History - Traditions
- Customs – Traditions
Before the regime change, and even afterwards, there were two reasons for a husbandman to close the gates of his husbandry: at the time of the calf butchering (slaughtering) and during the pálinka distillation. With its first attestation in the 16th century and with a continuous tradition since then, it is hard to believe that Ceausescu's Communist regime would have been able to prohibit or to regulate it. And what is more, the illegality of this practice had a positive effect on it: the knowledge of pálinka distillation was inherited from father to son. The distillation became an art by the end of the 20th century, being one of the few traditional practices that not only was preserved, but has been perfected.
If a region or province has a certain and characteristic “feature”, this will be reflected on everything: the region of Szilágyság is reigned by plum trees. The sight is breathtaking especially in spring, when all the trees are full with beautiful white flowers. You know you are in Szilágyság, because everywhere you look, you see plum trees.
On the other hand, there are the cellars. For example, the villages alongside the upper stream of the Berettyó (Barcău or Beretău), from Szilágybagos (Boghiș) to Szilágyzovány (Zăuan) are famous for their cellars. In the mountains and hills above the villages, there are dozens of cellars, one next to the other, some of them being even 10 m long. Most of the cellars have wine press houses just by the entrance, as the winemaking is also blooming in the area. The usually silent cellars are populated by loud, happy and joyful fellowships on Sundays. In Zovány, on several levels of the mountain the winding roads lead to the cave-cellars, unveiling a breathtaking sight.
In the summer, before the ripening of the plums, the waters of the Berettyó are filled with wooden tanks, which are placed there to dilate. The husbandmen are alert all the time: if the storm comes they need to save the tanks before the flood destroys them.
Even the ups and downs, the hills and the mountains of the region favor the pálinka distillation. The sunny and protected hill sides are like heaven for the plum trees. If there is plenty of yield, it takes about a month for the whole family to harvest all the fruits. And, of course, the harvest is in the middle of summer, when the weather is the warmest.
By now almost all the husbandmen are preparing the delicious brandy legally, by taking the mash to professional distilleries. But, with no exception, each single client sits patiently next to the “cooking pot” helping and taking good care so that the result is high quality liquor. Yes, they do trust the one master distiller, but his knowledge has to be completed with the unique taste and requirements of every farmer.
The pálinka has a silky, pleasant, non-smoky taste, its color is golden yellow, because it is kept in mulberry or oak barrels. It has 54 degrees, but one almost doesn’t feel it as such.. It’s like a gentle delight in the throat, warming the body in wintertime, cooling it in the summer. It is magical.
This story could continue about how the local culture was shaped by the pálinka distillation, or/ and what tools and techniques are used to produce this beverage. This story could be about the serious issues alcoholism causes in the region.
One can get to know the true soul of the pálinka just by tasting and drinking it with the respect it deserves. It's an old commonplace, but it is true.