A few Sundays ago Györgyi and I went to the Pick Szalálami and Paprika Museum in Szeged. It’s not a big place, but it’s full of delightful kitsch. Plus for the entrance fee, which is around $5, you get a free salami sandwich and a postcard with complimentary postage. Woot!
The old black and whites were great, especially of the workers, former shops and factories. Even though the factory was taken over by the state and nearly run into the ground, it was still nice to see the ingenuity and devotion that went into making something that survived the Communist era and is, today, pretty iconic.
The museum has two floors. The first is dedicated to Pick Salami and the second floor to paprika.
Paprika was first used in Hungary as a decorative plant in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 18th century, the Turks reintroduced it a spice and was first cultivated in the Szeged region. The paprika plant thrives in the Great Plain because of all of the dry, sunny weather. Hungarian paprika is especially noted for its balanced spices and aroma, which is probably why no matter where you live in the United States, a grocery store near you is selling Szegedian paprika.
By the end of the 18th century, paprika it was so popular that it was even offered as church tithes. The following decades further cemented the region’s claim to the plant, with demand growing for a substitute for black pepper during WWI. Albert Szent-Györgyi discovered Vitamin C using a lovely little paprika, and ended up winning the Nobel Prize.
Mihály Borssy from Kecskemét is said to be the first to make paprika pálinka. Tasting paprika pálinka is sort of a rite of passage here, but I wouldn’t recommend it for someone with a weak constitution. Györgyi’s dad gave me a sample two Christmases ago. My stomach has never been the same.