Special and everyday food varied according to season. Animals were slaughtered in the fall and winter, therefore more meat was eaten at those times. Milk, vegetables, berries, mushrooms as well as various flour-based dishes were more abundant in the spring and summer.
Lithuanians baked white bread only on special occasions whereas black rye bread was one of the most ancient staple foods eaten at every meal. It was made by mixing rye flour with warm water in a wooden dough trough in which some dough from the last batch had been left. It fermented overnight, then was mixed with flour, kneaded, covered and left to rise in a warm place. Lithuanians started baking scalded bread at the end of the 19th century. Its dough was mixed in hot water and fermented up to three days. Such bread was sweetish and didn't go stale as quickly as regular black bread.
Large oblong loaves were shaped on wooden baker's peels, covered with maple, cabbage or sweet-flag leaves to add flavor, and placed in a hot oven. Bread baking days were considered special occasions during which homes were quiet and no one argued. If a visitor arrived at the household that day, he had to wait until the bread was done at which point the homeowners gave him a piece to take with him on his journey. Women transferred the responsibility of bread baking to their eldest daughters with special rituals.
Lithuanians made porridges from a number of different grains. Flour pancakes were common throughout the country. Large, thin pancakes (similar to crepes) were commonly eaten for breakfast in Aukstaitija. They were rolled up, dipped in sour cream, or topped with fried pork drippings or milk curd sauce.
Lithuanians have long used dairy products. Milk was drunk sweet or curdled. Butter and farmer's cheese were widely used foods. Such cheese was made from natural milk curds, with the addition of caraway seeds. The mixture was put into a linen cheesecloth and squeezed. The resulting product was eaten fresh or dried, mostly during holidays. Sweet cheese was popular, especially in Zemaitija. To make it, first milk was combined with eggs and other products. Then the resulting mass was curdled by adding pieces of dried calf's stomach and then the cheese was pressed.
Meat was secondary to grains in Lithuanian cuisine. Lean pork and bacon was boiled or baked. For longer storage it was salted down for several weeks in large troughs or vats and then smoked (except in Dzukija). In Zemaitija, people smoked meat in chimneys, in Aukstaitija in bath houses and in Suvalkija in specially constructed smoke houses or chimneys. The meat was suspended for several days over wet and rotten logs which burned giving off much smoke. At the end of this process, a juniper branch was added to the fire to give the meat a pleasant aroma. Skilandis was a favorite Lithuanian delicacy mostly served during feasts and the summer work season. It consisted of coarsely chopped good quality pork, garlic, pepper and salt tightly packed into a pig stomach and smoked. Smoked meat products are still popular today and smoking techniques are virtually unchanged.
Beets and turnips have long been a part of Lithuanian cuisine. Beets and beet stalks were eaten freshly boiled or pickled in the winter. They were often used in hot soups to which dried boletus mushrooms were added during fasting periods. Even today, cold beet soup, with cucumbers, dill and eggs is popular in the hot summer months. It is often served alongside a dish of hot boiled potatoes. Fresh and pickled cabbage soups are also common. Milk-based soup with vegetables (potatoes, peas, carrots, cabbages) or pieces of flour dough was often cooked for dinner.
Potatoes were introduced to Lithuania in the 18th century, and they quickly became a staple food. Boiled potatoes were served in various ways: with sweet or curdled milk, with fried pork drippings, and in Zemaitija with hemp seeds as well. Grated potatoes were used to make pancakes, vedarai (potato sausages), dumplings and potato pudding. siupinys was a traditional everyday and holiday (Christmas and Shrovetide) food popular in Western Lithuania. It consisted of boiled potatoes or barley, peas as well as various cuts of pork including lips, ears, feet, heads and tails.
As mentioned earlier, beer was especially popular in northern Aukstaitija. Home-brewed whiskey and mead, a weak alcoholic drink made from honey, graced Lithuanian holiday tables. Although the original techniques for making mead were lost, today it is still manufactured quite successfully.
Now that you know a bit about Lithuanian cuisine, we invite you to try some of these traditional recipes on your own:
This dish made from butter and sour cream is very popular in Zemaitija. In a clay bowl heated in a pot of hot water (similarly to a double-boiler) slowly combine equal spoonfuls of butter and sour cream while continuously stirring with a wooden spoon. When the ingredients form a thick even mass in the bowl, add salt, pepper and onions. Pour the kastinis into smaller bowls and let cool. This dish can be eaten with bread or hot potatoes.
Ingredients: 1 kg uncooked potatoes, 3 or 4 boiled potatoes, ground beef, milk curd or mushrooms
Peel and grate the raw potatoes, then squeeze out the excess liquid from them through a cheesecloth. Let the starch settle to the bottom of the liquid, then pour the liquid off and add the starch back to the potatoes. Peel and mash the boiled potatoes, then add them to the grated ones. Add a dash of salt and knead the mass well. Then take approximately egg-sized pieces of this mixture and form them into patties. Place spoonfuls of the previously prepared filling into the center of the patties. Most often such a filling is made from ground beef, milk curd or mushrooms with salt and spices. Close the patties around the filling and form them into ovoid shapes. Then place the cepelinai in salted boiling water and cook for approximately 30 minutes. Cepelinai are eaten with bacon or melted sour cream and butter sauce. This dish is very filling, and was traditionally only served for guests or during heavy labor seasons.
Gero apetito! (Good appetite!)
"LITHUANIAN ROOTS", Edited by Rytis Ambrazevicius