Lithuanian Food Traditions

Lithuanian Food Traditions
Lithuanians like to eat good, tasty and filling foods. The tradition of eating well is inherited from the ancestors who would say, “he who eats well, works well”. Lithuanian traditional cuisine took shape over many centuries and was much influenced by cultural contacts with neighboring nations.
Lithuania is divided into five ethnic regions. This regional division is evident in foods that are particular to each region. The Highlanders (Aukstaiciai) live in the North Eastern region and are known for their pancakes and cottage cheese dishes. The Samogitians (Zemaiciai) inhabit the North Western region and have their special sour butter, porridges and gruels. Dzukai are the people of the South Eastern region and are main consumers of buckwheat, mushrooms and potatoes. Suvalkieciai, people of the South Western region favour smoked meat, sausages and cepelinai. Fish plays an important role in the diet of the seacoast Lithuanians and those living near lakes and rivers.
Lithuanians usually eat three times per day, and the most filling, sumptuous meal is lunch: soup, meat, potatoes etc. Breakfast and dinner are rather light meals.
One of the oldest and most fundamental staple food was and is rye bread (rugine duona). It is eaten every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Two kinds of bread are traditional – plain fermented and scalded. Plain fermented bread has been baked from ancient times, while scalded bread has only been baked since the beginning of the 20th century. Even though very few families bake bread at home now, they still value the traditional belief that bread is more valuable than gold.
Potatoes have become an essential starch staple and are eaten throughout the year. Many delicious dishes are made with potatoes. The most popular are cepelinai, kugelis, potato pancakes (bulviniai blynai), potato casseroles etc.
Another basic Lithuanian food is grain, such as rye, barley, oats, buckwhet, peas and oil crops (hemp, poppies, flax). Rye is still the most important crop, used mainly for rye bread. Groats and flour are made from wheat and barley.
Soup is eaten every day, too. Rich soups are served for lunch. Most popular soups are sauerkraut, beet and sorrel, with smoked meat as the base. Meat cooked in soup is often eaten as a second course. Most soups are served with bread or potatoes. In summer, cold beet soup with hot potatoes is very popular, as are cold sweet soups made with berries, fruit and tiny dumplings.
Lithuanians consume a lot of meat and its by-products. Pork has always been the most widely used meat – fresh, brined or smoked. For longer keeping, many varieties of sausage are made. Skilandis and other smoked meats are robust and delicious. Fowl meat is also popular. Domestic birds – chicken, geese, ducks – are cooked, smoked and baked.
Milk products have been popular since ancient times. It is used to make cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream and butter. Most popular is cheese (suris), which can be sour, sweet or flavored with caraway seed.
Lithuania is rich in mushrooms, and more than 400 edible varieties are found in the forests. Mushrooms are used in in many dishes to add special flavor to meat, fish and potato dishes. They are used fresh, dried, salted or marinated.
Fruits and berries and some vegetables are seasonal. During summer they are eaten fresh, but for winter supplies they are dried, fermented and pickled. The most popular fruits are apple, pear, plum, cherry; berries include strawberry, gooseberry, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, currant. The most popular vegetables are cabbage, beet, carrot, cucumber, onion, turnip, radish, parsnip and horseradish.
Mead (midus, honey liquor) and beer (alus) are ceremonial and traditional drinks. Midus is the oldest and noblest drink, served during banquets and special occasions. Travelers and chroniclers wrote about the manufacture of midus by Lithuanians and Prussians as early as the 11th century. Good conditions existed to make midus because honey used to be taken from wild bees in tree hollows since ancient times. Beer is brewed from sprouted barley malt. The most popular malt beer is made in Central and North Eastern Lithuania, where strong beer is popular. Most of home made wine is made in the South Western region (Suvalkija) from forest and orchard fruits and berries. To satisfy thirst, Lithuanians brew a semi sour drink, gira. Another ancient drink, sula, is made from birch and maple sap, collected early spring.
Each housewife does her very best to pamper the family during the holidays. There are many recipes for all occasions, and a variety of cakes, cookies and sweet rolls are made. Among them there is the famous sakotis, a must for every special occasion, which originally came from Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.

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 generation. 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 become 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, Aukдtai‹iai, live in the rich loam, northeast region, and are known for their various pancakes and cottage cheese dishes. The Samogitians, eemai‹iai, inhabit the northwest region and have their special sour butter, porridges and many gruels. Dzukai are the people of the southeast region, where the soil is sandy and forested. They are main growers and users of buckwheat in all its forms, as well as mushrooms and potatoes. Suvalkie‹iai, people of the southwestern region favor smoked meats, sausages and zeppelins. Fish plays an important role in the diet of the seacoast Lithuanians and also of those living near lakes and rivers. These differences are less evident today than they were in olden times. However, the tradition of regional foods continues.
Lithuanians usually eat three times per day, but during periods of hard 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 like in church, quiet, orderly and reverential. Each family member had his permanent place at the table, with father sitting at the head of the table, mother sitting opposite father, the oldest son to father right, and the remaining members next to the son. The traditional seating at table is now practiced mainly during feast days, when the entire family gathers.
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).

Christmas Eve, Christmas
Kuиios, Kalлdos
As the days draw shorter, Lithuanians have finished most needed chores and are ready to celebrate Christmas Eve, December 24th, and Christmas, December 25th.
Christmas Eve is a very special time with the gathering of the family at the ritual meal “kucia”. This word has been borrowed from the Greek “kukkia”.
Kucia denotes the main food of the ritual supper, made from grain and pulses.
The evening meal begins when the evening star appears in the sky. A white, linen tablecloth is placed on a hay-covered table. Hay symbolizes the birth of Jesus in the manger and also the hay, where the souls of dead family members rest on.
Holy wafers and Christmas bread are placed side by side in the center of the table. These are surrounded by other foods, of which there can be seven, nine or twelve, all meatless. Twelve foods are most commonly prepared, to assure that the coming year, twelve months, will be good and plentiful.
The traditional kucia – porridge, is eaten with poppy seed milk, as are the Christmas biscuits. It is a must to eat oatmeal pudding with sweetened water.
The other foods include beet soup with dried mushrooms, fish – mostly pike, herring and mushroom dishes, as well as apples and nuts.
Traditional drinks are thin cranberry pudding and dried fruit compote.
When all the foods are in place, candles are placed on the table and lit, and the family is seated. A special place is set at the table for a family member who died during that year. It is also tradition to invite a poor or homeless person, or to take food to them. This behavior assures that there will be happiness in the family throughout the coming year.
Eating is begun with the passing around of the Christmas wafer and with wishes for each member, then all the foods have to be tasted.
Christmas morning begins with the clearing away of the Christmas Eve table. Christmas foods are mainly of meat, generally pork, cooked pigХs head, sausages, baked piglet and ham. There is also an assortment of sweet breads and cakes.
Christmas is the ancient feast of the return of the sun, and it was celebrated in pre-Christian times in many European nations.

Shrove Tuesday
Shrove Tuesday is a happy and noisy celebration of the transition from winter to spring. The festivities begin on Sunday and last for three days. This also puts an end to the period of meat eating, which began after Christmas. On Shrove Tuesday, it is traditional to eat very rich, fat foods at least twelve times, so that you would be fat and healthy. The foods of the day include different pancakes, fat pork meat and porridges.
The table is laden with an abundance of foods and awaits not only family members but also masqueraders, who go from house to house. After eating, the masqueraders wish the homeowners good luck, health and good harvest in the coming year.

Easter is the first spring holiday, the rebirth of nature. The dyed egg is the primary symbol of Easter, signifying life, goodness and bountiful harvest. The egg dyeing tradition is older than Christianity. Easter egg decorating is a family affair, done on the Saturday before Easter.
The Easter table is covered with a white, linen table cloth and the first thing to be placed on the table are dyed eggs in a basket or clay bowl, decorated with rue, cranberry stalks or sprouted wheat greens.
The traditional Easter table decoration is an egg holder, a tree branch, with nine or twelve branches. The egg holder is decorated with greens, colored paper and sprouted birch and pussy willow branches with dough birds.
Traditional Easter foods are made of pork, veal, fowl and milk: baked piglet, pig’s head, veal ham, sausage, cheese and in the center of the table a butter or sugar lamb set in sprouted oat greens. There is also an abundance of Easter baked goods, both sweet and savory. Traditional drinks are beer, kvass, maple and birch sap.
The Easter meal is begun with eggs. It is tradition to strike two eggs together, one person holds his egg while the other hits it with his egg. The strongest egg is left uneaten.
Visiting relatives and friends begins in the afternoon, when it is especially common for children to visit their godparents and neighbors, where they are given Easter eggs as gifts. The traditions of striking and rolling eggs is still popular throughout the country.
Family holidays incorporate the main events in life, births, weddings and funerals. These are occasions for communal eating and drinking. Regular, every day foods are eaten during christenings and funerals, but weddings are the exception. Food preparations for wedding feasts start very early with a variety of foods and drinks. A beer maker is hired as well as a cook with a culinary reputation.
Wedding guests arrive bearing baked goods, cakes and drink. This ancient tradition is still in practice.
Upon their return from church, the newlyweds are received with the traditional bread, salt and drink.
As the wedding guests leave, they are given a piece of the traditional wedding cake to take home.
Lithuanians have always been known for their hospitality. It is said that “if you do not love other people, you will not be loved”. When expecting guests, Lithuanians go all out to prepare all kinds of food and drink, for they want the guests to comment “there was an abundance of everything, the only food missing was bird’s milk”. However, the visitor does not begin to savor the food until he is urged to do so by the hosts.
Lithuanians are happy and sober, they drink slowly because they want to extend the socializing, they often share the same drinking glass. The drinking glass goes around the table, to the right, together with the bottle and greetings – be healthy, thank you, to your health and many other wishes that are shouted with each drink.
Such feasting is very friendly and cozy. One experiences the pleasure of sitting, talking and relaxing with relatives or neighbors.
Drinks which have been popular through the ages include mead, beer and krupnikas, a herbal alcoholic drink.
Every get together is accompanied by songs about beer, mead, hops and barley grain. While singing the guests praise the hosts and thank them for their hospitality. When the guests prepare to leave, the hostess prepares a gift of food to take home. This gift of food is called “rabbit’s cake”/
A much loved or honored guest is accompanied to the door or gate, where one last drink is shared with the hosts to wish the guest a good, dustless trip home.
Lithuanians have rich eating traditions and maintain strict seating order at table. The father sits at the end of the table, near the wall. The eldest son sits at the father’s right, while other men sit next to the son along the wall. Women sit across from the men and mother sits at the opposite end from the father. This traditional seating is maintained especially during holidays, when the entire family gathers together.
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 is facing the sun. The cut end of the bread was not placed facing the door because it was believed she would be mad and would walk out of the house. Placing bread upside
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 “praрom” – “you are welcome”, it means do join us at the table. However if the answer is “aиiu” – “thankyou”, 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, 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.