With our eyes closed, we would have found the house of László Radics, the gingerbread master, in the garden-city street in Debrecen, following a gingerbread scent floating in the air. And on the facade of the house, the painted gingerbread heart surrounding the house number showed with complete certainty that we had arrived. The happiness of their Bernese Mountain Dog was already visible from outside the gate, foreshadowing the hospitality and joy of life of the hosts. It is no coincidence that those who choose this occupation turn to the cake being made with love. The dolls, mucus hussars and round plates of the gingerbread men were and will be not only delicious treats, but will be long-preserved memorabilia for those attending farewells and fairs. And big, colorful, mirrored hearts still serve as a gift of love today.
Gingerbreads delight us, spanning centuries through their applied symbols, they are still understandable today and speak to us.
Think of the house, the heart, the tulip motifs! Preparing for Christmas includes the gingerbread scent that sweeps through the apartment in most families. We know many recipes, we try them, we pass them on to each other. We make gingerbreads with simple punching molds, or we pattern the dough with modern silicone biscuit molds. The decoration can also be varied from the seeds to the colored glazes or the classic white egg foam writing. But how did this delicious cake come about and what makes it masterful?
A little gingerbread history
Honey has been consumed by mankind since time immemorial and has been used for a long time. For a long time, honey was an irreplaceable sweetener, so its esteem was saved from the dough made from it. Therefore, significance, in some places mystical power, was also attributed to it. Honey doughs, cakes and pies have been made since ancient times. The gingerbread craft appeared in Europe through German mediation. The first guilds were formed in Kassa, Bratislava and Banská Bystrica in the 17th century. century, but Brasov, Cluj-Napoca and Debrecen also became gingerbread centers over time.
The gingerbread in Debrecen has a special recipe, a special baking technique and a characteristic shape, the most special form of which is honey with a stick.
This craft was a guild industry in Debrecen already in 1713, its form and baking technique Sándor Kerékgyártó made it world famous in the 16th century. The most characteristic and beautiful of the gingerbreads made with rackets are the plate, coat of arms, hussars, dolls and the mirrored heart that pattern the Great Church. The rackets are unique wood-carved shapes, this was used to shape the dough. Both the carving and the workmanship of the pattern can be valued as a separate artistic activity, which is why the honeymooners highly valued their rackets, which were inherited from father to son.
With flour, honey, love
At the beginning of our conversation, in the hands of László Radics, there was a beautifully worked, 100-year-old family racket still in use today. We can’t know their secret family recipe, but all we’ve learned is that gingerbread has been made the same way in the family for over a hundred years. A secret was revealed by the master: what goes in must be put in, nothing should be spared. He has been baking tens of pounds of pasta every day for forty years, and he can still tell the story of being struck for the first time by the characteristic spicy scent. In the workshop, we see how the gingerbread is made. László Radics and his son, Zoltán, work in a division of labor: as the head of the family tears the dough, the younger gingerbread puts the teared forms in a baking tray, which then goes into the oven.
– You have to love, caress the dough. I say that if you don’t make it with love, it’s not worth it – says László Radics – We have several recipes, because we make several products. For example, rackets have a different composition than colored pasta. They are made according to the 100-year-old recipe of our family, with the addition of lots and lots of honey, without eggs and spices. The dough, which has been rested for days, is tapped into the rackets after some flouring. These have to be pressed in by hand, “ramming” the dough, which then takes on the given shape. It is then baked with great care to give it its distinctive, honey-brown color. The secret of a good dough is to make it hard, made of good quality flour and honey. We mostly use sunflower honey, but in the past we used to use mixed flower honey as well. It is important that we try to work only from domestic raw materials. Of course the shredded coconut, cinnamon and cloves do not grow here, but the wheat, sugar and honey are Hungarian. We have decades of relationships with beekeepers who bring honey here from the sunflower field. We manufacture three types of products. We always make hearts, hussars and necklaces in the first three months of the year. These are so-called dry materials, they don’t have a shelf life, so they look the same in December. We try to use food coloring with natural ingredients and do not add any additives. The other group is the puszedli. We make them a lot of times, and vanilla glaze, jam, chocolate, coconut, hazelnut and walnut versions are also available, he said. Our inherited woodcarving shapes are rooster, horse, hussar, sword, heart shape. Of course, in addition to the traditional forms, there are also individual requests, and we try to implement them as well. Nowadays, the writing technique of writing is going on, which did not exist fifty years ago. Back then, there were only traditional, typically red, mirrored, ornate hearts drawn with the racket and ejzol technique, which are perhaps the only ones we make today across the country. Making this is a bit more lengthy, and the best can really only be learned from an old craftsman. My son, for example, can do it more beautifully than I do, ”the master said firmly.
From father to son
László Radics is a real community man, selfless, helpful, happy to present his craft to the adult and children’s community. His public life is also outstanding: he is the vice-president of the handicraft section of the Hajdú-Bihar County Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a member of the board of the Hajdú-Bihar County Folk Art Association. His works are regularly featured in local and national competitions and exhibitions abroad, including in Rome, London and Moscow. His awards and recognitions include the King Zsiga Award (Association of Folk Art Associations) and the Csokonai Award of the City of Debrecen. He was awarded the title of Folk Craftsman in 1993 and the Master of Folk Art in 2015. The role of family heritage is significant in the gingerbread craft. The inheritance of the craft has been documented for several masters, as is the case in the Radics family. Radics László married a girl from Pázmándy, Hajdúböszörmény, whose family has a 100-year history of gingerbread. László Radics studied to be a medical technician and worked in this profession for 10 years. He regarded his father-in-law as his master, learning the tricks of the craft from him. He took over the management of the workshop in 1984 after the retirement of Master Pázmándy. He built his own workshop in Debrecen in 1988. He moved here with the material tools of the last century, wooden shapes, motifs, the ancient technique of making pasta. In addition to preserving the family tradition, László Radics also developed his own work style, forms and motives. His goal is to save as much of this ancient craft as possible for the present and posterity. Two sons were born.
Zoltán has been working hard in the family workshop since he was six years old. He attended a high school in the catering industry, but learned the gingerbread craft in his father’s workshop and continues to do so as a fourth generation. With the help of his wife, he continues the traditions. He takes the profession very seriously, he is already making sure that the packaging meets the requirements of the age. Her honeysuckle is made using her father’s technology, but she also tries to experiment with new shapes and flavors. He thinks responsibly that the hundred-year-old gingerbread tradition should continue to be worthy of him. Thus, in Debrecen, Zoltán Radics is the youngest representative of this craft today. In her work, she uses the same dishes, the same tools that her great-grandparents used many, many years ago. His little son, Bence, who is two and a half years old, is also hurrying around his father and grandfather.
– Dad, add some spice to this! The little boy said thoughtfully as he tasted the dough. There seems to be a sequel.
Cover image: the master from the gingerbread heart, László Radics smiles at us (Photo: István Mirkó)
Source: Magyar Nemzet by magyarnemzet.hu.
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