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Duquesne Hungarian church carries on kolbasz tradition

Monday, November 22, 1999

By Kathleen Ganster

Pittsburghers like ethnic food, and that is exactly what the members of the Hungarian Reformed Church of Duquesne are banking on for their annual sale of kielbasa. It's seasoned from a secret recipe.

For the last five years, a group from the church has prepared kielbasa -- they spell it kolbasz -- to sell to the public in time for the holiday season. Led by Elmer Tudja of West Mifflin, last year they made 225 pounds.

"I learned how to make it when I was 16," says Tudja, now 67. Tudja grew up in a Hungarian Church in Rankin where they also sold kielbasa as a fund-raiser. When the church closed its doors seven or eight years ago, Tudja says he moved to the Duquesne church and brought the secret recipe with him. Only his wife, Betty, also knows the recipe he uses when he prepares the spices for the church's batches.

"I suppose some day I'll tell someone else the recipe, but not right now," he said. Tudja estimates the recipe is at least 75 or 80 years old.

Barbara Revak of West Mifflin is one of the kielbasa producers at the church. Most of the kielbasa makers are in their 50s to 80s, she says. This year the group will gather at the church Dec. 4 to produce the kielbasa.

"Everyone has their own specialty," says Revak. "One person puts the meat through the grinder, another weighs it, someone else puts it into the casings and so on."

The congregation is small -- about 100 members, according to the Rev. Dr. Joseph Posta, the minister. The kielbasa-making group numbers eight or nine. The church also sells nut, apricot and poppyseed rolls at the holiday season, but the demand is so overwhelming, Revak said they can't take any more orders for the rolls.

For his kielbasa, Tudja uses fresh ground pork as the base. In 50-pound batches, he mixes in the spices, including garlic. Next, the workers take over until they have the long links ready for sale. The group begins early in the morning and continues well into the afternoon.

Last year it took about five hours to make the 225 pounds they sold.

"We take a break and eat lunch. Of course, at the end of the day, we eat kolbasz," says Tudja.

Once the kielbasa is made, the church members arrange pickup, later that day or on Sunday. "We can meet them at the church in the evening if that is more convenient," said Revak.

Posta, a native of Hungary, also helps with production. "Of course, I have to help. I used to make kolbasz at home and can help here," he said.

He says that kielbasa is originally a Hungarian dish, which other European countries borrowed and adapted. "The differences are in the spices. True kolbasz from Hungary uses Hungarian paprika. You can not duplicate that taste," says Posta.

Although he knows the secret recipe, Tudja said he doesn't know how to cook kielbasa.

"I have no idea how to make it," he said. His wife, Betty, cooks it.

In true Hungarian fashion, Revak says, it should be served with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. She suggests this method: Fry the kielbasa; remove the meat; do not drain the skillet. Put sauerkraut in skillet and fry. Serve warmed sauerkraut and kielbasa by themselves or with mashed potatoes.

"This is the way we always serve it," she said.

The fresh kielbasa that the Hungarian Reformed Church of Duquesne sells needs to be either refrigerated or frozen.

"You can't believe the difference between the fresh and the other stuff. Once you taste the fresh, you will never want the precooked type," says Revak.

The kielbasa is $3 a pound and must be ordered by Dec. 2. Contact Elmer Tudja at 412-462-5785 or leave a message at the church office at 412-466-2300. Kielbasa does need to be picked up at the church at 1411 Kennedy Ave. in Duquesne. Buyers will be notified by telephone to arrange convenient pick-up times.


Kathleen Ganster is a Hampton-based free-lance writer.



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