reede, detsember 22, 2006

Estonian Christmas Customs

Estonians have some pretty interesting culinary treats, including herring cooked every which way, sült (meat jelly), kartulisalat (always with diced ham), and tatrahelbed - a salted porridge.

But it is during Christmas time, or jõuleaeg, that they break out the really "good shit," starting with the ubiquitous blood sausage or verivorst. I have tasted this Estonian Christmas treat with mixed results. Sometimes it tastes so foul, I feel like I might as well just go to a field of cows, pick one, and stick a straw in its jugular. Other times it is loaded with barley, and when salted and covered in sour cream, it is palatable.

That's why when it comes to Estonian Christmas food, I'll be the one at the table loading up on pork, sauerkraut, and potatoes with plenty of kangesinep (strong mustard). The added benefit of the mustard is that it makes you thirsty, which means you have to drink more really alcoholic beer, which means you have a better time.

Estonians typically celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve. "Like in other Nordic states," writes Estonia's foreign ministry, "Estonia's celebration of Christmas mostly falls on Christmas Eve, however, Christmas season starts from Advent with people buying Advent calendars or lighting Advent candles. Each year on December 24, the President of Estonia declares Christmas Peace, which is a 350-year-old tradition in Estonia."

There is also the tradition of putting out candles for departed love ones, especially by visiting their graves and placing candles there. At Christmas, whole cemeteries are illuminated. It's actually quite beautiful.

It's hard to tell what is ancient custom in Estonia and what is borrowed from neighboring countries. According to the Estonian foreign ministry, an old custom was to bring Christmas straw into the house and to make Christmas crowns resembling church chandeliers, particularly in northern and western Estonia. More recently, you can see some incarnation of this tradition in St. Lucia processions.

Anyway, since Estonians don't seem to mind borrowing traditions from their neighbors, one thing they should do is steal the tradition of Christmas beers from the Danes. Every year, Tuborg releases its special Julebryg Christmas beer, wishing you a "glaedelig jul" and plenty of drunken merriment. I don't know how many of those I could drink. They are really good.

11 kommentaari:

notsu ütles ...

Some gastronomic comments:
black pudding (verivorst) is, as far as I know, traditionally eaten with foxberry salad, not with sour cream - foxberries' sourness very fittingly balances the fried greaziness of black pudding (isn't sour cream too high in fat to accompany a fried dish?). And yes, it should be loaded with barley, actually it is barley that gives it the shape.

Sült is also a traditional Christmas revellion food in Estonia. I guess you still distrust it, but you know, there are good ways and bad ways of preparing any dish.
If Estonian kitchen as such makes you suspicious of it, there are several varieties in French cuisine: jambon persillé is a sült, as well as the terrine aux poireaux. I remember having read in one of your blogs a post of an Italian who said that there is an Italian dish similar to sült, only that I've forgotten the name. But here, for instance, sült recipe from an Italian cooking page(terrina di pollo in gelatina):
http://www.buonissimo.org/ricette/757_cucinareamici_menu2_terrina.asp
and another, a salmon jelly (terrina di salmone in gelatina):
http://www.italiadonna.it/public/percorsi/ricette/nat271.htm

So it seems to be quite an international way of preparing meat. What else can you do if you're preparing a cold buffet and don't want to serve cold roast meat only?

Mustard goes not only to roast pork, but to sült too. And some substitute horseradish for it. I once served a veal, carrot and leek sült with a sauce made of balsamic vinegar and parsley, with quite good results.
Also, hot boiled potatoes give a nice contrast with coldness of sült.

As for tatrapuder (buckwheat porridge), most people I know use buckwheat groats, not flakes. It gives more texture to it than flakes. And not everybody eats it salted: I've a friend who likes it seasoned with salt, honey and wild berries. One of my own favourite self-made fast-food options is buckwheat porridge with garlic, cucumber and mayonnaise salad and canned mackrel. Again, some people love to eat it with wild mushroom sauce.

As for potato salad... whence do you get the idea that it goes with diced ham always? As much as I have asked people about their own potato salad recipe, there is only one thing that nobody omits: the potatoes. Of course, an Estonian potato salad always contains many different ingredients, but which ones is up to the cook.

And what about THE Christmas dish, the piparkook (gingerbread)?

Giustino ütles ...

I remember having read in one of your blogs a post of an Italian who said that there is an Italian dish similar to sült, only that I've forgotten the name.

Mortadella. Yummy.

And what about THE Christmas dish, the piparkook (gingerbread)?

The best Estonian Christmas dish is vodka mixed with a little mulled wine.

notsu ütles ...

He-he... it is not a Christmas dish, but have you ever tried Vana Tallin with champagne (tastes like lemonade, but is much more deadly) or with kefir (tastes like a cake, but is much more deadly)?

notsu ütles ...

The mortadella actually looks more like "keeduvorst" to me... in sült, the meat is not so finely grounded, and there shouldn't be any lard.

Kaur ütles ...

Ham in kartulisalat? Not really.

But THE Estonian christmas tradition is to sit around the table, watch TV and EAT EAT EAT EAT for hours and hours. Gifts, jõuluvana, whatever are just a pretext for having another round of food.

The same goes for new year's eve.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I like to eat verivorst with sour cream.
ANd - there are several christmas porters available!

Anonüümne ütles ...


Sült is also a traditional Christmas revellion food in Estonia. I guess you still distrust it, but you know, there are good ways and bad ways of preparing any dish.
If Estonian kitchen as such makes you suspicious of it, there are several varieties in French cuisine: jambon persillé is a sült, as well as the terrine aux poireaux.

There is a similar dish in the USA, called Hog's Head Cheese, popular in Louisiana and a staple of African American soul food.

plasma-jack ütles ...

A. Le Coq's new Stout beer is good, as well as Puls' new brew for Christmas. I wouldn't recommend other Estonian Christmas beers - they're too strong, rather a drink for elderly people and highschool kids (for them the cost-efficiency factor is most improtant).

Anonüümne ütles ...

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Flasher T ütles ...

really alcoholic beer

Oh come on. It's not "really alcoholic beer", it's just beer. Coors Light, on the other hand, is decidedly not beer.

have you ever tried Vana Tallin with champagne

Ah yes, "The Sicle". The only cocktail known to man which has a higher ratio of perceived harmlessness to actual punch than the turboshandy.

HitchHikers Handbook ütles ...

Great post! We are running a Christmas photo challenge at the moment by which we hope to gather photos and descriptions of Christmas traditions from all around the world. If you'd like to participate, write a couple of sentences about Christmas in your country, send us a photo to represent it and we will publish the best entries on our blog with a link to your site. Sounds good? :) Here you will find more details: http://hitchhikershandbook.com/2013/12/21/christmas-traditions-around-the-world-photo-challenge/
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! :)