Lithuanian Food and Entertainment Traditions
Lithuanians like to eat good, tasty and filling foods. The tradition of eating well is inherited from our ancestors, who would say, he who eats well, works well.
Lithuanian cooks prepare simple but tasty foods. A good cook can create delicious meals using simple ingredients. It is said that each cook stirs the cookpot in her manner.
The traditional food preparer was and is mother, her knowledge and capabilities are handed down to the next female geeneration. Before food was prepared using only seasonal products, however during the last twenty-five years, fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs have been available all year round, imported or grown locally. The same applies to meat, now more fresh meat is used than salted or smoked.
Lithuanian traditional cuisine took shape over many centuries and was much influenced by cultural contacts with neighboring nations. A good example is potato cake – kugelis, which Lithuanians adapted from the German kitchen. This has now beecome a favorite dish throughout Lithuania.
Lithuania is divided into five ethnic regions. This regional division is evident in foods that are particular to each region. The Highlanders, Aukätai‹iai, live in the rich loam, northeast region, and are known for th
Lithuanians usually eat three times per day, but during periods of haard and intense work, especially in summer, mid morning and late afternoon snacks are added to the daily eating routine. The most filling, sumptuous meals are breakfast and lunch. Porridges, pancakes and soups for breakfast, soups, meat and potatoes for lunch. In the evening, dinner is a light meal. However, one does have a square meal, for the ancient Lithuanians said that there is no sleep on an empty stomach.
Lithuanians consider eating a holy event and behavior at table is
Today the ancient tradition of placing bread first on the table is still observed. Should a visitor arrive when the family is at table, the visitor greets the eaters with “skanaus” (bon appetite). If father answers “prasom”(you’re welcome), it means do join us. However, if the answer is “aciu” (thank you), the visitor is not invited to join in the eating. When the meal is finished, the spoon is turned upside down, to show that one has eaten well and the food was delicious.
No one leaves the table until everyone has finished eating and has thanked the cook, mother, who in her turn answers “I sveikata” (to your health).
LITHUANIAN EATING HABITS AND HOSPITALITY TRADITIONS
Lithuanians have rich eating traditions and maintain strict seating order at table. The father sits at the end of the table, near the wa
Should a visitor arrive while eating, he will be asked to join the family at the table. A visitor from far away is either seated next to father or in his place; a beggar is seated at the other end of the table, near the door.
Bread is placed in the most honorable place on the table which is right in front of father. Eating starts with the slicing of bread by the father.
Father slices and passes the bread with great respect. The first slice, a corner of the bread was given to the eldest, married son, with wishes that his firstborn will be a son. Each member of the family took a slice of bread directly from father’s hand and placed it respectfully on the table. The remaining, unsliced piece of bread remains on the table, with the cut end facing the most important corner of the house or
down on the table was a serious desecration and for that bread’s vengeance appeared as a death in the family.
It was not allowed to break a slice with one hand because it takes both hands to earn bread.
Lithuanians consider eating a holy event and behavior at table is like in church, quiet, orderly and reverential. This behavior has come down through generations,
Should a visitor arrive when the family is at table, the visitor greets the eaters
with “skanaus” – ” bon apetit”. If father answers “praðom” – “you are welcome”, it means do join us at the table. However if the answer is “aèiu” – “thank you”, the visitor is not invited to join in the eating.
An unexpected visitor was always graciously received and even if the family was not prepared to eat yet, food was soon set out. It consisted of traditional sausages, curd cheese, honey, eggs and homemade beer. The visitor did not eat or drink until the host urged him to do so. This urging, when done right away when food and drink is on the table, is a true sign of Lithuanian hospitality.
If the table is loaded with all kinds of goodies but there is no urging to partake in the food, it is said, “there was plenty of everything, but there was no urging at all from the host”.
In earlier times, the host filled his glass with beer or mead, and greeted guests with these words,
“to your health dear brothers, drink and be merry. Be healthy, dear visitors”. He sprinkled a few drops on the ceiling or on the floor so that everyone would be in good health and then drank from his glass. Refilled it again and passed it to the guest. If everyone shared the same glass, each one greeted each other with these words, “be healthy”, and answered with “to your health”. The glass was sent around the table from the right side because spring seeding was done with grain sprinkled to the right side, so drinks also go to that side.
This tradition still continues today.
Guests are constantly urged by the host to drink, “drink dear guests, beer will show his sign”. It does not take long for the sign to appear, for soon there is more talking and singing. Singing is always an important part of a gathering.
Lithuanians are known for their hospitality. They like to entertain and be entertained. Expecting guests they go all out preparing all kinds and amounts of delicacies. The hosts appreciate this statement, “there was plenty of everything, and the only thing missing was bird’s milk”.
Guests preparing to go, thank, saying “thank you for the delicious cake, strong beer. Today we ate and drank your goodies, next time we’ll drink mine”. The host answers, “don’t mention it, please, to your health”.
The arrival of guests is announced by the family cat, when she washes her face with her paw. The guest will come from the direction to which the cat is facing. Another arrival is forecast by cutlery falling on the floor, if a knife or spoon falls, a male guest is on his way, if a fork falls, expect a female guest.
Water-mill in Mosėdis. Photo by R.Paičius. BREAD
One of the oldest and most fundamental Lithuanian food products was and is rye bread. Rye bread is eaten every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bread plays an important role in family holiday rituals and agrarian ceremonies. Lithuanians link many beliefs and magic with bread. One of them is the protective characteristic of bread, protection from fire and help in putting out fires. For protection a piece of bread is placed in the foundation when building a new house.
Bread is shown great respect, is called holy and is referred to in the feminine gender. If a piece of bread falls accidentally to the ground, it is picked up with reverence, kissed and eaten. This is done so that the home would never be without bread.
Two kinds of bread are traditional, plain fermented and scalded. Plain fermented bread has been baked from earliest times, while scalded bread has only been baked since the start of the 20th century. Plain bread ferments overnight but needs to be kneaded for a long time, while scalded bread fermentation takes almost 3 days.
Bread baking has been the honorable duty of the mistress of the house. This duty was passed on to the eldest daughter with special ceremonies. Mother would collect all bread baking equipment and hand it over to the grown up daughter, together with a kiss. After the daughter baked her first loaf, mother gathered the entire family and invited the nearest neighbor to taste the daughter’s first bread. The first slice went to father, who then kissed his daughter and turned her and the bench she sat on towards the door. This meant that the daughter was prepared to be a homemaker, was ready for marriage.
Bread baking day was a very special day. Peace and quiet reigned in the home. If a visitor arrived on bread baking day, he had to remain until the bread was done. Nothing was loaned out on bread baking day, with the belief that the borrower would take away the bread’s good taste. Every homemaker is proud of the taste of her bread and proudly states that one’s own bread is tastier than somebody else’s cake. Even though very few homemakers bake bread at home now, they value the traditional belief that bread is more valuable than gold.
Potatoes came to Lithuania relatively recently, in the eighteenth century and soon became popular. Now every farm grows potatoes. Potatoes have become Lithuania’s second bread, an essential starch staple and are eaten throughout the year.
Many delicious, tasty dishes are made with potatoes. They are eaten alone or as an accompaniment to a main course of soup, meat, fish, mushrooms, eggs and dairy products.
The most popular potato dishes are “zeppelins”, potato sausages, potato casserole and pancakes.
Lithuanian recipes reflect the diversity of potatoes.
Lithuanians eat sweet and sour milk. Milk is used to whiten soups, make cheese, cottage cheese and churn butter. Milk products have been popular since ancient times. However, in some regions milk products are more popular. Dishes prepared with cottage cheese are favored among the Highlanders, Aukštaiciai. The Samogitians, žemaiciai, prepare an ancient, original butter, kastinis, with butter, sour cream and a variety of seasonings.
Most popular is Lithuanian cheese, fresh or dried, which can be sour, sweet or flavored with caraway seed.
SOUR CREAM BUTTER
1 l (4 cups) sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup caraway seed
Salt to taste
Float an earthenware bowl in a hot water bath; add butter and 1 tablespoon of sour cream at a time. Blend with wooden spoon until all sour cream has been added and a white, solid mass is formed. Then add caraway seed and a pinch of salt. Blend the last 2 ingredients well. Place kastinis into small bowls and refrigerate 2-3 hours.
Kastinys is somewhat salty, with a delicate sourness. Its taste depends on the seasonings used. Samogitian cooks use a variety of seasonings, mint, allspice, garlic, poppy seed and onion greens.
Sour cream butter is served with hot boiled potatoes, black bread and cake.
Another basic Lithuanian food is grain. Lithuanian agrarian traditions are ancient, farmers have always planted a large variety of grain, such as rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, peas, beans and oil crops (hemp, poppies, flax seed). Rye was and still is the most important crop, used mainly for rye bread. Second place goes to barley which is used to make groats and flour. Wheat is in third place and oats in fourth place. Buckwheat was and is grown in the hilly regions of northern and southern Lithuania. Peas and beans are eaten raw, cooked and are also ground into flour. Dishes made with peas and pea flour is popular in Aukätaitija, the northeast region. Among oil crops, hemp and poppy seeds have always been used to make hemp and poppy milk, which replaces cow’s milk during fast days and special holidays. Flax seed is fried with different seasonings and this mixture is used as a flavoring for many foods, especially potatoes. Hemp seed is also used for similar flavorings. Peoples’ well being always depended on the grain harvest. To assure an abundant harvest, certain traditions were observed. The farmer never went to work in the fields on an empty stomach, for then the ears of grain will grow empty. Even better, when preparing to sow barley, it is best to have eaten a pig’s tail. According to legend then the barley ears will grow long, like the pig’s tail. Groats have been used in Lithuania since olden times. Farmers used wooden mortars and pestles and hand grinders to make groats. Today groats are available commercially. The biggest gruel eaters are the Samogitians, eemai‹iai. Pancakes are also an ancient food and a popular breakfast food among the Highlanders, Aukätai‹iai.Rye and wheat flours are most commonly used throughout the country
BAKED GOODS AND SWEETS
Kepiniai ir saldumynai
Lithuanian people do not have a sweet tooth. Baked goods and sweets are not a part of daily eating. However each homemaker does her very best to be creative and to pamper the family especially during holidays and special occasions. Formerly, for holidays and weddings a variety of cakes, cookies and sweet rolls was baked. Tables were laden with beautifully decorated, delicious masterpieces. At wedding receptions, all eyes would be on the ”karvojus”, a large wedding tart which was decorated with a variety of dough birds and animals. Earlier all cakes and dainties were baked by the homemaker herself or a person, famous for her culinary prowess would be hired.
At the beginning of this century, many new foods came to Lithuania, among them tortes and the famous baumkuchen from Germany, which now is a must for every special occasion.
Today Lithuanian homemakers have many recipes for all occasions. Most popular baked goods are made commercially from recipes based on traditional and newly arrived sweets.
However, the most appreciated baked goods are homemade and for this reason each homemaker is intent on creating recipes which will awe everyone and will please her family.
Mead and beer are ceremonial and traditional drinks. Mead, midus is the oldest and noblest drink, served during banquets and special occasions. Travelers and chroniclers wrote about the manufacture and use of mead by Lithuanians and Prussians as early as the eleventh century. Good conditions existed to make mead because Lithuanians since early times took honey from wild bees in tree hollows. Today people have several hives on their farmsteads, to satisfy their family needs. Mead ten or more years old was the landlord’s pride, for mead’s quality increases with age.
Often to celebrate the birth of a child, the father made a batch of mead. This batch was kept and aged until the child’s wedding.
There was a time when mead took second place to vodka. However about 30 years ago there was a revival and mead was made again, using ancient recipes. Mead is again found on holiday tables, together with songs about mead and its traditions.
Beer has been brewed in Lithuania since ancient times and even today is a popular, traditional drink. It is always brewed for family celebrations, feast days, barn raisings and funerals. Beer is brewed from sprouted barley malt. The most popular malt beer is made in Central and North Eastern Lithuania, where a strong beer is popular. In Samogitia, eemaitija, beer is brewed using dried bread, hops and sugar. Most often the man of the house brews his own beer. However, for special occasions, to brew extra good beer, a well known brew master is hired. During festivities, the brew master’s other job is to make sure that pitchers are always full.
The making of home made wine in Lithuania was begun at the beginning of the twentieth century. Most wine was made in the South Western region, Suvalkija, from forest and orchard fruits and berries.
Another ancient drink is made from birch and maple sap, collected in early spring. Sap is drunk fresh and fermented for summer drinking.
To satisfy thirst, Lithuanians brew a semi sour drink, gira – kvass.
Much appreciated from ancient times are linden, thyme, caraway seed, mint, raspberry, strawberry, chamomiles, dill seed and other herb teas, which not only refresh but also have healing properties.