This blog post is dedicated to the most amazing grandparents that a child can ask for, Bunu and Buna.
The 9th of July is a special day for me- it's my favorite grandpa's birthday. Bunu was one of the most special people in my life and he would've turned 83 today had the Alzheimer’s not taken him away from us last year. Chocolate and Biscuit Dessert Salami, or Salam de biscuiti as we call it in Romania, was his favorite dessert. On my latest trip to Romania, I wanted to prepare this recipe with my grandma, Buna, to honor Bunu. This recipe belongs to my grandmother, who's been using it for years and years, making generations of kids happy.
Even though it was great seeing Buna and cooking together, the trip to Romania wasn’t as happy and positive as my time in Hungary, mostly because it was very hard for me emotionally to visit my grandparents’ house and to deal the fact that my Bunu was gone. The house that I grew up in was missing its liveliest element- the man who loved me like no one else, my role model, Bunu. His fun and happy stories, some of them real, some of them fiction, were noticeably missing.
One story in particular is very special to me. I must’ve heard it hundreds of times- the story of the time I cut the roots of Bunu's kohlrabi seedlings as a token of revenge for a small argument that we had. It was the only time we actually ever had one.
This story was Bunu’s favorite way of bringing joy to the table during our Sunday lunches. Everyone in our family knew it inside out. There were times when some would leave the room to get away from THE story. I never missed one. I loved to hear it, not only because my grandpa was such a gifted storyteller that he always made me feel like it was the first time I heard it, but also because I knew that he found extreme passion and joy in telling it. It was his favorite and it always made him and everyone around him happy.
The story itself is silly, yet still manages to bring a smile (and now a tear) to my face. I hope I can do it justice by retelling it here, but I know nothing can compare to the way he narrated it.
It goes a little something like this: like every summer, I was spending my break at my grandparents’ place. I loved it there- they had a big yard where I played all day, a beautiful garden, two big cherry trees that I climbed, and a chicken coup with dozens of chicken and roosters. Buna would cook whatever I craved, so for this little fatso it was heaven on earth.
One Saturday, Bunu and I were riding Bunu's bike back home from our usual Saturday trip to his river house. As we were riding we ran into one of Bunu's best friends, Lajos, who he loved showing off to about gardening. The two old men were always competing. They were like Jack Lemon and Water Matthau in "Grumpy Old Men". I remember Bunu going on and on about his kohlrabi seedlings and Lajos promised to come by later to see them in person.
Before I get further into the story, let me stop here for a moment to say that Bunu was the kind of guy who loved bragging about everything. Just to give you an idea- when I got my first promotion at work, he told everyone on his street that I was promoted to director level although I was just promoted from an intern to a full time entry level engineer. Just like any of his stories, his bragging was a bit inflated.
When we got home, Bunu and I had had an argument over him wanting to take a nap and me wanting to sing him a song- "Lipe its lipe”, better known as "Life is life” to y’all English speakers. I was being an obnoxious little punk and Bunu raised his voice and told me to go play outside until after he napped. I didn’t take to that order well, but complied.
While I was dismissed out in the yard, I found a bland rusty knife next to the chicken coop where Bunu kept his gardening tools. Now what does a 4 years old do when he finds himself with a knife in the garden while angry at grandpa? Cut the roots of his seedings, of course. Not all of them, just the kohlrabi he had just been bragging about to his friend earlier that day. I took the knife, whacked the roots, hid them, and put the seedling back in the ground as if nothing happened.
After supper, Bunu had the habit of spending hours in his garden. First he would water each and every plant with rain water he collected and then he would just sit and admire his gorgeous plants from his bench. He would even play classical music on his old radio sometimes, so that the eggplant, tomatoes and their other vegetable friends would grow faster.
As he was sitting there that evening waiting for his buddy to arrive, he saw that the kohlrabi seedlings started wilting. He got up, watered them again and waited a bit longer to see if they would perk up. It didn't help. So he pulled one of the seedlings out of the ground. When he saw that the roots were missing he thought that he either overwatered them and the roots had rotted, or that moles attacked his garden. Then he took a better look and realized that the roots were neither rotten, nor chewed by moles, but carefully cut. Then he saw the knife close to the crime scene.
I saw all of this while hiding in the cherry tree. I watched and savored my sweet revenge. Bunu spotted me and chased me around the backyard and house. I ran to Buna who protected me, although I know Bunu would have not done anything to harm me. If anything, he would have made wash his bike or help him pull weeds out of his garden.
And this is the story he found extreme joy telling. He said it was the best prank anyone has ever pulled on him.
This is the story that Bunu told me last time we talked. It was over Skype a couple of days before he passed away. He had Alzheimer’s and even though he barely remembered the people around him or the house he lived in, he recognized me and told me OUR favorite story all over again. La multi ani, Bunutule! Te iubesc, mosule!
Chocolate and Biscuit Dessert Salami
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Inactive time: 1 hour
- 1 lb tea biscuits, roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup water
- 4 TBS cocoa, unsweetened
- 7 oz sugar
- 1 TBS rum extract
- 7 oz butter, unsalted
- 4 oz walnuts, roasted and roughly chopped
- 1 cup sour cherries, roughly chopped (or regular cherries, apricots or Turkish Delight)
- Place biscuits in a food processor and pulse a few times until the biscuits are crumbled. Don't overdo it, as you don't want to turn them into biscuit powder.
- In a medium sauce pan mix water, cocoa, sugar and rum. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir well to combine and cook for 3-4 minutes. Make sure there are no lumps in your chocolate mixture. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Add butter to the pan and stir until it melts. Slowly add biscuits, walnuts and cherries and still until combined. Make sure everything is evenly coated in chocolate.
- Lay a long sheet of thick plastic wrap on you work station. Place the biscuit mixture in the center. Mold the mixture into a 4 inch wide and 12-15 inch long log. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, roll it a few times to give it a salami shape and then twist the ends of the wrap to seal. Place it in the fridge for at least one hour.
- Before serving remove the plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes. You can even roll the chocolate salami in coconut or almond flakes. Cut into 1/2 inch thick slices and serve.