THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Prie lietuvių stalo – at the Lithuanian table
Text: Vin Karnila
Sveiki garbingi skaitytojai,
Lithuania is steeped in traditions. It would be difficult to think of any part of daily life, family events or holidays where age old traditions are not practiced. Included in these are the time honored traditions that are practiced at the table. Yes, even sitting at the table to enjoy your meal is something that involves traditions practiced for generations by Lithuanian people all over the world.
To start, there is the order of seating. The father sits at the end of the table. Now the end he sits at is important to note also. He sits at the end of the table that is near the wall not the end that faces the open room or the door. The eldest son sits at the father's right, while the other men sit next to the son along the wall. Women sit across from the men and the mother sits at the opposite end from the father. This traditional seating is maintained especially during holidays, when the entire family gathers together.
Now the question arises about the seating when the grandparents are at the table also. In this case it is customary that the father of the man of the house would take the position at the end of the table near the wall and his son (the man of the house) would then sit to his right.
Here is another tradition that I still see happening regularly. This involves an unmarried lady regardless of her age. She can be four or forty four it doesn’t matter. Very often at big get-togethers the hosts need to borrow tables, chairs and benches to accommodate all the guests. As a result the seating can be a little cramped, which is really no problem and adds to the friendship of the occasion. What happens is one of the little girls will want to sit at the table so she will squeeze her way onto the end of a bench at the corner of the table. Upon seeing this, the married ladies will throw their hands up in the air and shriek in horror. There is then a mad scramble and this confused little girl will be thrown between two of the married ladies and a married lady will take the place at the corner of the table. The by now very confused little girl will sit there with a very perplexed look on her face trying to figure out what the big problem was. It is then explained to her that if an unmarried lady sits at the corner of a table she will be cursed and never will marry. As I said, I see this happening to this day. To see the whole thing unfold can be quite entertaining.
With all the wonderful food that has been prepared, still the most important of all is the Bread. For Lithuanians bread is the most important of all food. It is a part of Lithuanian tradition and culture and is a symbol of life itself. This is why the Bread is placed in the most honorable place on the table which is right in front of father. The meal starts with the slicing of Bread by the father and this is done following tradition.
Father slices and passes the bread with great respect. The first slice, a corner of the bread is given to the eldest, married son, with wishes that his firstborn will be a son. Each member of the family takes a slice of bread directly from father's hand and places it respectfully on the table. Notice that the tradition is that the father takes the bread in his hand and places it in the hand of the others. While passing food to others at the table with your hands in some corners of social etiquette would draw gasps of table manners’ shock, for Lithuanians this is a symbol of great respect and love. The father is passing the bread, the symbol of life, from his hand to yours. I don’t mind telling you and I am not embarrassed to say that every time I sit at a table and watch this symbolic gesture take place I am almost overcome with emotion. It is truly one of the most beautiful of traditions in its symbolism.
The remaining, unsliced piece of bread remains on the table, with the cut end facing the most important corner of the house (whatever corner the family feels is the most important corner) or is facing the sun. The cut end of the bread was not placed facing the door because it was believed that this would make the bread angry. I must say that no one has ever explained to me exactly what would happen if the bread got angry about having its cut end pointed at the door but considering the importance bread plays in Lithuanian traditions and our daily lives it’s best we point it in the correct direction so we don’t find out.
This next tradition concerning bread is absolutely essential to abide by.
The bread IS NOT to be placed upside down on the table. I can guarantee that if you do this YOU WILL hear about it. The reason being is that placing bread upside down on the table is a serious desecration and for that the bread's vengeance will appear as a death in the family.
Another important tradition for the respectful handling of bread is that it is not allowed to break a slice with one hand. It takes both hands to earn bread so also it should be broken with two hands.
This tradition works great to get the kids to practice better table manners and handle their food more carefully. If you drop a piece of bread on the floor you must pick it up off the floor, kiss it and then eat it. It doesn’t matter how big or small the piece is, this tradition must be followed. Oh yes, I remember this one. This was probably the number one thing that got me to use better manners at the table.
Now one more piece of advice regarding bread at the table. How many of us have used a small piece of bread to mop up some of the remaining gravy or sauce off our plate? I openly confess to this practice and it’s a very practical and tasty way to enjoy the remaining sauce and at the same time you are helping clean the dishes. In fact one of the pleasant parts of sitting down to enjoy a wonderful Italian pasta dinner is using a piece of fresh and oh so delicious Italian bread to get every last drop of tasty tomato sauce. Growing up in a mostly Italian neighborhood I can tell you that this is common practice and is accepted and even encouraged. However when you are seated at a Lithuanian table, bread is never and I repeat NEVER used to clean up sauce off the plate. Weather you hold the bread in your hand to do it or break off a small piece and then use your fork, bread is not a tool to clean your plate and bread is not an eating utensil. The tradition is that bread is eaten from your hand and is the practice that should be followed at the table.
Should a visitor arrive when the family is at table, the visitor greets the eaters
with "skanaus" (bon appétit). If father answers "prašom" (you are welcome), it means do join us at the table. However if the answer is "ačiū" (thank you), the visitor is not invited to join in the eating. If invited to join the family at the table, a visitor from far away is either seated next to father or in his place. A “beggar” is seated at the other end of the table, near the door. Please allow me to add something to this. If you are visiting a Lithuanian family, that still follows traditions, and you are invited to sit at the father’s place, you are being paid a great honor. Be sure you thank your hosts most graciously.
Now here comes another Lithuanian tradition – The tradition of accepting or declining. When offered something you MUST at first politely decline. To accept at the first offering is considered extremely rude. The host MUST then ask offer again. For the host to not offer a second time is considered extremely rude. You should then again politely decline the second offer. The host should then offer again for a third time. After the third offer you can then graciously accept. If after the third offer you still politely decline then it is accepted that you really do not and/or can not accept the offer. Hence the tradition of asking three times.
An unexpected visitor was always graciously received and even if the family was not prepared to eat yet, food was soon set out. It usually consisted of traditional sausages, curd cheese, honey, eggs and homemade beer. To be polite, the visitor did not eat or drink until the host urged him to do so. This urging, when done immediately after the food and drink are put on the table, is a true sign of Lithuanian hospitality.
If the table is loaded with all kinds of goodies but there is no urging to partake in the food, it is said, "there was plenty of everything, but there was no urging at all from the host".
In earlier times, the host would fill his glass with beer or mead, and greet guests with these words,
"to your health dear brothers, drink and be merry. Be healthy, dear visitors". He then sprinkled a few drops on the floor so that everyone would be in good health and then drank from his glass. The spilling of a few drops of your drink is actually done as a “gift to the gods” (of drink). Refilling his glass again he would then pass it to the guest. If everyone shared the same glass, each one greeted each other with these words, "be healthy", and answered with "to your health". The glass was sent around the table from the right side because spring seeding was done with grain sprinkled to the right side, so drinks also go to that side. This tradition still continues today.
Lithuanians are known for their hospitality. They like to entertain and be entertained. Expecting guests they go all out preparing all kinds and amounts of delicacies. The hosts appreciate this statement, "there was plenty of everything, the only thing missing was bird's milk".
Guests preparing to go, thank, saying "thank you for the delicious cake, strong beer. Today we ate and drank yours, next time we'll drink mine". The host answers, "to your health".
There is another belief that the family cat, when she washes her face with her paw is telling you that guests are coming. The guests will come from the direction to which the cat is facing. Another arrival is forecast by cutlery falling on the floor, if a knife or spoon falls, a male guest is on his way, if a fork falls, expect a female guest.
So the next time you are invited to sit at the table of Lithuanians, take a moment to observe how many of these traditions are still being followed. Or – Maybe you can add some of them to your table?
Our moms’ Lithuanian recipes is on Facebook. Click HERE to find it!
In 2011, a few of first generation Lithuanians from the Hartford Connecticut area in USA started posting on internet that they'd like to share some recipes that they grew up with. Many of these recipes may have been stored in someone's head and not written down, and the group wanted to make these recipes and food history from their beloved homeland at the Baltic Sea available also for future generations.
The group’s vibrant Facebook Page has till now collected over 1,000 members!
The people behind the page is very interested in recipes that they can share with all interested in their Lithuanian background. Even if the old written recipes aren't legible anymore, you are asked to post photos of them. They will help you decipher or translate them, and get them posted so all can all enjoy them!
If you remember eating something Lithuanian as a kid and can't remember what it's called, post a description of it. Someone will likely know what it is and can post the recipe.
If you don't have recipes to post, join the Group and enjoy the cuisine and discussions. Try making something and let them know how it came out. They will also help you with trouble shooting.
Many of these recipes differ from family to family, so it is very interesting to see more than one post of the same recipe.
Our Moms’ Lithuanian Recipes was started by
Ellen Petkaitis Carmichael (1961-2011)
Ellen Petkaitis Carmichael was the driving force behind Our Moms' Lithuanian Recipes. Sadly, she died in a traffic accident just months after she started this success page, which now collects food-interested people with Lithuanian origin worldwide. We reproduce below the letter she wrote to VilNews when she introduced the Facebook Page in early 2011.
Written by Ellen Carmichael in April 2011
ALL LITHUANIAN FOOD LOVERS FROM EVERYWHERE ARE WELCOME!
I remember my young days standing in my mother Ramute and aunt Danuteʼs kitchens watching them cook the food they had grown up with in Lithuania. Always busy, rushing around with purpose. Interesting, that they never had any cookbooks! It was always “a little of this, and a little of that”. But it always came out delicious. It wasnʼt until years later that I became interested in cooking the cuisine myself. When I asked my mother for her recipes, she said they are all in her head. So I started to write things down as she was cooking, and was later able to sit down with her and pick those recipes out of her brain and put them down on paper. Still, pinning her down on exact amounts of ingredients was a challenge. Interestingly, even though my Aunt Danute and my mother were sisters, their cooking was slightly different. Was it because neither of them wrote how they cooked things down; thus changes inevitably evolved? Probably. Iʼve noticed that as people post recipes for the same food in OMLR, they are all slightly different, but have the same basic ingredients. Thatʼs why I encourage people to post their recipes even if a recipe for that particular dish is already posted.
Where are all the Lithuanian Recipes?
I was curious why there arenʼt a larger number of Lithuanian cookbooks written in English. Certainly not nearly as many as for other foreign cuisines. It then occurred to me. For example, many of the Lithuanian immigrants came to the US during hard times, such as during the second world war. They escaped from Lithuania with only the clothes on their backs and the meager supplies they could carry. I think cookbooks were not a priority when they had to leave. My mother confirmed that was the case when she left Lithuania in 1942. They were almost trapped in the bombing and the fighting that took place between the Germans and the Russians and were forced to leave on foot. They lived on potatoes, onions and whatever farmers gave them while on the run into Germany. They certainly learned how to be creative with potatoes. When
finally in the United States, English was not their first language,
so if they did write some things down, it was in Lithuanian.
How OMLR got started
My cousin Paul posted onto his Facebook page a wonderful picture he found on the internet while searching for various Lithuanian recipes, and he commented: “Blogging about her Kugelis recipe no doubt”. That Facebook conversation turned into one where we reminisced about some of the stuff we ate as kids and I asked Paul if he has some of his mother’s (Danute’s) recipes, and he said not in electronic form. Then Paul’s friend Vida posted that she’d like to get some of Danute’s recipes too. Cepelinai, Napoleonas Tortas, koldunai, bacon buns were reminisced about in that thread. Vida suggested we start a FB page; I volunteered and got it started right away, using Paul’s posted picture as the profile picture. I wish I could give someone credit for that photo, but I have no idea where it came from and couldn’t find it again on the internet. I expected ten, maybe fifteen members to join. Pretty much only people that knew us. But much to my delight, it’s growing and there are members from all over...Australia, Switzerland, Lithuania, Canada, UK, all over the USA and probably more.
Troubleshooting with others
One thing that makes this site unique and especially useful for Lithuanian recipes, which do vary so much from person to person, recipe to recipe, is that we have an active dialogue going on about the nuances in the preparation. We also trouble shoot when things don’t go as expected. For example....”Why did my Cepelinai fall apart when I boiled them???” Group members chime in and offer their experience. You just don’t get that with a traditional recipe book. Lithuanians certainly are passionate about their food. It really comes out on this interactive site.
Several members posted that they remember eating something when they were young…something that their Lithuanian grandmother or relative made…but couldn’t remember what it was called, so they couldn’t find it on the internet. They described on their post what they remember about it. Group members gave suggestions as to what it could be and posted their own recipes for it.
The other thing that came out of it is this: I asked one of the members a question on her message board (not as a post) and we've been communicating ever since. She was born in Lithuania, moved to Germany at 19 and now lives in Switzerland. It's amazing how food can connect people that normally would never meet! Having a Lithuanian interactive food site is especially great, considering the passion Lithuanians have for their food. I don't want to make it sound like a great place to meet people... That's not the purpose for the group[!! It was just a nice result that came from it.
Finally, I think one of the most interesting thing I've come to realize in doing this, is that Lithuanians really don't write their recipes down in general. I've heard over and over again that they are stored in their mother's or grandmother's heads...a common phrase is "a little of this and a little of that" when asked how much of the ingredients go into a given recipe. So I suggested that one of the reasons for that is perhaps many of the Lithuanians emigrated out of Lithuania with only what they could carry. No room for cookbooks. Many were on the road for months, even years before they settled down, so the recipes became ingrained in their heads and there was no reason to write them down. That's only my idea, but it is an interesting thing for a food historian to ponder!
Šaltibarščiai – cold beet root soup
Cepelinai – hot potato dumplings
So often we hear something like this from people “I remember Sundays when I was a child. My mom would make cepelinai (potato dumplings filled with meat) and we would all gather around in the kitchen for this special meal”. Sadly what we also hear is “I have no idea how to make these traditional Lithuanian foods”.
So, for those of you wanting to experience “true Lithuania” and wanting to remember the “good old days,” a few culinary musts are CEPELINAI, KUGELIS (potato pudding/cake) and ŠALTIBARŠČIAI (cold beetroot soup), accompanied of course by a glass of cold beer. Preferably Lithuanian beer.
Today we bring you the recipes for the šaltibarščiai and the cepelinai.
Now before I get into the recipes, it may be a good idea to explain why I was chosen to write this and other articles about preparing traditional Lithuanian food. I am not what you would call a great cook. With the exception of some amazing creativity with a barbecue, in the kitchen if I somehow prepare a marvelous meal it’s more a matter of luck rather than any amount of skill.
Some of the recipes may seem to be a little involved but actually they are not. All of the recipes I will give you are for meals I have prepared myself and I don’t mind one single bit telling you that they came out great!!! So the decision was made that if some one like me who needs to be supervised while in the kitchen so I don’t hurt myself can prepare these meals with success then I would be the best person to share these recipes with our dear readers. I’m sure that all of you will also meet with success when you prepare these traditional foods of Lithuania. After all, if I can do it...
Here is what you will need:
2 good sized Beets
2 Cucumbers about 6 inches/15cm long (the smaller ones have more taste)
1 Liter/4 cups Sour Milk or Butter Milk
1 cup Boiled Water
8 sprigs of Fresh Dill – Finely Chopped
250 ml./1 Cup Scallion Greens or Chives - Finely Chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Boil the beets for about 30 minutes.
After the beets cool enough so that they are comfortable to touch, peel off the skin.
Cut the beets into very thin strips – about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch wide and 2 inches long. This can be a little time consuming so some people will coarsely grate them instead.
Hard boil the 2 eggs and allow to cool completely
Boil the 1 cup of water and then chill it (it should be COLD)
Finely slice the cucumbers
Crush the egg yokes
Add everything together. Add the Beets, Cucumbers, Milk, Scallion Greens/Chives, Boiled Water that is now Chilled, 100 gr./6 Tablespoons of Sour Cream, Salt and Pepper to taste and mix well.
Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with the Dill. The Egg Whites can be finely chopped and added to the mixture or you can get a little creative and finely slice them and put on the soup for decoration.
Traditionally ŠALTIBARŠČIAI is served with hot boiled potatoes as a side dish.
And don‘t forget the Lithuanian Black Bread
Recipes for traditional foods for all nationalities will all have their little “twists“ added in based on the region of the country or from one family to another. The recipes for many traditional Lithuanian foods are the same. The recipe for Cepelinai is like this. Based on what region your family is from or how your grandmother preferred to make them, you will find a difference with the amount of raw grated potatoes and boiled potatoes used.
The next question is what kind of potatoes should be used???
It’s best to use what is considered a “white” potato.
OK OK OK – now before some one says – What a moron this guy is, ALL potatoes are WHITE please allow me to elaborate :o)
As an example, don’t use Red potatoes and there is a variety called Yukon Gold which will give you an OK constancy but the color will have a strange yellow tint to it. I’ll need my friends in California to help me out on this one – Hey Sig and Rima, I understand that out on the West Coast there is a variety of potato that’s PURPLE??? Could you shed some light on this please? What works best are U.S. varieties such as Idaho and Maine potatoes. Our good friends in Canada have those wonderful P.E.I spuds and russet potatoes from your Prairie Provinces will work just fine. Here in Lithuania and Eastern Europe I honestly don’t know what the variety of potato is called here. I just use the potatoes that are not the Red potatoes (now you can maybe start to understand why I need supervision while I’m in the kitchen so I don’t hurt myself).
Here is the basic ratio for Grated to Cooked potatoes – For every pound/.5 Kg. of Potatoes use 2 average size Potatoes for the Cooked Potatoes.
Peel 5 Lbs. of potatoes
Boil 8 average size potatoes
Grate the rest of the potatoes (apx. 4 Lbs.). When you grate the potatoes you need to use the side of the hand grater that has the SMALLEST holes if you want to get the correct constancy
In workable portions, place the grated potatoes in a doubled cheese cloth and squeeze dry.
Squeeze the liquid into a pan and let potato starch settle to the bottom. Carefully pour out the potato liquid and add the potato starch back into the grated potatoes.
Once the boiled potatoes have cooled a bit, put them into a ricer and then add to the grated potatoes and mix well. If you don’t have a ricer (I don’t) you can mash the boiled potatoes up with a potato masher and then add them to the grated potatoes and then mix VERY well. During the mixing add salt to taste.
The amount of meat depends on how much you use to fill each Cepelinas. It’s better to have some meat left over than run out so you may want to start with at least 600 gr./1.3 Lbs. of ground Pork.
Fry up a finely chopped onion and then add the ground pork and 2 teaspoons of Marjoram and cook until done. I may add that there is a spice mix called “Maltos Mėsos Prieskoniai” (Ground/Minced Meat Spices) that is sold in Lithuania and can be found in practically every kitchen in the country. It’s a blend of spices traditionally used in ground meat dishes including Celpelinai. It can be purchased at www.BalticValue.com
MAKING THE CEPELINAI
The amount of Potato and the amount of Meat used for each Cepelinas is something you just kind of figure out for yourself but to start with take about a half cup of the Potato mix (baseball/cricket ball size) and flatten it out. When you flatten it out it should be apx. a 6 inch/15 cm. circle ½ inch/1 cm. thick. Place 1-2 spoonfuls of the Meat filling in the center (apx. 1 inch/2 ½ cm. thick) and then roll the Potato mix around it and seal the edges and form into a small football (American football)/rugby ball. For me this is the most difficult part, trying to figure out how much Potato mix, how much Meat and then forming it all together but after 2-3 you get the hang of it.
Carefully put each Cepelinas into a large pot of salted boiling water. Some people put a spoonful of corn starch into the water to help keep the Cepelinai from falling apart. Boil 30 minutes and enjoy.
For toppings, some people enjoy a sauce made of fried bacon pieces and some enjoy Their Cepelinai with sour cream.
If this all sounds a little complex it really isn’t. It’s quite an easy meal to prepare. The most time consuming part is grating all the potatoes. In fact even with the people that are familiar with making dishes like Cepelinai and Kugelis that require A LOT of grated potatoes the reason they say that they don’t make these dishes more often is that it just takes so long to grate the potatoes.
Well a Lithuanian company has come to the rescue! There are a lot of kitchen machines on the market that do a lot of things but none of them actually grate potatoes to the consistency required for dishes like Cepelinai, Kugelis and Potato Pancakes to name a few. It figures that a Lithuanian company would understand what a machine needs to do to grate potatoes to the correct consistency. This machine which is known as the “Electric Potato Grater” has become an extremely popular item here in Lithuania because it is FAST!!! You can grate 10 Lbs/5 kg. of potatoes in minutes. For more information about this Electric Potato Grater you can go to www.BalticValue.com They have the machine in BOTH the 110 Volt and 220 Volt models and they ship all over the world.
Enjoy your Šaltibarščiai and enjoy your Cepelinai.
The next recipe will be for one of my personal favorites KUGELIS!!!
Skanaus – Vin Karnila
There are a number of things that make any Lithuanian swell with pride;
Rich History, Amber, Beautiful Nature, Basketball, etc.
There is, though, one that has a special place in their hearts. This source of pride is the Lithuanian Beer. Today, Lithuanians are among the best beer producers in the world, enjoying numerous international awards for the subtle taste and high quality of their drink. But is beer a truly “Lithuanian” drink and how deep are the traditions of brewing beer in Lithuania?
This is one more area Lithuania has reason to be proud of. The Russians may disagree, as they claim to have started producing vodka in the 17th century. Lithuanians, however, claim that the Russians didn’t know how to make real vodka until the Russian chemist D. Mendeleev (1834-1907) discovered the process of the rectification of the alcohol. He also was the first, who suggested mixing alcohol and water according to the weight, and not volume, something not known to the manufacturers of the poor vodkas in Western Europe up till today.
In the old times, before this discovery, Russian villagers had a soured drink - "sivuha", "samagon", "brandahlist". The Ukrainians in the 17th century tried to learn how to distil vodka from the Lithuanians, but having no experience they distilled a whitish drink "gorilka", that kept all the alcohols and the water steam inside, and which contained about 25-30 per cent of alcohol. Most probably it was cheaper to buy vodka, which was brought by the Lithuanian merchants, than to make it. Knowledge and experience were needed for this.
In Lithuania vodka, distilled from grain, was already being made at the beginning of the millennium, just after year 1000!! A sour drink "gira", beer and mead was made, but vodka was being distilled. The specially prepared barley was being burnt (heated) so it by no means was boiled, but the vodka evaporated. From this process vodka gets its Lithuanian name - "DEGTINE" which comes from the verb “degti” (to burn). By the way, this is the only term, describing the process of the production of the strong drink. This linguistic-semantic argument is the most archaic in the world. Whisky - means "water" in old English, eau de vie - "water" in old French, vodka - "water" with a little bit negative meaning in old common folk Russian. Ancient Lithuanians in their experience knew that ethyl alcohol evaporates at the temperature of 78.3 degrees. Even now the very good distillers of the home-made vodka determine and control the time of the barley burning (heating), in order to get a “clear as a tear” home-made vodka, without any additional smells (of other alcohols), dashes, and with the alcohol percentage of 60-70. But vodka distillers knew that while distilling vodka, the poisonous methyl alcohol exudes earlier at the temperature of 71 degrees. The technologists of the modern vodka production, especially from Russia and Europe, can not understand how Lithuanians could rectificate vodka, as the rectification process itself was not known to the world yet.
It was a taboo for the distillers to drink the first dipper of vodka, which had to be, and still has to, be sacrificed to the gods by pouring vodka on the ground. This custom is still alive and obligatory in Lithuania. The first dipper of vodka can not be drunk. It is being poured over the shoulder, simultaneously saying "For Gods!" Up till now, in the villages of the Lowlands, You can hear the distillers saying in the Lowlandish dialect: "Give the first cup to the gods"; "Who does not give to gods, gets his eyes dripped"; "First cheers to gods, then to a person"; "First cheer the god, then god will give you health"; "Pour the first vodka to gods, if you do not do this, they will take your health away."
The most famous Irish and Scottish whiskey (whisky) manufacturers are deprived of speech when they hear such an elementary rectification dictated and learned by practice and experience. They incline their heads low, and award the Lithuanians with all the laurels. While the Irish, the first to start making whiskey in the British Isles, come straight to the point. They say that the beginning of whiskey and beer production, in the 13th century, was not spontaneous. It was started using the recipe, originally brought from somewhere, most probably from Lithuania.
"Trejos Devynerios"("Triple Nine") - the oldest bitter in the world
"Trejos Devynerios" is the bitter of 27 (9+9+9=27) herbs. In the old times it was made right after St. John’s night, at the sunrise. The herbs were collected in a way, known only to the priests (earlier - to the senior priests). Then the herbs were conformably dried, specially put together and infused with vodka (60% of alcohol) and distilled at that shortest night of the year. Only the priests could know the proportions. The ritual was always performed outside, for the bitter had to get the power and energy of the Sun. After the sun set, the bitter was poured into hornbeam barrels. Later on the barrels were poured over with the melted beeswax and buried in holes dug into the ground of the cellars. There the hermetically sealed bitter was kept for three years, three months, and three weeks.
In the 13-17th centuries, Lithuania was one of the biggest and the greatest countries in Europe, with its territory stretching from the Baltic till the Black Sea (including the present Belorussia, Ukraine, and Western Russia). The Grand Lithuanian Principality was often at war protecting Europe from the Tatar-Mongol hordes from the East. In the 13-17th centuries, having the most modern armaments in Europe, using the latest war tactics and strategies founded by the talented Lithuanian commanders, Lithuanians beat the Army of Batijus, and stopped their invasion into the Europe. Also for those long ages Lithuanians were fighting with the aggressive crusaders and sword bearing orders, holding off the onslaught of Lithuania from the West. The Lithuanian knights and warriors were using "Trejos Devynerios" as a universal remedy from cold and joint illnesses, as a disinfectant and a treatment means for war wounds, and also as a tonic for prophylactic. For Lithuanian men the greater part of their lives were spent in wars, so the healing bitter "Trejos Devynerios" was even included into the army list of food supplies from what is shown in the old Lithuanian army’s supply lists of the 15th century.
Six centuries later, in 1878, "Trejos Devynerios" showed up in the small German town of Welfenbüttel, just with a different name - "Jegermeister." After the German taste, it was much sweeter, but still there was a note on the label, that the recipe was received from Lithuanian monasteries. But when "Jegermeister" became famous in the rest of the world, the note, that the drink was being made according to the Lithuanian recipe, was not on the label any more. Anyway, there is still "Kreuter Mieke" in Germany. It is made out of herbs and it is used in the production of "Jegermeister." On the label of "Kreuter Mieke" there is a note stating that this is a mixture of 27 herbs after the original recipe of an old Lithuanian monastery.
In 1511, The Grand Duke of Lithuania Zygimantas the Senior allowed the merchants of Vilnius to buy and sell as much grain as they wanted freely, because a lot of grain was being used in the production of vodka, beer, and "gira" (a sour drink). Even the Guild of the Malters of Vilnius was founded. This guild sprouted, dried and ground the grain coarsely and sold it to everyone who wanted to make vodka and beer. This was legal, because during the period of the Grand Principality of Lithuania every inhabitant of Lithuania had a right to make mead or beer and to distil vodka for their own needs
The best homemade vodka from grain is believed to be distilled in the Lowlands in the Plunge district, and from rye - in Dzukija in the Varenos district and around Labanor. Officially this homemade vodka "Samane" is being produced by Alytus "Alita." This company is the only one in the world which does this.
"Starka" - thousand years old and probably a better drink than whisky
"Starka" is special festal vodka, which was traditionally made on the day of the birth of the first son. Already in the 15th century the foreigners, who were visiting Lithuania and describing its life, noticed the fact that when the midwife announced the birth of the son, men started distilling vodka. Later they poured that vodka into the oak barrel, which was later coated with the hot beeswax and dug into the ground. The barrel was being dug up, and the liquid tasted on the wedding day of that son, that means, at least about 20 years later. The name of this vodka is purely Lithuanian. It comes from the old Lithuanian word "starkus" (a stork), and this is connected with the widely spread story, that the new baby is being brought by the stork. And up to now countrymen are asking not for "Starka", but for "Starkine" vodka at the shop.
Though Russians are trying to explain that "starka" has come from the Russian word "staraya" (meaning "the old one"), if so the name of the vodka would be "Staraya", because, since the Russians learned to distil the potato-grain vodka after opening "Smirnoff" vodka factory, all Russian vodkas still have their original names: "Listovka", "Dovgan", "Spotykach", "Yerofeych", "Staromoskovskaya" and from Soviet times - "Moskovskaya", "Stolychnaya", "Russkaya", "Kubanskaya", "Sibirskaya.". In addition, from the linguistic side, the word "starka" has no semantic meaning in Russian.
Lithuanian mead is one of the oldest strong drinks in the world
Nowadays the only factory in the world "Lietuviskas midus" ("Lithuanian mead"), which is in a small Lithuanian town Stakliskes, produces Lithuanian mead of various kinds, according to recipes that are thousands of years old. Also here the especially strong and aromatic mead bitters (balsams) "Zalgiris" (70%), "Nemunas" (60%), "Suktinis" (50%), seasoned with herbs, are being made. These drinks are not only the most ancient of drinks with unique peculiarity in the whole world, they are peculiar only to Lithuania, and they could make Lithuania even more famous than for basketball if the Stakliskes folks would advertise themselves internationally.
Lithuanian "Krupnikas" - the most noble liqueur in Europe
This is the liqueur from honey and herbs, that was made by the monks of the Bernardine monastery, which was settled in Nesvyzius by M.K. Radvila Naslaitelis. The monks could see wine only on the tables of the dukes and the aristocracy.
In 1546, the wine cellars were built and equipped on Tiltu street in Vilnius. The wine supervisors had a home nearby. By the way, the costs of transporting the wine from Hungary made up to 65.3% of the wine’s price. The percentage was even higher, when the wine was brought from Avignon, or any other region of France, Southern German principalities, Italy - the Kingdom of Naples, Lombardy, Toscana, or the Pope’s wineries. Much wine was brought by the Hanza merchants. This wine was mostly being bought by the wine supervisors of the Vilnius’s Royal Palace. So, it goes without saying, that wine was being drunk only by the rich. The Bernardine monks, who came from the Southern parts of the Europe, were especially fascinated by mead - a not very strong drink, having the taste and aroma of the natural honey. On the base of this drink Bernardines created "Krupnikas." For the first time, the guests were officially treated to "Krupnikas"in 1593, on the occasion of the building of the NesvyZius Radvilos’ palace. This date should be considered the official date of the origin of Krupnikas. Of course, this date can not be related neither with the that is being made by "Vilniaus Degtine", nor with the drink of Kaunas’s "Stumbras." The real recipe of Krupnikas, which was created by the Bernardines, is different. It was known to the author, just as the other recipes of the ancient Lithuanian drinks. The author would agree to teach the recipe only to the Lithuanian Bernardines or the Kretinga Minorites because they had especially well conditions to make Krupnikas, but in no way he would teach the state or private companies.
The honey liqueur Krupnikas soon became the favourite drink of the aristocracy, and especially ladies liked it. Krupnikas became most famous after the 1920s, when Lithuanian independence was restored and when it became the most popular drink among the aristocrats of Kaunas. It was being served at feasts of the highest rank and governmental balls. At the Presidency and institutions, in the parsonages and estates, Krupnikas was being served in tiny, cut-glass decanters and drank from cups of the size of a thimble. It was drunk together with the coffee. Very often the estates, parsonages, and even the wealthier homes were making Krupnikas according to their own recipe. Krupnikas was being made out of everything at that time: cherry and lemon, orange and tangerine, badyan (a kind of anise) and cardamom, wine and champagne, montpensieur and brown sugar, but these were only primitive imitations that had nothing in common with the real Krupnikas.
At the same time the Polish started making their own "Krupnikas", but it was far from the original one. However, the Polish were justifiably proud of it. Because of this, some Lithuanians think that Krupnikas was created by the Polish in 1930.
Just do not forget that Lithuanian Krupnikas is the only liqueur in the world that is being warmed up before drinking. This is the way it was drunk by the monks and the nobles and only tasting krupnikas in this way can the marvellous, perfectly tuned honey, grain, alcohol and herbs taste and unique aroma open.
Photo by Yours For Good Fermentables
I’m very excited to share this recipe with you because
KUGELIS IS MY ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE
Once again I have been elected to share a traditional Lithuanian recipe with you due to the fact that I am so very “culinary challenged”. Please remember that I need to be supervised when I’m in the kitchen so that I don’t hurt myself. But the powers to be of VilNews feel that I’m the best person to share these recipes since if a person with my limited cooking skills can cook these tasty meals than it shows to every one how easy they are to prepare.
Dark grey days and cold nights are soon here again as autumn is making its way back to Lithuania. The summer season is coming to an end, but the early autumn sunshine will still be very much welcomed, somewhere in nature or in a garden, where the people of Lithuania still will be enjoying the typical early autumn sun with a tasty, warming šašlykai prepared over the charcols.
Šašlykai or Shashlik is a form of Shish kebab popular throughout the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, Mongolia, Iran and Israel among other places. Shashlik (meaning skewered meat) was originally made of lamb (in some extent pork or beef) depending on local preferences and religious observances. These skewers of meat are either all meat, all fat, or alternating pieces of meat, fat, and vegetables such as bell pepper, onion, mushroom and tomato.
Meat for shashlyk (as opposed to other forms of shish kebab) is usually marinated overnight in a high-acidity marinade like vinegar, dry wine or sour fruit/vegetable juice with the addition of herbs and spices. While it is not unusual to see shashlik listed on the menu of restaurants, it is more commonly sold in Western Asia by street vendors who roast the skewers over wood, charcoal, or coal. Shashlik is usually cooked on a grill called a mangal.
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