An ‘Ode’ to Paprika, by Michael Fricker

I used to say, “Paprika makes everything better.” It was mostly tongue in cheek but when I really contemplate the idea, there isn’t much I can think of that it would not improve.

Many a bad day I’ve cheered myself up with a hot pot of goulash or a hearty plate of paprikash. The finely ground red stuff adds color to boring dishes, kicks up the spice in others and brings all manner of heat, fruit, sweet, smoky and delicious flavors to any dish you might be making.

It is also essential to that Hungarian style sausage, my father and others like him call “Brotwurst.” Some would say the possibilities are endless when it comes to the ground powder of the red capsicum. Even now as I write I’m reminded of more and more of my favorite dishes that rely on the spice; the “Grumbiere Supp mit Ei.” my grandmom Fricker and my mom make quite well.

I’m tempted now to go into an old explanation from my grandpop Joe Hartmann about why we call the potato a “Grumbiere,” but that’s a tangent we don’t have time for now. (Note: When you see me in person, ask me and I’ll share.)

Edward Weiss and Ruth Buchan’s “The Paprikas Weiss Hungarian Cookbook,” calls the stuff “…the first democratic spice,” because the Hungarians could grow it themselves and therefore not have to rely on the expensive imports from the Spice Islands.

“Found growing in the Western hemisphere, the plant was brought to Spain in the hold of Columbus’s ship on its return voyage. From the Iberian Peninsula it spread across Europe to Turkey. The Turks, In their drive for conquest, came thundering into Hungary and introduced paprika to the populace in the sixteenth century…Today it is acknowledged the world over that the finest paprika anywhere is grown in the region surrounding the Hungarian town of Szeged on the Tisza River.”

-Edward Weiss

The biography of Mr. Weiss states he was born to Hungarian parents in New York’s Upper East Side of Manhattan. I think with a surname like his we can easily speculate that there’s some Germanic heritage in his family. Thats a family that once operated a large import company of Hungarian culinary items.

Our people have been influenced by our surroundings over time, whether back in our origins in Germany, to where we thrived in Eastern Europe, to now the United States.

“The Kitchen was also influenced by many cultures. As in their customs and traditions the cooking and eating habits are first influenced by the original German homeland. There is also influence from the Viennese. As in their language, all of their food was heavily influenced by Hungarian, Serbian, Romanian, and many other Balkan peoples.”

-Werner Fricker Jr.

Those influences made paprika a stalwart of our many people’s spice racks, a necessity in our many recipes and a flavor we crave for its uniqueness.

“When asked how much paprika to put in the Chicken Paprikash, my Great-Grandmother would say, ‘As much as it takes.'”

-Jenn Lineman Blank

You might just say we can’t get enough of the stuff. In the USA, the best you can get is the “Pride of Spice,” brand. (not a sponsor…yet).

Find their sweet, hot, as well as a variety of other spices at your local store.

Michael N. Fricker

Featured image by Michael N. Fricker

(Canon Eos Rebel T7. EF-S18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS II. ISO 800. 0ev. f5.6. 1/100 s)

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