys and girls laugh and chat together in anticipation of the first day of school. Some clutch their mothers’ hands, others hold bouquets of flowers for their teachers. More than half of the students are Roma, their darker skin reinforcing their separation from the lighter-skinned Slovak population.

The sports day showed that integration is a possibility, but casual student banter reveals current schisms. When asked if they ever play with the Roma kids, a group of sandy-haired ethnic Slovaks doesn’t hesitate to answer.

“No. We don’t play with them,” says one 10-year old. Another chimes in: “Because they are ugly.”

An 11-year-old Roma student named Luca explained: “The white kids didn’t want to play with us, so we just played together.”

Human rights activists have made this bucolic town surrounded by grassy hills and sunflower fields the nucleus of the movement to integrate the Slovak and Roma cultures.

In 2008, the principal of this school, Mária Cvancigerová (who has since been fired and has sued the school for firing her), moved the Roma kids to separate classrooms on the second floor. The Roma kids would get cold lunches and the ethnic Slovak students would have warm lunches served in the cafeteria. When it was time for recess, the whites would go to the Biely Dvor (“white courtyard”) and Roma to theČierny Dvor (“black courtyard”). Though a few assimilated Roma children remained in the white classrooms, the practical result was racial segregation.

The tension between the Roma and non-Roma cultures started centuries ago. Though stories, myths and tales abound as to how and why the Roma arrived in Europe, the exact reasons are unclear. Most historians believe the Roma left the province of Rajasthan in India between the 6th and 11th centuries. European records first document their existence in the 14th century. The Romani language spoken throughout the many varying populations in Europe has traces of Persian and Hindi. Culturally peripatetic, they traveled in groups and became known for their metalworking, music and crafts.

They were also accused of being thieves and criminals. Europeans called them “gypsies,” assuming their dark skin meant they came from Egypt. The English term “getting gypped” or ripped off refers to the Roma. “Gypsy” is a term that outsiders called them and is now considered pejorative. “Roma” is the preferred word.

Despite their centuries-long presence, the stereotypes persist today: Roma are lazy, they don’t want to work, they just live off the government, they are dirty, they are criminals, they are thieves. Roma in Slovakia are often seen begging or playing street music. They are rarely seen working in shops or restaurants or any public place of employment. The Slovak Republic reported an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent in 2012, but surveys by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme found that Roma, between 20 and 64 years of age, showed that only 30 percent of that population had paid employment. Aid groups report that unemployment in some areas in Eastern Slovakia is as high as 80 and 90 percent for the Roma.

Part of the reason the unemployment remains high is because Roma students lack higher education. Segregation of Roma students is the norm and is an accepted practice in many schools. The Roma students are also more likely to attend special education schools designed for children with mental disabilities. The European Roma Rights Centre reports that about 60 percent of the students in special education schools are of Roma descent:

“The situation in education of Romani children is alarming: about 60% of the total number of pupils enrolled in special education designed for mentally disabled pupils are of Romani origin. Roma account for 86% of pupils attending special classrooms within mainstream elementary schools. In 2010 more than 20% of all Romani children in Slovakia were enrolled in special education settings, whereas according to national averages 4.1% of pupils in the respective school age were enrolled in special schools and 2.2% in special classes.”

It’s a practice that is not isolated to Slovakia. Romania, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Hungary also have more a disproportionately high number of Roma students in schools meant for children with mental disabilities.

The school in Šarišské Michaľany. Sáša Woodruff

The school in Šarišské Michaľany.
Sáša Woodruff

Focus On Education


The support for Roma human rights doesn’t get much support from within Slovakia. Aid groups working on integration and equality rely on foreign groups for funding.

The Center for Civil Human Rights is a small organization based in the eastern Slovakian city of Kosice. Large black-and-white prints of Roma children hang on the wall of the modest offices where Stefan Ivanco works with attorney Vanda Durbáková on bringing discrimination cases into the Slovak court system to effect social change.

As a researcher and program coordinator for the group, Ivanco has observed many schools racially segregating Roma children into separate classrooms. It is a practice that is culturally accepted, though technically illegal according to a 2004 anti-discrimination law.

“Our intention was to pick up some case to start litigation in order to raise discussion about this issue in Slovakia, to draw attention of decision makers, politicians in Slovakia to deal with this issue,” he explained.

A 2012 United Nations Development Programme survey showed that 43 percent of Roma students in mainstream schools were taught in ethnically segregated classrooms. The practice started to mushroom after the fall of communism in 1989. Discrimination still existed during the decades beforehand, but the strict authoritarian system promoted assimilation. School segregation became more pronounced under the free-market system.

“The segregation was not so serious like now,” Ivanco said. “In the last two decades, we can actually see that maybe this issue got worse.”

So as the legal team set out to choose a school to expose the practice, it had to choose carefully.

“It was really important to pick up the case which has the most possibility to win because we wanted a positive court decision,” said Durbáková, a lawyer who works with civil rights cases in Slovakia.

Unlike the civil rights movement in the U.S., before Brown v. Board of Education, where the laws in the books allowed for “separate, but equal” classrooms, human rights advocates in Slovakia faced a very different situation. In Slovakia, separate but equal is illegal; those laws just aren’t not universally followed.

From all the schools observed, they decided the particular dynamics of the elementary school in Šarišské Michaľany were most likely to prevail in court. “We had a list of kids, we have evidence that Roma-only classes exist,” explained Durbáková.

The Roma settlement of Ostralovny is a short distance from the town of Šarišské Michaľany. Sáša Woodruff

The Roma settlement of Ostralovny is a short distance from the town of Šarišské Michaľany.
Sáša Woodruff

Two Towns

Šarišské Michaľany is home to stuccoed homes and well-tended gardens lining the streets. But drive just two miles east and the road winds into the village of Ostrovany, which is home to an impoverished Roma shantytown. The makeshift collections of shelters and homes are typical of Roma settlements in Slovakia. The residents are under constant threat of eviction because they are often squatting on state or privately-owned land. Many don’t have sewer systems or running water. Children face high rates of diarrhea, infections and respiratory diseases. Many of the villages have walls built around them to keep the residents separate from the rest of the population.

“Life is hard in Slovakia for everyone, but especially for the Roma. And it’s especially hard for people without an education,” said Peter Kaleja, a resident of the settlement and an assistant principal at the school in Šarišské Michaľany.

The residences lining the narrow streets range from simple cinderblock homes to shacks cobbled together from corrugated scrap metal and wood sealed with dirt and straw. Stray mutts wander the area, as men, women and children linger in the streets. Without running water, young girls come to pump water into plastic buckets from one of the public wells. Because there is no school here, the children have to walk or take the bus to the school a couple kilometers away to Šarišské Michaľany, where the town is mostly white with a very assimilated Roma population.

Monika Duždová, who helped organize the sports day, is part of that assimilated Roma community. She grew up here and raised her family here. Duždová says the cultures and the standards of living are very different in Ostrovany and Šarišské Michaľany.

“But in the schools, they are all our children and we want to integrate them too,” Duždová said. And it was this type of community support that became a major reason that this school became the focus of desegregation.

“We found it really important that part of Roma parents living in Šarišské Michaľany disagreed with the situation. And also the evidence … was really good in this case,” said Durbankova.

A year ago, a regional court ruled that the school was indeed violating human rights and ruled that the school had to start making steps to bring the Roma children into mainstream classrooms.

“It’s quite clear now, that this is really a huge problem here in Slovakia, but this case in Šarišské Michaľany wanted to give a strong signal that the separation of [Roma and Slovak by] itself undermines the human dignity regardless of the quality of education,” said Ivanco.

Opposing Forces

But the court ruling and the sports day have not erased long-simmering tensions. Many ethnic Slovak children have transferred out of the school and gone to private or other area schools.

The same weekend that brought the sports day also brought an extremist political rally to town.

Marian Kotleba is a right-wing, nationalist politician who came to promote his anti-Roma agenda. HisĽudovej strany Naše Slovensko (“People’s party, Our Slovakia”) campaigns against the Roma; its website regularly refers to them as “cigánskych parazitov” — “Gypsy parasites.”

Wearing matching green golf shirts and holding matching flags, about a dozen followers publicly identified with the group. They sang the Slovak national anthem and clapped when Kotleba took to the microphone.

He spoke out about about the high unemployment and birth rate among Roma and expressed fears that ethnic Slovaks would soon become a minority.

“We want our children to grow up in a place that isn’t pillaged and ruled by a Gypsy state.” he said, “We still have hope to save Slovakia for the decent people. We don’t want our children to come to us and ask, ‘Father Mother, what were you doing, when you didn’t save the country for us?'”

Slovakia’s Roma population isn’t the largest in Europe, but it has one of the largest per capita populations in Europe. The 2011 census reported that Roma made up about two percent of the total population, just over 105,000. But demographers and other surveys say those numbers are way too low and more realistic numbers are 320,000 and 480,000 Roma living in the country of 5.5 million. Even with the adjusted numbers, this impoverished population is far from tipping the scales into a majority.

Kotleba continued his inflammatory speech with criticism of the foreign groups working for racial equality in Slovakia. Though his views in the country are extremist, it’s difficult to find people who understand the consequences of the racism and segregation that the Roma have endured. Igor André, who co-created a group EduRoma that is working to facilitate inclusive education in the Šarišské Michaľany school, says there are very small pockets of activists who support equal rights.

“These are only so-called islands of positive deviation. It’s not something like in the U.S. that you would have a huge grassroots movement,” said André. “In Slovakia, you don’t have this phenomenon. So … we have [a] long way before us to reach [the level of the] civil rights movement in U.S. in the 50s.”

The pressure to address the many human rights violations isn’t coming from internal groups, but from the United Nations, the European Union and non-profits like Open Society Foundation and Amnesty International. School segregation is just one of the issues. Forced sterilization of women, job discrimination and housing evictions are just a few of the others.

Path Forward

When the school doors opened to the 2013-2014 school year, children, teachers and parents were led into the central courtyard to a welcoming assembly. Duždová was there and led some students in a song. Kaleja from the settlement was there too, optimistic about the future. Both Duždová and Kaleja have been appointed assistant principals to help bridge the cultural gaps.

“I want the children to see my example that they can better their lives by working and getting an education,” said Kaleja who believes there wouldn’t be segregation if the Roma were educated and assimilated.

The new principal, Jaroslav Valaštiak, has vowed to start the integration process, but the steps will be gradual. Only the academically top academically performing Roma children will be allowed into the classrooms for now.

“I don’t think there will be a lot of difficulties, but the Roma already feel inferior and feel pushed aside by society. It’s hard for them to adjust to being around non-Roma children. And the non-Romas exclude them,” said Valaštiak.

The court ruling says the school needed to desegregate, but didn’t specify how or how quickly the school should do it. EduRoma, founded by André and Vlado Rafael, are working with the teachers, administrators, parents and students to move the integration process forward. They have arranged for university student volunteers to work with any child who is struggling to make sure they don’t slip behind.

The group recently worked to get a school bus to run after school hours for kids living in the settlement in Ostrovany. EduRoma hopes this will help the kids participate in extra tutoring sessions and other extracurricular activities. The school has also formed an organization for parents that includes Roma parents to give them a say about the school’s direction. André and Rafael hope these initiatives will build a model for inclusive education that other schools around the country will be able to use.

“I’m convinced that school in Šarišské Michaľany will move in a positive direction and towards inclusive education,” André explained, “I think also other schools will realize that some that they have to stop complaining all the time and that they have to do something about their own resources.”

And despite the many obstacles, the team believes this school could be the beginning of the road to racial equality.

“I am optimistic, but it will be a long way,” Rafael said.

Increased Hostility Against Jews And Roma In Hungary

Portfolio | March 9, 2014 | By

People light candles during a commemoration to pay tribute to victims of a series of deadly attacks against Roma or Gipsy people in Budapest, Hungary, Feb. 23, 2012. Zsolt Szigetvary/AP

People light candles during a commemoration to pay tribute to victims of a series of deadly attacks against Roma or Gipsy people in Budapest, Hungary, Feb. 23, 2012.
Zsolt Szigetvary/AP

Ahead of next month’s parliamentary election in Hungary, a report published in February found the Roma minority in that Central European country face an unprecedented amount of violence and discrimination. While prejudice against Roma, pejoratively known as Gypsies, is widespread throughout Europe, the report says Hungary is more anti-immigrant and hostile toward minorities than elsewhere.

“In the last five years in Hungary, the establishment of vigilante groups and hate crimes against Roma and other minority groups has characterized a climate of increasing social and economic exclusion,” according to the report, from the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

A 2011 survey finds many Hungarians share anti-Roma sentiments with 60 percent believing that criminality was in “gypsy” blood. The same poll found 40 percent believed it was OK to have bars and clubs where Roma were not allowed in.

These widespread attitudes help explain the popularity and political strength of the Jobbik party. It’s the country’s third largest, holding 43 seats of 386 in the Hungarian Parliament. It defines itself as a “principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party,” but critics say it’s a radical organization that targets minorities.

Its website, “The Movement For A Better Hungary,” has a page dedicated to defending itself from accusations that it is extremist, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic. It charges that the foreign press wrongly concludes hard economic times have triggered Hungarians and other Central Europeans to victimize minority populations:

“Quite simple really. Central Europeans + Economic Downturn = (or rather, must and can only equal) Hateful Extremists and persecution of minorities.

“People don’t behave like this anywhere else mind you, only around here. Take a few pennies out of a Hungarian’s pocket, and he turns almost immediately into a slavering ultra-nationalist who on the way back from clubbing a local Gypsy, will pause only to hurl yet another brick through the windows of his nearest synagogue.”

The party’s sarcastic response is meant to dismiss the accusations as ludicrous. But statements and actions of party members over the last few years go against those Web protestations. In November 2012, one of Jobbik’s Parliament members, Márton Gyöngyösi reportedly asked Parliament to create a list of Jews who allegedly posed national security threats.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center blasted Gyöngyösi’s statement and called it “sadly reminiscent of the genocidal Nazi regime which murdered hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews with the help of numerous local collaborators.”

In the small Roma village of Bodvalenke, building walls are covered in frescoes that represent Roma culture. It is meant to encourage tourism and integration. Tamas Soki/AP

In the small Roma village of Bodvalenke, building walls are covered in frescoes that represent Roma culture. It is meant to encourage tourism and integration.
Tamas Soki/AP

Gyöngyösi said he was misunderstood and was referring to dual citizens of Israel and Hungary.

When asked in an interview by the Jewish Chronicle Online if Hungary should apologize for the Holocaust, Gyöngyösi replied “Me, should I say sorry for this when 70 years later, I am still reminded on the hour, every hour about it? Let’s get over it, for Christ’s sake. I find this question outrageous.”


The World Jewish Congress held its Plenary Assembly in Budapest last year to highlight anti-semitism in Hungary. When WJC President Ronald S. Lauder opened the gathering he said, “We are seeing, once again, growing ignorance, growing intolerance, growing hatred. Once again we see the outrage of anti-Semitism. … In the press and on television, anti-Semitism and incitement against the Roma minority are becoming commonplace, even accepted.”

Lauder added the persecution of Jews and Roma have happened in tandem in the past, “Let us never forget the Roma were also victims of the Nazi Holocaust.”

The Harvard report says the anti-minority climate is having a deleterious effect on the Roma and that hate speech by politicians and public figures has contributed to physical and violent assaults against this marginalized population. The European Roma Rights Centre documented cases of seven Romani adults and two Romani children who died in attacks from 2008 to 2012.

Another concerning issue in the report is the rise of paramilitary and extremist groups, which target not only Roma, but Jews and the LGBT community. And many of these groups conduct weapon trainings for their members. One of the report authors says the frequency and regularity of these instructions is unique to this central European country.

“There are some news in Romania about few trainings organized by some extremist organization, but nothing at the level of Hungary,” said Margareta Matache, who has worked on Roma and minority issues in Europe for 15 years. She added, “What is interesting here is that each of these organizations, they organize these sort of training, not only once, they have regular trainings for their members on how to use weapons.”

Anti-minority rhetoric runs rampant in these groups and the Jobbik party has ties to them. The party’s current leader, Gabor Vona, founded the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary group in 2007. Matache says, “One of their more explicit objective was to stop the Gypsy crime” and “that Gypsy crime is a serious form of crime which poses a danger to everyone.” The Hungarian Guard was eventually banned, but Vona has worked to re-establish the group.

Last November, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest weighed in when it condemned an event organized by the Jobbik party. The embassy described Jobbik as a “Hungarian political party identified with ethnic hatred and anti-Semitism” and called it out after members unveiled a bust of Miklos Horthy, a Nazi ally and the leader of Hungary during World War II.

“Although the significant number of counter-demonstrators showed there is strong opposition to the organizers’ views, and members of the Hungarian government have expressed disapproval, an event such as this requires swift, decisive, unequivocal condemnation by Hungary’s highest ranking leaders,” the statement read.

Earlier this year, the Hungarian ambassador to the United Nations apologized for Hungary’s role in the Jewish and Roma Holocaust during World War II. This was the first time the country apologized for its involvement.

“We owe an apology to the victims because the Hungarian state was guilty for the Holocaust. Firstly because it failed to protect its citizens from destruction and secondly because it helped and provided financial resources to the mass murder,” said ambassador Csaba Kőrösi.

In the last year and a half, Matache says she and her colleagues have observed a decrease in rallies and violence against Roma, which she considers a good sign. But that trend has been coupled with legislative changes that worry her. The report says that changes to the constitution limiting minority rights and free speech should be cause for concern, even as violent attacks decrease: “In other countries such as Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, similar trends have been recorded: outright violence has been supplanted by anti-minority policies and legislation.”

Colleen Bell, the United States ambassador-designate to Hungary, expressed worry during her confirmation hearings in the Senate about recent changes to the constitution and fears that democracy was eroding.

“Many argue that sweeping legislative and constitutional changes have hurt the international investment climate, undermined property rights, weakened the judiciary, and centralized power in the hands of the executive,” Bell said in her statement. “The United States has also expressed concern about the rise of extremism which unfortunately is a trend not unique to Hungary. However, the rise in Hungary of extremist parties is of particular concern.”

Matache hopes the European Union will step in to help curb the violence and discrimination in this member country.

“They really have to take some measures because there is a legal framework available and there is a need for some measure to stop the violence,” she says,”But also, to make sure that the Roma, Jews and LGBT, all minorities in Hungary, they feel safe because there is a level of insecurity that those people cannot really manage it from both the local level in their villages, but also in big cities.”

And she says the European Union should figure out how to deal with member countries that violate the EU’s human rights laws. She hopes reports like this one will also catch the attention of the U.S. and lead the international community to place pressure on countries like Hungary to move toward a more accepting society. But she says cultural education is also key to improving the situation.

“Hungary is one of the countries, along with Romania, Bulgaria and countries in central and Eastern Europe where children of both minority and majority population do not actually have the chance to learn about prejudice,” she says, “The children belonging to majority population could actually learn more about minorities, by being involved in classes and reading more on cultural diversity and having educated children on cultural diversity, I think that the level of prejudice might decrease.”

Growing Vegetables From Seeds Takes Root For Many Gardeners

Portfolio | May 20, 2013 | By

More and more gardeners are bypassing the local nursery and instead starting their veggies from seed. Seeds are often cheaper, and they give growers a bigger choice of varieties. At a community garden in Venice, Calif., students learn the ins and outs of gardening from scratch.



It’s planting season, at least for those growing things like summer squash, beans and cherry tomatoes. And we’re seeing a change. Rather than buy already developed seedlings, which are more expensive, many gardeners are buying seed packets. It’s a sign they want to start their gardens from scratch. And seed companies say they’ve seen an increase in orders since the economic downturn.

Reporter Sasa Woodruff reports that it’s easy to read the directions on these seed envelopes, the hard part is following them.


SASA WOODRUFF, BYLINE: Rectangular dirt beds of chard and kale sit along side trees filled with immature fruit, in the community garden off busy Venice Boulevard in West Los Angeles. In the middle of the garden is a classroom. And that’s where Mollie Wine sits with a handful of students learning how to coax a seed into a full-grown plant. A black thumb has plagued her for a long time.

MOLLIE WINE: I’ve been killing tomatoes, herbs – I kill it all. This is my first time actually learning how to do it right.

WOODRUFF: At the front of the classroom, master gardener, Nancy Mills stands shaking a packet of radish seeds.

NANCY MILLS: We hear seeds. Hear them?


MILLS: But what do we know about seeds? And what do we do when we buy the packet?

WOODRUFF: Now, this may seem obvious, but Mills tells her students reading and following the instructions is key. People often get seduced by images of voluptuous tomatoes or girthy eggplants. But Mills says they forget to space and water according to the directions. Too much bright sun can shrivel the fledgling plant, but over-watering does the exact same thing.

MILLS: That means once you put the seed in the soil, it’s four-to ten days before you will see the first two leaves.

WOODRUFF: Seeds are finicky creatures but they have a charm that commercially grown plants just can’t produce. Also in the classroom is 27-year-old Ben Adlin. He’s inspired by rarer vegetables gardeners can only find in seed catalogs.

BEN ADLIN: There’s more than one type of cucumber, which is something that I feel like I’ve only learned since trying to buy seeds and not just going to the supermarket.

WOODRUFF: Some of those less, common varieties: German Schmorgurken, Indian yellow and Japanese climbing. Adlin has also acquired a taste for rarer bean varieties like Good Mother Stallard and Rio Zape.

ADLIN: The more boutiquey types of beans are going to set you back like 14.99 a pound at some crazy, you know, health food store. Whereas, like, you buy bean, you put it in the ground, it’s kind of fun to kind of watch this dinosaur crawl out of the Earth.

WOODRUFF: A seed packet usually costs a couple dollars and yields dozens of plants. By contrast, a couple dollars gets you only one seedling. So there’s an economic appeal in addition to the culinary allure. Renee Shepherd has been selling seeds through catalogs and online for more than a quarter of a century. When she started, her business focused on flowers, now vegetables make up a bigger part.

RENE SHEPHERD: I have seen in the last few years, particularly since the beginning of the Great Recession, a tremendous change in the kinds of seed we sell. In fact, we sell, 30 percent more vegetables than we did, say, five years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Doesn’t it smell wonderful? The loam, feel the loam. It also depends on which…

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It’s so soft.

WOODRUFF: Back in the community garden, students are planting radish, chard and bean seed inside a cutup milk carton. They water the soil. And even Mollie Wine with her black thumb is optimistic.

WINE: I have high hopes for this garden. Actually paying attention makes a big difference.

WOODRUFF: With a little time and patience, those seeds will take root.

For NPR News, I’m Sasa Woodruff.


GREENE: This is NPR News.


A Checkerboard Cake With Slovak Roots

Desserts, Portfolio, Recipes | December 28, 2011 | By

Part of an ongoing series on unique holiday dishes

To celebrate the new year, for as long as I can remember, my mom has baked a cake called punch torte, a tradition started in her family back in the former Czechoslovakia.

“At midnight, we pour champagne and had a toast to New Year’s and then we hugged and kissed each other, drank our champagne, and then we ate cold cuts, potato salad, and then after that we had the cake with a little bit of coffee,” my mother remembers.

It’s a pink-glazed sponge cake with layers soaked in a rum and citrus syrup. It all starts out with 16 eggs. Yes, 16.

“Eight eggs for the basic dough and then 8 eggs for dough [that] we divide in half. Half of it we make pink and half we put a cocoa in it and we make it brown,” my mom says.

You start by separating the yolks from the whites, mixing three different cake batters: one white, one pink, one brown.

The tradition of serving up this pink-glazed torte goes back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen in the early 1900s. She ran a restaurant in the next town over, but at home she made all sorts of extravagant creations without the help of modern machinery.

“She’d make this very similar, but she would blend it and beat it all by hand,” my mother says.

My mother learned to make this cake as a young girl. She was born during World War II and food was scarce, but my family was fortunate enough to have a sprawling garden. So, the 16 eggs were a luxury they could afford.

“We had chickens and we had goats for milk during the war when they were bombing the town, and so we were able to eat them and enjoy it,” she remembers.

Some of the other ingredients weren’t so easy to come by. The cake soaks in a citrus rum punch, which calls for the juice of one lemon and one orange. Finding citrus in this former communist country required both patience and connections.

The checkerboard pattern is created by cutting pink and chocolate layers into concentric rings and reassembled to look like a bull's-eye. Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff

The checkerboard pattern is created by cutting pink and chocolate layers into concentric rings and reassembled to look like a bull’s-eye.
Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff

“If we got one lemon for a tea, we had to stand in line for two, three hours, and if there was news that in a little vegetable store there would be lemons next day, somebody secretly told somebody and then everybody spread it between their friends, and then everybody lined up in front of the store and waited for the lemons,” she remembers.

Once the lemons and oranges were acquired, they were squeezed into a cooked-sugar syrup. The pink and chocolate cakes were cut into concentric rings and reassembled to look like bull’s-eyes. The layers were stacked on top of each other and the syrup spooned over top. Then came a 24-hour wait.

The next day, the cake was glazed with a pink lemon frosting. In the 1940s and ’50s, food dyes were not available, but my great-grandmother had a stash hidden away.

“A lot of the stuff my grandmother had left from the hotel and restaurants we had, and we were so excited to see that lovely pink cake,” she says.

For me, the bubblegum-colored frosting isn’t the best part of this cake. It’s when you cut into it. Thanks to those concentric circles, a dazzling checkerboard appears in each slice. It’s best enjoyed with a glass of champagne.

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