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Royanne and Alex Kropog peruse the Hungarian Settlement Historical Society Cookbook that serves as a repository of Hungarian and other recipes and as a fundraiser for the Hungarian Settlement Museum in Albany.

ALBANY — After five years of collecting hundreds of recipes from Hungarian descendants from around the country, the "Hungarian Settlement Historical Society Cookbook" is on sale.

The organizers of the Hungarian Settlement Historical Museum undertook the project as a fundraiser to continue their efforts to preserve the history of Hungarians that settled in the area.

Alex Kropog, president of the Hungarian Settlement Historical Society, and his wife, Royanne, who serves as the group's treasurer, have dedicated most of their time and talents to the museum over the past several years. The Kropogs say their quest to preserve the unique settlement, which at one time was the largest rural Hungarian community in the nation, has been a “labor of love and devotion.” Through grants, donations, fundraisers and years of work on the part of many in the community, the museum welcomes several hundred guests a year.

"It’s completion marked a very special moment in the history of our unique community,” Alex Kropog said.

To help continue the fundraising to maintain the museum, a committee was formed to gather recipes from residents and people of Hungarian descent in other parts of the country. The committee edited the recipes and organized them by categories, and after about five years of work, the “Hungarian Settlement Historical Society Cookbook” was finally published.

The cookbook consists of 283 pages with 675 recipes. Also included are helpful cooking tips throughout the volume. A total of 135 contributors submitted recipes that are included in the collection. The Cookbook Committee included Juliana Petho Roberson, chairwoman, and Linda Cunningham and Laura Petho Johnson. The Kropogs and Petho Roberson were proofreaders. The cover was designed by Irene Good DeMars, a Hungarian artist. The cookbook is $20 and can be purchased at the museum.

At the heart of the cookbook are 147 Hungarian recipes. The remainder of the book is “all-American” recipes, according to Royanne Kropog. Included are recipes for appetizers and beverages, soups and salads, vegetables, main dishes, breads and rolls, desserts, meats and a section including miscellaneous recipes.

In the Hungarian section of the cookbook, the English names of the recipes are followed by the Hungarian names. Alex Kropog, who speaks Hungarian and has taught the language, said he spent considerable time translating the Hungarian names of the varied recipes.

The Kropogs said the most pronounced facet of Hungarian cooking is the use of the spice paprika. Kropog said although paprika is associated with Hungarian cuisine, the peppers from which it is made are native to the new world. Paprika originated in central Mexico and was taken to Spain in the 16th century. Eventually, the trade in the spice reached Central Europe and paprika did not become popular in Hungary until the late 18th century. Numerous recipes for meat dishes with paprika as the main seasoning are included in the cookbook.

Also prominent are recipes that feature vegetables, especially cabbage and bell peppers. The Kropogs related that the Hungarian pioneers who settled in the area maintained gardens where they grew fresh vegetables. For the Hungarian farmers who settled in the area starting in the late 1890s, strawberries were the money crop, but families supplemented their tables with the vegetables. In addition to strawberries, farmers also grew small crops for sale. The early settlers raised chickens and pigs and families would gather in the winter months to butcher and process pigs that provided fresh meat.

The Hungarians also enjoyed their sweets and many recipes in the book describe how to prepare such goodies as yam kifli and kalacs. Both are pastries that remain popular in the community to this day.

Food is part of the focus of the Harvest Celebration presented every October in the community. The festival features delicious food and desserts from the old country, according to the Kropogs. The festival also features folk dancing as it was brought over 100 years ago and Hungarian music that, according to the Kropogs, makes everyone want to dance.

“Our ancestors faced many challenges as they made their homes here in Livingston Parish and those of us who are dedicated to preserving the special legacy they left us know how important it was for families to enjoy meals together and celebrate the successes that eventually came after hard work. We think the cookbook is one more way to connect with our past while at the same time raising funds to help maintain the museum,” Alex Kropog said.

The book is dedicated to Louis C. Bartus, who was the first president of the Hungarian Settlement Historical Society. The dedication page says of Bartus, “Louis was passionate about his family, church, community, country and his Hungarian heritage. He was one of seven children born to Hungarian immigrants, the Reverend Alexander and Goldie Bartus in Hungarian Settlement of Louisiana.”

The history of how the Hungarian people came to settle in Livingston Parish began with the Brakenridge Lumber Co., which had extensive land holdings in Louisiana and other states. The huge sawmill in the Albany area attracted Hungarian workers who were working in factories in the eastern part of the United States after emigrating from Hungary. As the land was cleared of timber, the Brakenridge company decided to sell 20-acre plots of land to their workers, allowing the workers to purchase the land on credit.

An account in the preface of the cookbook relates, “The Hungarian founders who were already in Albany sent notice of this opportunity to Hungarian newspapers in the Northern states such as Ohio. The Hungarian refuges, tired of city life and working in factories, emigrated to Louisiana and found a land suitable to farming and people were welcomed, especially by the lumber company. They started strawberry farming as well as working in the mill before the lumber company was closed. Ultimately, these settlers became successful citizens of the United States and mostly Albany, Louisiana.”

Some historians have estimated that by 1935, about 200 families had made their homes in the Hungarian settlement and Royanne Kropog said that other historians have placed that number as high as 350 families. The family farms were in an area bounded by Albany to the north and the outskirts of Springfield to the south.

The Kropogs note that St. Margaret’s, the local Catholic church, and the Hungarian Presbyterian Church were the religious and cultural centers of life in the early community. Both churches remain active today. The duo said the community is still made up of people who have not forgotten their roots and such things as their language, clothing, arts and crafts, music and especially their food.

The museum, located in the heart of the area founded by the Hungarians, is a repository of many items related to the founding of the settlement. Also available at the museum is considerable information on Hungary and its history. Exhibits include such things as the Brakenridge Lumber Co., the strawberry industry, the Hungarian Harvest Dance, Hungarian embroidery and ceramics, church histories and more.

“It costs us about $15,000 a year to maintain the museum and we mostly derive those funds from visitors who pay a small fee to tour the museum. That’s why we are encouraging people to purchase our cookbook because those funds will help us maintain this museum. Our museum is one of only three in the United States dedicated to preserving the history of the Hungarian people and it is an important repository of a unique and valuable history. We appreciate all the help we can get,” Royanne Kropog said.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays and on the second Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours of the museum can also be arranged.