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Appreciating Freedom One Pastry At A Time

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More stories from Becca Pirkle

In+the+Summer%2C+Maria+Nagy%E2%80%99s+bakery+is+adorned+with+flowers+and+greenery.+Photo+Courtesy+of+Palascinta+LLC+Facebook.
In the Summer, Maria Nagy’s bakery is adorned with flowers and greenery. Photo Courtesy of Palascinta LLC Facebook.

In the Summer, Maria Nagy’s bakery is adorned with flowers and greenery. Photo Courtesy of Palascinta LLC Facebook.

In the Summer, Maria Nagy’s bakery is adorned with flowers and greenery. Photo Courtesy of Palascinta LLC Facebook.

By Becca Pirkle

Maria Nagy opens her eyes in the morning and checks the weather. If she sees rain, she turns over and falls back asleep. If she sees sunshine, she drives to her single-room kitchen in Candler Park to start baking Hungarian breads and pastries. She sets up a couple tables outside and waits for old friends and customers to stop by.

Nagy has baked her whole life. Growing up in communist Hungary, she watched her grandmother bake traditional recipes and began helping out in the kitchen as soon as she could.

“Grandma’s the one who raised us,” Nagy said. “I learned to cook from her, I learned to bake.”

Now she bakes those same Hungarian dishes for locals in Atlanta. Fresh breads like kilifi, a traditional crescent yeast roll, or a variety of other savory treats are always available in a tin on the pastry cart outside. Nagy often makes her most popular dishes and rotates through the items on her menu.

“I can’t make everything all the time cause I’m just one person,” Nagy said. However, she will gladly prepare any Hungarian dish if you request it.

Her cottage kitchen, called Palascinta LLC, is located on McLendon Avenue, across from the Candler Park Flower Mart. In the summer, Nagy decorates her tables with ferns and flowers. This winter, she plans to stream lights outside her store front

“This is an awesome location, people are always walking and running, and I know a lot of the customers,” Nagy said. “It’s so nice when customers walk by and they know one or two words in Hungarian and they just yell.”

Nagy escaped communist Hungary during her honeymoon in 1972. At the time, she was sad to leave her family, but she was also optimistic about her future in the United States.

“When you’re young, you have adventure,” Nagy said. “You’re going to a new life and a new place, newly married. Everything is new.”

Only one of the wedding guests, Nagy’s father-in-law, knew about the unfolding escape plan.  

“We couldn’t tell the mothers because they would cry through the wedding if they knew it, if they knew it was the last time they were seeing us,” Nagy said.

Her father was in the hospital with lung cancer and Nagy could not tell him she was leaving because of the risk of being overheard. Nagy knew she would not see him again once she left, but she knew he would have been happy for her. She said her goodbyes secretly during the wedding, and then left for her honeymoon the next day.

Nagy and her newlywed husband traveled to neighboring communist Czechoslovakia. From there they took a bus to a refugee camp in Austria. The entire busload unloaded at the camp, and the bus driver drove back to Czechoslovakia alone. A bus driver on a different bus even got off with his passengers and left the bus behind.

In the chaos of moving to a foreign country and starting a new life, Nagy never stopped baking her recipes from home. She raised four children, sewing their dance costumes and always baking for them as they grew up. She made sure they learned to speak Hungarian fluently, and took them back to Hungary to see her family.

Today, Atlanta and Hungary are both “home.” Nagy has family and friends in both countries, and now her sister tells her that she has an American accent when she speaks Hungarian.

When Nagy left Hungary 45 years ago, she brought part of her culture with her to Atlanta: the art of baking. She never thought it would become a business until people started asking. She got a cottage kitchen license and began her menu with three things she had always made: bacon biscuits, bread, and flower shaped pastries.

Next time you’re in the neighborhood, try one of Nagy’s fresh breads or oozing six layer cake. If you’re pressed for time, roll down the window and yell “Jó napot!” which is Hungarian for “good afternoon!”

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The arts, cultural and news magazine of Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia