Szekler potato

Centuries of experience

The Szekler potato is like rock ‘n roll: it came from America, went native, and became a necessity of life. In Transylvania, potato growing has centuries of experience and tradition in production, and this is especially true in Szeklerland.

In Orbán Balázs’s ‘A Székelyföld leírása’ /Description of Szeklerland/, published in 1868, we read that the potato grown in Ciuc was of exceptional quality:

“Due to these orographic and climatic influences, the small area of arable land in Ciuc cannot be used for everything; mainly rye and oats are produced but they are so pure and excellent that the neighbouring regions get the seeds for cultivation from Ciuc. It is only recently that wheat has begun to be grown with some success, while potatoes, flax, hemp and vegetables – especially cabbage – are excellent.”

In the 1896 edition of the Magyar Gazdaságtörténelmi Szemle, K. Karlovszky Endre writes about the history of the potato in his article entitled "The acclimatisation of the potato in Transylvania": "Research has undoubtedly shown that at the time of the discovery of America, it was already widely cultivated in the south and from there it reached the north.


In general, although it was known and more or less cultivated and appreciated in all the civilized European states from the end of the 16th century until the 17th and 18th centuries, it was only in the second half of the 18th century that it finally managed to spread everywhere and to overcome the prejudices of acclimatization which had prevented its acceptance. Until then it had been regarded as a fashionable and luxurious item, an outsider. Two parties were formed. One considered it a blessing from God, the other wanted to prevent its cultivation by any means…”
“… After the advent of the potato, many were found praising it: Baühin Gáspár claims that it promotes reproduction, and Gerárd warmly recommends it to young married couples. Many doctors used it against lung diseases, and the mashed potato is still used today for burns and wasp stings.”

"It's amazing how hard the potato was able to spread as food and feed, despite being known and appreciated for its good qualities. As we have seen, it took two hundred years for this to happen. It is interesting that at first, it was the soldiers who best recognized its benefits and spread it until the Seven Years' War and the famine years of 1771-72 finally put an end to all the bickering. It was then that Europe felt the need to grow it in large quantities." In Austria and Hungary, it was known only in the second half of the 18th century. It is not known with absolute certainty, but it is very likely to have been brought from Germany, also by soldiers. What is certain is that it was already being cultivated in the Austrian hereditary provinces around 1760."

The first official mention of the potato in Transylvania

“The first official mention of the potato in Transylvania dates back to 1767 when Maria Theresa issued a decree on 21 October ordering all inhabitants of the Grand Duchy, especially those living in mountainous and infertile areas, to cultivate the ground apple, aka “Erdäpfel”. However, the recommendation was very general and there is no evidence that it was considered anywhere.”
“In the early years, Transylvania was no exception among the other countries, and the cultivation of potatoes could make its way here only gradually, with great efforts, fighting against prejudices.”

“In all probability, therefore, 1769 was the first year in which the potato flourished in Transylvania.”

“We have only a small number of reports about the year 1770, four in all. Even these are not very well received, except for the seats of Ciuc and Cașin, which report that enough potatoes were obtained from the plantations of the previous year for everyone to have something to plant for the next year.”

"The first phase of the introduction of the potato in Transylvania has been completed and people everywhere are familiar with this plant. What we have seen all over Europe is repeated here, but not all regions embrace it in the same way, and some even have an unjustified aversion to the potato. The southeastern parts of Transylvania, the Szekler and Saxon seats, are the ones that have more readily accepted and cultivated the potato to the greatest extent. The exception, however, among the Szekler seats, are the seats of Ciuc-Gheorgheni and Cașin, which stubbornly resist attempts at indigenisation. Only time and necessity will break their resistance much later. It took another 25 years or so for potato cultivation to become widespread. Harsh winters and extremely dry summers destroy cereal crops, and people left without bread are forced to turn to potatoes, which are not so sensitive to the vagaries of the weather and grow even when cereals are gone."

Was the potato's greatest enemy

“A very interesting account of the Ciuc region shows how this land, which at first was the potato’s greatest enemy, became over time a great friend of the potato. From 1807 onwards, it has been cultivated in the usual way, without any effort and with such great zeal, that in a single village, one can count 7000, 8000 or more cubic feet of potatoes, from which they fatten the pigs and feed the poultries, make the brandy and some of them even use them for food; in short, some people support almost their entire household with potatoes because many of those who have only 8, 10, 12 oticuri (wooden vessel used as a unit of measurement for grain, equivalent to 5 kg) of grain collect 50-100 cubic feet of potatoes; with this little grain, which would not be enough for a year even for one person, but with potatoes they can support themselves, their wives, their 8 children, in total 10 people. Last year, a man in Sânsimion did not have more than 10 oticuri of grain, but with 100 cubic feet of potatoes, he could support his family (wife and 8 children) of 10 people. Therefore, it was decreed that even the poorest should be obliged to sow at least one cubic feet, and those who have no land should take some from another. Those who had no potatoes had to ask in part from another if they could not get it with money.”

"As we have seen, it took about fifty years (1769-1815) for the potato to spread to Transylvania, where it arrived even so late. Indifference on the part of the authorities and the people, aversion to new things, stupidity, carelessness and prejudice stood in its way here as elsewhere, but only for a time. As soon as it was fully known, its great importance in feeding the people, and especially the poorer classes, was recognized, and its cultivation has been steadily intensified ever since."

They started and we continue!

The old traditions are still alive. No farmer in Ciuc does not grow at least as many potatoes as can be grown in a small garden!

The idea of building a chip factory has long been on the minds of colleagues at the Manufactura Tiltott Csíki Sör in Sânsimion.

Local farmers with many years of experience produce quality potatoes that can be used locally through the chip factory. We produce chips in a manner worthy of the Szekler potato, in our modern factory, using state-of-the-art technology!

So that leaves only Csíki Csipsz and Rock and Roll!

Photo sources: local, contemporary photos
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