Thursday, January 1, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Traditional Estonian Feast

This is my first time to participate in a Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event, so hope you'll like it :).
It's a traditional Estonian Christmas / New Years feast that is typically had all over Estonia either as the Christmas dinner or the New Years dinner or both.

Apparently the Estonian word 'jõulud' (Christmas) is of ancient Scandinavian origin and comes from the word Jul. In Scandinavia Christ's birthday is marked by the pre-Christian word Jul in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Jol in Icelandic, Joulu in Finnish and Yule on the British Isles. Kind of makes sense as Estonians aren't religious at all and have never been. Different countries have made more and less successful attempts at bringing Christianity to the Estonian pagan peasants, but not with overwhelming results :).

Before Christianity, Estonians celebrated winter solstice - the birthday of the Sun. Starting from winter solstice, the days grew longer and the sun rose higher in the sky. Jõulud was celebrated from St. Thomas's Day (December 21) until Epiphany (January 6) long before Christianity reached the region. Jõulud, which involved excessive eating and prohibitions on several types of work, was seen as a period of rest in the middle of the long dark winter.

As for the New Year's Eve traditions, then one of the most common ones actually has something to do with food. Namely it is believed that one should eat at 7 (or 9 or 12- according to other sources) times during the New Years Night in order for the coming year to be plentyful in food (or in order to have the strength of 7 men - again depends on the source). Nowadays this usually just takes the form of everyone preparing absolutely preposterous amounts of food, that can then be eaten for the best part of the night and for the following week.
Other typical New Years Eve traditions are telling your fortune from lead (melt lead and pour it into a bucket of cold water to then tell your fortune for the coming year off of the shapes the lead takes). And fireworks of course.
The president gives a speech on TV at midnight, usually everyone watches that as well.

Usually in my family we don't prepare the Christmasy main course of roasted pork, sauerkraut, oven baked potatoes and black-pudding sausages (blood-sausages) for New Years Eve but rather only for the Christmas. But this year my sister and her German boyfriend were not arriving till after Christmas and she had a craving for the traditional nosh, so this is what we did.
But before the main course there is traditionally a cold table that alone is enough to fill you up - a potato salad, cold-cuts, some people also make a rosolje salad (herring, beetroot and potato salad). We had all those as well.
As for the desserts - a must have during the holiday season in Estonia are decorated self-made gingerbread cookies - we had those and we had some brownies in addition :).

But now for the recipes.

The first course:

Potato salad:
makes a large batch that serves 6 people at least twice

Everyone in Estonia considers this to be a traditional party food. Rarely there's a children's birthday or a New Year's Eve, that passes without the potato salad. I think that it has come to the Estonian cuisine via the Russian cuisine where it has come from the French cuisine, as the Russians call it Olivie (according to them it was invented by a chef called Olivier).

- 10-12 medium boiled potatoes
- 4-6 medium boiled carrots
- 1 can of peas
- a bunch of fresh green onion
- 6 hard-boiled eggs
- 400 g of premium quality baloney or ham
- 4-6 medium pickles
- mayo
- sour cream
- salt and pepper

Chop everything and then mix generously with mayo and sour cream and season to taste. The trick is to have nice small pieces that are all the same in size and none of which are larger than peas. Some people also use apple in the salad, but I find it just gross.

Rosolje salad (beetroot, potato and herring salad): serves 6

- 4 boiled potatoes
- 2 boiled beetroots
- 2 boiled carrots
- 2 pickles
- 1 chopped onion
- 200 gr salted herring in oil
- 2 hard boiled eggs
- mayo and sour cream

Chop, mix, serve. Basically the same as above.

Main course:
This is all served together, but I'll divide it into three manageable chunks - pork and potatoes, as they're roasted together, the blood-sausages and then the sauer-kraut.
All the amounts are meant to serve a party of 6-8 people.

Roast pork with baked potatoes:

1.5 kg pork (neck)
salt and pepper and spicy mustard for rubbing
10 large potatoes
some potato-seasoning if preferred.

Buy the pork a day in advance and thoroughly rub it with salt, pepper and mustard. Keep it in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook it.
This chunk of meat along with potatoes will take about 2 hours to roast.
Some people lay strips of bacon between the potatoes, if you prefer not to go for such a greasy option you'll probably need to take your potatoes out a bit before the pork is done.

Peel and halve the potatoes and lay them on an oven tin around the pork. Cover it up with tinfoil for the first hour or 1.5 hrs. Remove the tin in the end and use the fan-function to make sure the roast is nice and brown on top.

The black-pudding or blood-sausages:

These are the must-have element of the meal. They're made from pig's blood, pig's fat and barley (and some other less important elements) and stuffed in natural pig intestines. Nowadays they're a big business in Estonia, during winter you can choose between tens and tens of different types that are made by different meat-companies. Small ones and big ones, dry ones and moist ones, spicy ones and fatty ones. Something for everyone's tase.

Only very few people who live in the countryside and have pigs make their own sausages, but for the sake of accuracy - I didn’t find a recipe on how to make them in a traditional cookbook, so if you want to know and have the spare 1 liter of pig's blood, drop me a comment :)

- 1 kg of blood-sausages
- 200-300 g fresh bacon

Cut the bacon in strips and lay it on the bottom of the oven tin. Place the sausages on top. Make sure you pierce each of them with a fork, this will keep them from bursting while they cook.
It's also possible to just cook them on a frying pan on medium heat and under a lid. Some say that they'll end up less dry this way.

I was very curious to see how my sister's boyfriend Steve (he's German) will react to the blood-sausages as many foreigners would rather stab themselves in the eye than try a piece of that. The rest of the meal is very obviously nicked from the German cuisine (although Steve said that for Christmas they don't really eat pork and sauerkraut). But he liked them very much and demonstrated no signs of weakness before digging in :).

Steamed and braised sauer-kraut.

- 1 kg sauerkraut (best if it is made with carrots)
- some vatty pork or strips of bacon (optional)
- caraway seeds

This is another time consuming bit about the meal. The sauerkraut needs to be steamed /boiled for hours and hours until it is tender, usually for about 3 - 4 hours. And then it should be braised. You can now also buy already steamed and braised sauer-kraut in a jar and then just heat it up on a pan, but usually those are more fatty than what you'd end up with if you make it yourself.

Serving the main-course:
As I've said before, the main course is served all together. So you take some potatoes, a nice juicy slice of pork, some 2-3 blood-sausages (if small, or 1 if large), a good dollop of sauer-kraut. Also some pickles or pickled pumpkin is a must. And most people like cowberry jam on their sausages (I don't).


Decorated ginger-bread cookies:

These are wonderful, they're tasty, they're pretty, they're great to give as gifts and they're a wonderful family past-time to make together, even if you're all grown up. As with the blood-sausages, it is possible to make the dough yourself, but as there is such great demand for it on the Estonian market, there are many providers who make it around Christmas time, so most people just buy theirs in the store. As do we. Usually the dough comes in a wonderful, glossy, dark-brown 1 kg pack that is good for at least 2-3 oven-tins of gingerbread cookies.

And it's the same with the frosting, when I was a kid you had to make your own ( the simplest kind, just mix egg-whites with powdered sugar and add colors if you wish), but now you can even buy the pre-prepared frosting in a nozzle-type plastic bag.

But here's the recipe for the dough for those of you who want to try these absolutely fabulous, fragrant, crispy cookies and can't buy the dough in the stores.

- 250 g dark sugar syrup
- 200 g sugar
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground clove
- 1 tbsp ground cardamom
- 250 g butter
- 2 eggs
- 600 g flour
- 2 tsp baking powder

Heat the syrup with sugar and the spices until it's boiling. Add the butter, mix and set aside. After it has cooled a bit, beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix the baking-powder with the flour and mix in spoonful by spoonful. Knead and wrap in plastic. It'd be good if you could keep it in the fridge for at least 24 hrs before cooking.

For the frosting beat:

- 1 egg white
- 4 dl powdered sugar.

Making the cookies will take quite some time and you have to be careful with the oven once you really get going (especially if you're using two or more oven-tins and are making a large batch). The cookies only take bout 6-7 minutes to cook at 170 C, as they're very thin.

Flour the counter-top and roll out the dough) depending on your roller or rolling abilities you can also roll straight to the oven-tin (add butter or oil first), this way it's quicker. The dough has to be about 3-5 mm thick. The thinner it is the crispier the cookies.
Then cut out the cookies using all kinds of differently shaped cookie-cutters.
Remove the in-betweens and roll them up with the remaining dough to be used for the next tin-ful.

Cook and immediately after removing from the oven scrape them off the pan (you can leave them on the pan, but just make sure you've gotten them loose before).
Decorate with the frosting using a thin pastry-nozzle or a plastic bag with a very tiny whole cut in the corner.
The frosting will dry on it's own, especially if the cookies are warm, but you can stick it back in the oven for a minute or so.

And this is it I think. It's turned into a ginormous posting, so seems that reading through it (and making all these dishes) is at least as much work as eating all that stuff in one night :).



Marija said...

The savory dishes are very similar to the Serbian food, especially sauerkraut and roast! I would enjoy your meal very much! Great post!

Happy Holidays!

Joie de vivre said...

What a feast! I so wish I could have come to your house! :) Congratulations on the 24 post!

Kelly said...

What a fun post. I didn't know much about Estonian food before your post so it was really interesting to read. Congrats on your first 24, 24, 24 post. It was my first as well and I really enjoyed it.

stephchows said...

What a fun tradition! Wow I'm not sure I could eat 7 times in one night :) Everything looks delicious. I had so much fun doing the december foodbuzz 24 24 24 also, we had a crazy unique sushi night!

Lisa said...

Great post; I really enjoyed reading about the origins of the holiday and about your traditions. The food all looks so good—except for the blood sausage. I am one of those foreigners you mentioned! ;)

Congratulations on being part of 24, 24, 24! It's fun to see what everyone did.

Peter M said...

Thanks for sharing a little about Estonian traditions and your wonderful cuisine.

Chez US said...

Happy New Year. Very nice posting sharing your traditions with all of us 24 Eventers. I love that you did this at home, makes it even more special!

Sid Khullar said...

I've never tried Estonian food before and your cooking looks delicious!

_ts of [eatingclub] vancouver said...

This is something I know nothing about! I've just discovered your blog via Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24. Have added you to my reader. =) Cheers.

Nate-n-Annie said...

Thank you for introducing traditional Estonian food to us!