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Balaton – No Longer Just a Big Lake

Balaton – No Longer Just a Big Lake

viola vonfi 

Some 160 miles southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota is a small city called – are you ready? – Balaton!  Population estimates for 2018 place the number of inhabitants at 678.  There is a lake on the north side of town – Lake Yankton, so the name is not quite inappropriate.  But how did it receive its name?

No one seems to know for certain.  There are several versions:  One claims it was the name of a stockholder and employee of the Dakota Central Railroad which laid its tracks there in 1879.  Another is that the town was to be named for a Mr. Bell and therefore to be called Belltown, but a traveling salesman convinced the settlers to call it Balaton, the name of a big lake in Europe, since the name was unique.  Still another claims that the name was to be put up for a vote, that people were to cast a “ballot on” the name ...

Whichever version is true, there it is, and it’s the only one in the US! 

Another “Balaton”, though, refers not to a place but to a sour cherry!  It seems a very popular strain of sour cherry is grown in Újfehértó, Hungary, north of Debrecen.  It is called “újfehértói fürtös” – “bunched from Újfehértó”.  Unlike the most popular American variety, the Montmorency, not only its skin, but even its flesh, is red.  

Now, several years ago, Michigan State University’s Research Station at Clarksville was looking for tart cherry cuttings for its breeding program, and found this Hungarian variety.  Somehow, “újfehértói fürtös” does not roll readily off an American tongue.  But in order not to lose its national roots, so to speak, the decision was made to call it the “Balaton” variety, which even an American can pronounce. 

So when you say “Balaton” nowadays, you have to be more precise in your definition!

viola vonfi is our correspondent from Stamford, CT.  She finds it amusing that one of her ancestors was knighted by Wallenstein during the Thirty Years’ War.


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