Syrups and cordials are the flavors of childhood and they’re finally appreciated once again. It’s time to forget about the plastic-like ones from stores and rejoice the grandmother-style real deal we can now enjoy at new-wave restaurants and buffets. Although it may look simple, making good syrup is far from being easy. The best producers use old recipes and modern, natural technologies while coming up with exciting, original flavor combinations as well. Not to mention the designs.
To earn a little extra money, she traded office work for the kitchen when she was middle-aged. We think Mrs. Ildikó Bálint deserves a round of applause just for this. She grows three types of peppermint to be able to make syrups that actually taste like mint. We can even taste the love in them. This was the fifth season for the Keszthely-based family business which is based on the blackcurrant, raspberry, and elderflower cordial recipes of grandmothers and great-grandmothers, as well as Ildikó’s creativity and wit. She can’t even remember if she read the recipe or came up with it, but one thing is for sure: she created her own Provencal syrup from lavender, mint, lemongrass, and sage. This is her favorite, but the traditional elderflower, mint, lavender, raspberry, blackcurrant, and exotic Asian lemongrass variations are also very popular at their deli.
What put them on the map: it was their cucumber cordial that we tried at A másik bolt Balaton; this was the first time we had the fresh and exciting mint syrup that can be a life-saver on a hot summer day, and can set the mood when mixed with some vodka after 8pm.
Price: 1,500–2,150 HUF / 0.75 l
Where to get it: at Sarki Fűszeres, A Másik Bolt, Bortársaság, Marangona, Italom, and Monarchia Borkereskedés in Budapest, and at A Másik Bolt Balaton and Cekker Bevásárló Közösség at Lake Balaton.
The graphic designer and vintner couple Zsófi Pész and Péter Hajsz decided to start making heir own after they tried the raspberry syrup of a famous restaurant. They tasted, made, threw away the not-so-good ones. The 100% fruit syrups are made in Tapolca since 2014 with fruits and herbs from their own lands and local producers. Their first syrups were made in bowls that they borrowed from the neighbors, and they’ve been growing ever since. Péter’s knowledge of wines and the taste he acquired at tastings comes in handy when they fine tune flavors or try to come up with pairings – that’s how the blackberry cordial has star anise, while the cherry one has cardamom in it. Besides the elderflower, lavender, mint, ginger, and lemongrass varieties they also have such exciting combinations as the strawberry-basil or raspberry-rose ones, the herb-based detoxifying one, the Christmas-flavored syrup, or the holiday cordial made with various fruits.
The reason we reach for it: the syrup is as thick juice, and it comes in a traditional buckled glass that we can refill.
Price: 1,990 HUF / 0.5 l
Where to get it: at stores in Budapest and the area, Szeged, Győr, and Gödöllő, and at Pura Vida Dine in Tapolca.
Margit Rákos, Vöröstó
The simply-bottled herbal syrups of Vöröstó's mayor are available at Káptalantóti’s market and at Tihany’s Piac Placc along with her delicious goat cheeses. She doesn’t have a secret recipe or ingredient yet the lavender, elderflower, elderberry, mint, lemongrass, and rosehip syrups taste just like, or even better, than fresh berries would. It’s so convincing that even cola-believers were converted into syrup-worshippers by it – we saw it with our own eyes at Szőlősi Pub.
Why we drink more than one glass: it’s refreshing and inspiring to talk to Margit, and half an hour spent with her is just as deep and complex as the flavors of her cordials.
Price: 1,000–1,500 HUF / 0.75 l
Where to get it: at Liliomkert Market in Káptalantóti, Piac Placc in Tihany, and at Szőlősi Kocsma.
What happens when a glazier and his chemist wife grab the spoon? János Szabó cooks them, while Ágnes comes up with the syrups. That’s how the grapefruit and ginger or the tarragon and peppermint versions were born. They enjoy making these and they take it seriously. János, for example, observed the bees before making acacia syrup to make sure he has the best flowers. The kitchen is almost like a lab for János: he experiments with replacing citric acid and finding natural ways of preserving. When they aren’t collecting fruits and herbs, they are making syrups, create labels, or do tastings. The selection changes depending on what’s available. They make five variations of elderflower syrup alone; the lemongrass, mint, buckthorn, lemongrass-elderflower, and the ginger-elderflower versions are delicious as well.
Why we remember them: because of their incredibly tasty, unusual flavor pairings.
Price: 1,500 HUF / 1 l
Where to get it: we can contact them via Facebook but their drinks are also served at Neked Főztem beach buffet and at Malackrumpli in Tihany.
Tamás Winery Enoteca & Delicatessen
Ervin Tamás and his family started making syrups at the end of the ‘90s when syrup simply meant artificial coloring and aromas. The lavender syrup of his mom is beloved by many. The lavender version is still the most popular one, but since then they started making Othello, lemongrass, green walnut, acacia, elderflower, ginger, mint, dandelion, raspberry, blackberry, blackcurrant and cherry versions, along with the non-alcoholic bitter made from 35 types of herbs called Elixir No. 35. They keep fine tuning and experimenting, and sometimes they develop their recipes by the impressions of their chef friends.
What to try: the golden, honey-scented one called Csopaki nyár (“Summer in Csopak”): it’s made with blossoming, aromatic flowers in the beginning of summer that never tastes the same – sometimes it’s more spicy, sometimes it’s softer.
Price: 1,900 HUF/ 0.75 l
Where to get it: at their shop in Csopak, Kredenc in Balatonfüred, and at various delis in Budapest.
Zsuzsa Lang started making syrup because of an unexpected twist of fate after she lost her job. She didn’t panic, as she learned all the tricks to making jams and syrups from her mother, and she’s been out and about in the woods collecting berries and herbs ever since she was a child. Her father still helps her, and their baskets, and then their pots are filled with such curious items as the cornelian cherry, hawthorn, buckthorn, or blackthorn, while they grow their own fruits and herbs. The glasses and labels were designed specifically for her. Besides the traditional flavors (elderflower, strawberry, apple, blackcurrant) she also has such special syrups as the violet, acacia, thyme, sage, pine bud, or the fig tree leaf one.
What makes her especially likeable: because she’s still doing it all alone: she cooks it, bottles it, labels it up, and sends it to the costumers from the very same kitchen in Veszprém where she started doing it all – thus it’s really understandable that sometimes she doesn’t have all the flavors as she’s always uses what’s in season.
Price: 1,100 HUF / 0.5 l
Where to get it: at the Liliomkert Market of Káptalantóti, Piac Placc in Tihany, the market hall of Veszprém, various delis, and in her webshop.
Dörgicsei Levendula Major (Levendarium)
Ildikó Demján saw the picture of a lavender field and that just about was enough. The first lavender syrup and lavender cookies were made in the year they opened their business – in 2012 – this was their way of getting people to know the herb that has so much more to it than being a moth repellent. Their syrups, made with either sugar or xylitol, aren’t only delicious but they also have positive effects – they are relaxing and help digestion –, but we would love them even without these medicinal benefits. They use angustifolia, also known as medical lavender, that’s why the syrup is flowery and fruity instead of being bitter or soap like the ones made from hybrid lavender. Ildikó says that a good lavender cordial is cold and is served with crushed mint leaves and lemon.
Why we remember them: the color of the syrup changes according to the season and the time it was produced, which is an affirmation that it is indeed made from real lavender.
Price: 1,400 HUF / 0.5 l
Where to get it: in Dörgicse or from their webshop.
If their raspberry syrup wouldn’t have won the 1st National Syrup Contest, we would have given a golden straw award to Ivett Farkas and Attila Leitold anyways, as their product truly tastes like real juice. Ivett and Attila chose the harder genre: they make fruit based syrups. Of course they still have elderflower cordial as well. They grow raspberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, red and blackcurrants on their large land in Kapolcs – it’s such an idyllic place that someone should put it into a musical. They started when they were barely 20 years old, and now they are among the bests.
The reason the results are especially fruity: one liter of raspberry syrup is made from 1 kilogram of raspberries – that’s quite telling.
Price: 1,500 Ft / 0.75 l
Where to get it: at stores around Lake Balaton (Balatonfüred, Balatonakali, Veszprém, Sümeg, Ajka, and Kapolcs) and at various restaurants of the area.
Folly Arboretum and Winery
The first syrup they made at the Arboretum’s kitchen was a pine bud one, which was quite an unusual start. Réka Folly first tasted this type in Transylvania and she immediately decided that they should make it, too. It was a success, and was soon followed by the lemongrass-mint, lavender, elderflower, dandelion, and fig tree leaf versions; the latter is simultaneously sweet, fruity, woody, and “green” in its flavor. Every ingredient comes from the arboretum except for the ginger. The syrup is made there as well, the pine buds come from various trees – black and Scots pines, as well as Douglas fir – and, before plant-protection gets mad, it’s good to know that when they cut off the scented, fresh buds in April and May, Réka and her team make sure that the trees are safe. The buds can grow again after they were cut. After all, this is an arboretum.
Why we remember them: because their flavors are just as elegant as their bottles, so we would even give them as a gift for someone who has no idea what a fig tree looks like.
Price: 1,800 HUF / 0.5 l
Where to get it: at the arboretum, or from their webshop.
Eníd Keszthelyi and her husband, Tibor Keszthelyi live and work in one of Káli-medence’s nicest tiny villages, Kékkút. They make dairy products, jams, jellies, and syrups. They have dandelion, mint, rose, lemongrass, ginger, rosemary, lavender, and lavender-mint versions – the latter is great on a hot summer day, and also a good choice for those who are just starting to get to know lavender. Lavender syrup is intense, fresh, and aromatic – it smells just like a fresh bouquet of lavender. They are fans of French lavender because that’s better than the English version, even though that has more oil. Eníd can make wonders with lavender: her dessert made with whole milk and thick, natural yogurt, and lavender jelly is a popular one, and the recipe of her lavender scone travels from hand to hand.
What makes it memorable: the estate is quintessentially rural with cows, horse, chickens, dog, garden, an idyllic house.
Price: 1,300–1,600 Ft/ 0.5 l
Where to get it: from them, at Levendula Porta in Kékkút, or at Tihany Abbey.
Translated by Emma Póli