Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Domestic Life, Meals and Customs

Domestic life, meals and customs of the Baltic

Domestic Life

Since the majority of people of these lands live a rural lifestyle it is this tradition that is considered here. While Latvia makes use of her peat bogs to supply fuel, Estonia and Lithuania depend more on the wood resources of their forests. Electricity is costly and electrical appliances are not common except in the affluent homes of city dwellers. Wood or peat-burning stoves with built-in ovens are used to cook the family meals and in many cases also form the primary heat source for smaller homes. Heavy cast-iron cookware is favored for top-of-the-stove cooking; earthenware containers are used for oven baking and also for mixing bowls. The availability of wood makes it the ideal material for many kitchen utensils such as bowls, rolling pins, spoons, chopping boards, work-tables.

Fresh seasonal foods are preferred and in many areas marketing is done daily. Any foods requiring storage are simply placed in a cool area of the house or in an icebox. Extra provisions for the long winters are frequently prepared in the home by drying, salting, pickling, smoking. Preserves and jams are also prepared for winter use.

Foods Commonly Used

The Baltic are noted for their grain crops of rye, wheat, oats, and barley, their high potato production, and their dairy farms. It is not surprising, therefore, that grains, potatoes, and dairy products form the staple foods of the Baltic diet, and are supplemented with smaller proportions of fish, pork products, and poultry. Because of the historical periods of influence, German, Scandinavian (See Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian) and Slavic (See Polish and Russian) cuisines have all made contributions to Baltic cuisines. German ethos prevails in the Lithuanian personality but it is the Slavic influence that prevails in the Lithuanian kitchen, although many so-called typical Lithuanian dishes are a part of German food traditions. Scandinavian influence, not surprisingly in view of history, predominates in Estonian cuisine, while Latvian cookery clearly shows threads of all three influences. The food of the Baltic peoples differs more in nomenclature than in substance; regional differences and specialties do exist, but many similarities are to he found as well.

Meals and Customs

Although there is increasing mobility from rural to urban settings, more than half the Baltic population shares a common agricultural heritage that is reflected in a deep respect for land and nature and a humble religious devotion. Their thankfulness for the gifts of land and nature is shown in their preference for simple satisfying foods unadorned by sauces or excessive seasoning. Breads and soups form the main-stays of many meals. Lithuanians always begin a meal with a prayer of thankfulness, and Estonian children seldom leave the table without the words “Thank you, my Lord, my stomach has been filled.” And though Latvian country homes are often isolated from each other, Slavic hospitality prevails in a flow of food and drink shared by all.

Together with individual pride in the family name, care is taken to hand down homemaking skills to the daughters and agricultural skills to the sons. Great respect is shown the father of the household: not only is his opinion consulted in all matters, he is also the first to be served at meals. Party foods are always presented buffet-style, while daily meals are commonly served family-style, with everyone helping themselves.

Based on the type of work done, heavier meals are usually served in the country, while lighter, more sophisticated meals are favored in the cities. A simple breakfast of porridge, bread, and beverage and a similar simple evening meal is balanced with the heavier meal taken at noon that consists of a hearty meat and vegetable or grain soup with bread and beverage and concluded with fresh or stewed fruits.

Many coffee and pastry shops provide snacks for city workers, while soup is often a refreshing snack for country people. Evening guests or quiet family gatherings enjoy tea with home-baked cakes, kuchens, or other sweets.

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