The Barber from Budapest & other stories

The author of this memoir, Liz Posmyk, of course had to add recipes. Her heritage and her life's work has been inextricably entwined with food and cooking. It is in her genes too because, like so many others who have rescued Australia's tables from a future of wholesome but unexciting dishes, her family were refugees fleeing war-torn Hungary in the 1950s.

Along with their children and meagre belongings, they brought recipes - in their heads and hearts - so their homeland would never be further away than the kitchen, a comforting thought, no doubt, in a land so different to their own.

Liz captured the stories of her father's life in 1997 when she interviewed András with an old style video camera. The recording is greatly treasured, and Liz says with joy that she can watch the footage and it is as though her beloved father is in the room with her.

I have been lucky enough to know Liz for many years. Our paths have crossed over and over as she has made her very definite mark on the food industry in Australia. An award-winning writer, today many know her as Bizzy Lizzy, because of her hugely popular blog. No one can dispute that she certainly has been busy this year, achieving the publication of this lovely book, as well as her many other commitments. 

The Barber from Budapest & other stories is a three-way tribute. Liz's own family, of course, the 'barber', her father, András, and his beautifully wife, Irén, and her siblings are integral to the story, but so too is Hungary and its proud culinary history, and importantly, Australia. 

In three distinct sections of this deeply personal book Liz Posmyk skillfully recreates the various phases of her father's life, and that of her family as they settled into this country with its strange new foods and lack of others they had always taken for granted. Her mother, a talented cook passed on her recipes and tips to Liz, and letters from Hungary came regularly, bearing written versions of dishes which up until then may have only been stored in minds and the muscle memories of hands and fingers.

Appropriately, the recipe section at the back of the book is a Hungarian feast, rich with the dishes that Liz grew up with. There's goulash as you could expect, but this is the more correct soup recipe. Fried bread, strudel, walnut torte, and a gluten-free cherry cake (see below), are so rich and delicious they almost leap off the page.

Australia has a long and proud reputation for assisting migrants to come here and settle, and the record shows how much they have contributed, in every facet of the country's growth. Many of these people have come fleeing oppression, maybe with just their clothes and a cardboard suitcase of meagre belongings. If that.

Liz Posmyk's book, illustrated with family photos throughout, also has a serious and important lesson for all modern Australians to absorb. Yes, of course it is a book about food and family and fun and hope. Yes it is touching, challenging and inspirational. But none of this could have happened without the invitation and welcome of the Australian government and citizens who, at that time of greatest need, welcomed them.

“My parents and older siblings," she says in the book "were among the 14,000 Hungarian refugees who were offered sanctuary and allowed to resettle in Australia under the Menzies Government, having fled their homeland in 1956-7 after the Uprising.”

Liz's family, like thousands of others, did not forget that kindness. Those parents who arrived, settled and adjusted, vowing to never waste the reprieve they had been given. Little wonder their children grew up loving this country too, and have made their own rich contributions.

 

The Barber from Budapest  & other stories is more than just the tale of one family and its food. It offers a vitally important glimpse of an important period of Australia's dining evolution as well as a proud time in its social and humanitarian history.

The Barber from Budapest & other stories- a memoir with recipes, by Liz Posmyk, published by Parsley Lane Press, 2016, paperback, rrp A$32. ISBN 9780 6469 57968.

- reviewed by Sally Hammond

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A percentage of royalties from the sales will be donated to The International Organization for Migration (IOM)

 

Do you have a favourite Hungarian food or recipe? Please tell us about it.

 

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