Food Culture and Tradition

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Foods from the Baltic


Soured milk, buttermilk. and sour cream are staples, while cottage cheese and pot cheese (Lithuanian: surfs) are widely used for many dishes. A consider-able amount of cheese is also consumed: fresh, aged, and with or without the beloved caraway seeds. Cheeses are prepared from the milk of cows or goats. Most families consider it very important that their children consume both milk and milk products. Milk is also used in many varieties of milk soups, and vegetables are often cooked in milk as well.


Fruits are plentiful and enjoyed in season, fresh or stewed with sugar as fruit compotes, or served as fruit soups. Many jams, jellies, and preserves are pre-pared for winter use. Korvits is an Estonian sweet preserved relish made from chunks of pumpkin and traditionally served with meat. Estonian “fruit salad,” traditionally served in winter, is a specialty of mixed preserved fruits. Berries are especially plentiful, both wild and cultivated, and Estonia’s berries are noted for their quality and sweetness. The combination of fresh, dried, or preserved fruits, served or cooked with meats and fowl, is also much enjoyed.

Potatoes and cabbage are the staple vegetables and store well for winter use. A favored form of cabbage, especially in winter, is sauerkraut.

The common root vegetables – carrots, turnips, and beets, as well as the fresh seasonal favorites of cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, and onions – are enjoyed fresh in salads and served with sour cream or a vinaigrette dressing. Wild mushrooms of many varieties are eagerly collected in season and many are hung and dried to add flavor to dishes year-round.


Pork, pork products, and poultry are the staples but are not used in great quantity. Domestic and wild fowl and game are enjoyed as available. Jellied pig’s feet are a Lithuanian favorite and suckling pig is often prepared for festive occasions. Herring, sprats, and eels are the widely enjoyed harvest from the sea. Egg consumption is limited but steadily increasing due to increased supply and lower prices. Some dried legumes are used for soups, and Estonian children like to chew dried peas and beans as a snack. Kama is an Estonian soup served cold in summer and eaten as a refreshment any time of the day: it is prepared from a flour made from dried, ground, and roasted grains and legumes blended with sour milk and flavored lightly with salt or sugar.


Grains form one of the most important, satisfying, and economical staples of the Baltics. Bread is on the table at every meal and although this is usually a dark, sour rye bread, other breads made of wheat or combinations of flours may be served. Soups are often thickened with coarse flours or may even be made from grains; porridges and hot gruels are frequently served and may constitute a warming meal. Baked barley is a favorite side dish for meats and soups and barley flour is used for breads.


Oils are seldom used except occasionally for salads. Lard or bacon fat predominates in cookery while butter is used for baking, as a spread, and as a seasoning for foods. Fats are also consumed in the form of creams (sour cream, cream, and whipped cream), sour milk, and in many cheeses.


The Baltic countries imported French pastry chefs, who opened their own little shops. The tradition of fine pastries, richly and elaborately prepared – by French chefs – is still maintained. Home baking includes satisfying buns, rolls and kuchens based on sweet yeast dough or firm cakes based on eggs. Sugared dried fruits are a favored snack to be nib-bled anytime. Plain chocolate, either milk chocolate or bittersweet, is considered a special treat. A common snack in Latvia is paper cones filled with sauerkraut, eaten the way ice cream is elsewhere.


Caraway seeds head the list of favorites, and are also believed to be an aid for digestion. Poppy seeds, dill, parsley, and bay leaves add their touch to many dish-es as well. Ginger, many varieties of honey, and allspice are used in baking. In general, Baltic foods are not highly seasoned; salty and sour flavors predominate. Most baked goods are rich simply with the aroma and taste of fresh eggs, butter, and cream.


Tea is taken frequently and sour milk is an anytime beverage. Coffee is also used but is considered a luxury in some areas, where a type of coffee may be prepared from ground, roasted cereals such as rye, and sometimes chicory. Beer, wine, and schnapps are enjoyed and vodka flavored with caraway is a favorite.

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