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 neighbouring nations.
Lithuania is divided into five ethnic regions. This regional division is evident in foods that are particular to each region. The Highlanders (Aukštaičiai) live in the North Eastern region and are known for their pancakes annd cottage cheese dishes. The Samogitians (Žemaičiai) inhabit the North Western region and have their special sour butter, porridges and gruels. Dzūkai are the people of the South Eastern region and are main consumers of buckwheat, mushrooms and potatoes. Suvalkiečiai, 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.
One of the oldest and most fundamental staple food was annd is rye bread (ruginė 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 be
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 annd 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. Sk
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.
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
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. 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.
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 th
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 “prašom”(you’re welcome), it means do join us. However, if the answer is “ačiū” (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 sveikatą” (to your health).
Christmas Eve, Christmas
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 “kučia”. This word has been borrowed from the Greek “kukkia”.
Kučia 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 kučia – 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, 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 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.
You can eat delicious food in hotel restaurants, private restaurants and cafes. There you can eat not only national dishes, but also dishes of other nationalities. Our ancestors ate the meat of wild beasts and birds as well as other earthly blessings for ages.
In Žemaitija for breakfast people usually served porridges, in Aukštaitija they served soups with meat, and baked different pancakes made of flour or potatoes. Therefore, quite often they did not cook anything for lunch; they ate the leftovers from breakfast. For supper sour milk and potatoes or thick soups were usually served.
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. 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.
Black Rye Bread (Juoda rugine duona)
Lithuanians eat soup every day. Soup is the main dinner and supper food. In olden times, soup was also eaten for breakfast.
Rich soups are served for dinner and easily digested milk soups are supper fare. Most popular are sour soups, sauerkraut, beet and sorrel, with smoked meat stock as the base. Sauerkraut soup is also made with goose pieces. Meat cooked in soup is often eaten as a second course. Meatless soups are eaten on fast days. Most soups are served with bread or potatoes. Sauerkraut and beet soups are eaten in winter, while sorrel, beet greens and milk soups are eaten in spring and summer. Cold beet soup with hot potatoes is a very popular summer fare.
Cold sweet soups are also popular, especially in summer. In olden times and now, sweet soups made with berries, fruit and tiny dumplings are a treat. Another summer soup, mutinys, made with dried black bread, water, sugar and crushed fruit is very refreshing on hot summer days.
Šaltibarščiai (Cold beet soup)
Cold beet soup
2 boiled beets, coarsely grated
2 medium cucumbers, cut into small cubes
2 hard boiled eggs
1 cup sour cream
4 cups buttermilk
1 cup boiled water, chilled
10 sprigs of fresh dill, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped, green parts of scallions or chives
fresh squeezed lemon juice, to adjust acidity if needed.
– mix buttermilk with sour cream and water; then add the beets, cucumbers and finely cut egg whites, stirr gently.
– take the egg yolks and mash them with 1/4 tsp. salt and scallions. This is done to release the onion flavor. Add the yolk mixture to the soup. Stirr.
– the soup should have a slightly acid taste, use 1 or 2 tsps. of fresh lemon juice to adjust acidity.
– the finely cut dill is sprinkled on top of individual bowls, just before serving.
– this soup is eaten with hot boiled potatoes, and is a summer favorite.
Lithuanians consume a lot of meat and meat by-products. Pork has always
been the most widely used meat, fresh, brined or smoked, and continues to be so to this day. The greatest variety of pork dishes is prepared by Aukstaičiai, the Highlanders and Suvalkiečiai, people of the southwestern region.
December, January and early spring months are traditional pig slaughtering times. Bacon and hams are salted and cold smoked. The lesser cuts are cooked during slaughtering time because the meat is softer, more tender.
Juniper branches are added towards the end of smoking, to give the meat a special flavor.
Meat curing by smoking is not practiced in Dzūkija, the south eastern region. Instead the salted cuts remain in brine or are hung and air dried.
For longer keeping, many varieties of sausage are made. One of them, skilandis, was mentioned as early as 16th century. Skilandis, also known as kindzius, is made of coarsely chopped, top quality pork meat, highly seasoned, tightly stuffed into a pig’s stomach and intensely smoked. Skilandis and other smoked meats are robust and delicious, very popular foods. These sausages are served to visitors, eaten during holidays and during busy summer days. Each homemaker works hard to prepare the best tasting skilandis. The taste depends on choice, quantity of seasonings, quality of meat and method and duration of drying and smoking.
The traditional smoked meat technology has remained the same throughout the years.
Fowl meat is also popular. Domestic birds are cooked, smoked and baked. Game birds appear rarely in the Lithuanian kitchen. They are the domain of hunters.
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.
Didžkuliai (or Cepelinai)
1 kg uncooked potatoes,
3 or 4 boiled potatoes,
milk curd or nushrooms.
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 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 aroubd 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.
Mead and beer are ceremonial and traditional drinks. Mead, midus is the oldest and noblest drink, served during banquets and special occasions. Good conditions existed to make mead because Lithuanians since early times took honey from wild bees in tree hollows.
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.
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.
True mead is made with natural, light honey. In Lithuania and neighboring countries home made mead varies because of different seasonings used.
10 k (20 lbs) honey
10 l (10 qts) water
1cup dried hops
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
8 teaspoons wine yeast
Pour honey into stainless steel or enameled pot, cover with spring water, mix well and bring to a boil on low heat. Place hops and juniper berries into a linen bag and drop into boiling honey-water solution. Skim off scum and continue to boil until no more scum forms, about 1/2 hour. Cool solution to 85F/30C, add yeast, mix well and pour mixture into a glass carboy. Close bottle with cork, run a small hose or glass tube through the cork, one end of which is placed in a jar with water. This will allow the release of fermentation gases. Keep the fermenting carboy in a warm spot for about 3 weeks. As fermentation comes to an end, a deposit will form at the bottom of the carboy, decant mead into another carboy, stopper and keep at same warm temperature for about 3 months. Decant again and pour into an oak barrel. Close barrel and set in a cool spot. To obtain strong mead, age up to 5 years.
LITHUANIAN RHUBARB CAKE
• 1/2 c. butter
• 1 c. sugar
• 1/2 tsp. soda
• 3 c. flour
Melt butter gently. Meanwhile, mix sugar, baking soda, and flour. Add butter and crumble. Divide in half and press 1/2 out to line bottom of 9 inch square pan.
• 5 tbsp. flour
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 1/2 c. sugar
• 4 c. rhubarb (2 lbs.), cut in 1 inch pieces
Combine ingredients, except rhubarb. When mixed, pour over rhubarb and toss to coat well. Place in pan with crumb crust and sprinkle remaining crust on top. Bake 1 hour in preheated 350 degree oven. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and cut in squares and serve. may be served with ice cream.
• 7 ea. Potatoes, medium
• 1 ea. Onion, medium
• 3 ea. Eggs
• ½ tsp Salt
• Dash Pepper
• 4 TBSP Flour
• 1 tsp Lemon juice
Peel and grate potatoes, drain excess water. Add grated onion, eggs, salt, pepper and flour. Mix until consistency of thick batter.
Add 1/8 to ¼ cup of milk if too thick, beat until mixture look like a waffle batter. Add 1 tsp of lemon juice last.
Fry in vegetable oil or lard, until golden brown on both sides.
Drain on paper towels. Serve with sour cream or your favorite topping.
Spirgučiai are used on potatoes, vegetables, dumplings, etc. and as a basis for many Lithuanian sauces and gravies. They may be served as is with bread, or alone as a snack.
Use thickly sliced or slab bacon or fat cut from baked or boiled ham or shoulder.
Cut into uniform ¼ to ½ inch dices. Place in a heavy skillet over moderate heat. Stir occasionally with a long handled fork.
When fat is all rendered and spirgučiai are uniformly crisp and light brown, pour off melted fat through a strainer.
Spirgučiai may also be fried in a moderate oven. Stir occasionally and watch carefully, when nearly done to avoid scorching.
• 5 Cups flour
• 1 tsp. salt
• 6 tbsp. sugar
• 1 lb. butter
• 3/4 Cup milk
• 1 pkg. (1/4 oz.) dry yeast (or 1/2 lg. household yeast cake)
• 4 eggs, beaten (save some whites for glaze)
• 1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 lbs. ground nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 1/2 to 2 c. sugar (sweeten to taste)
Add sufficient milk to make a spreadable paste.
1 pkg. yeast, dissolved in 1/4 c. warm water
1/4 tsp. sugar
Heat the milk and the butter together until melted. When mixture is cool, add yeast and beaten eggs; mix well. Pour this mixture into flour and remaining ingredients. Refrigerate dough overnight. Divide dough into 5 equal parts. Roll on floured board. Spread with nut mixture. Then roll like jelly roll. Brush with egg whites. Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour on lightly greased cookie sheet.