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And on some of the houses, long cylindrical mesh bags full of peppers are suspended from the eaves like giant sausages.During September the entire town, its population swelled by busloads of tourists, celebrates the pepper harvest with a paprika festival called "Kalocsa Paprika Days," featuring exhibitions of food products, a variety of sports competitions and a cooking contest (with paprika as an ingredient, of course).For several years she was the food columnist for The Stars and Stripes newspaper in Europe, and since 1997 has written a food column for German Life magazine in the United States.A former editor of Chile Pepper magazine, she has also worked as a cookbook editor, photographer, filmmaker and university professor.For three to four weeks every autumn, more than 8,000 acres of fields around Kalocsa are filled with farm workers picking bright red peppers and stacking them in small wooden crates or big plastic mesh bags.In the town itself, strings of shiny red peppers hang from balconies, porches, and eaves, like colorful ribbons on a peasant girl's costume.

Paprika Places Much of Hungary's paprika comes from the fields and factories around the small town of Kalocsa, near the Danube River, and the larger industrial city of Szeged, on the Tisza River, both located on the country's Southern Great Plain.

Formerly found only in peasant dishes, it gradually entered the culinary repertoire of the gentry and the nobility, dispersing throughout all levels of society so thoroughly that today it would be hard to imagine Hungarian cooking without paprika.

Pick a Pepper Many different kinds of peppers are cultivated in Hungary, including those grown specifically to be dried and ground into paprika.

These include several kinds of long red peppers commonly used for making the milder paprikas, and small round red "cherry peppers" used for some of the hotter varieties of the spice.

After being picked, the peppers are left to rest for two to three weeks, to let their flavor and color develop even further.