Day Eleven of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas is by Marika Blossfeldt. Marika is a Holistic Health Coach, Natural Foods Chef and Founder of Polli Talu Arts Center in her native Estonia, where she conducts yoga, cooking and wellness retreats during the summer months. The winter she spends with her husband in Beacon, NY writing books and coaching clients.
I was born in Estonia, but my parents immigrated to Germany with me in 1959 when I was merely 19 months old. Growing up in Germany I spoke Estonian at home and also was fortunate to enjoy some of the Estonian Christmas foods and traditions.
After having prepared many of the holiday dishes in advance, on the evening of December 23 my mother always decorated the Christmas tree. When I got older I helped her with it and learned to place real candles in clip-on candle holders in strategically suitable places, meaning: there could not be a branch right above the candle, as to not cause a fire. Back then we had tinsels made from lead foil which had a certain weight to it and allowed them hang beautifully, reflecting the light like icicles.
On the evening of December 24 we would go to church for the Christmas service. My favorite part was the singing of Christmas songs. It felt so uplifting, heartwarming and joyful. When we arrived back home, we would enjoy an aperitif of mulled red wine with almonds and raisins. As an appetizer we had sült, a kind of aspic that my mother had down to perfection. She would boil pork including pork feet and veal very slowly, save the broth and cut the meat into fine pieces. Then she filled little bowls with both the meat and broth to cool down and gelatinize. When serving, we scraped away any fat that rose to the top and turned the bowl upside down onto a serving platter allowing the aspic to ease out of the form and reveal itself in a neat little dome shape. Many children and even adults for that matter do not like sült, but I loved it and still do. We ate it with hot mustard and diluted white vinegar – both of which got mixed right on the plate. And I actually enjoyed it when the mustard stung my nose.
On occasion the main meal would include blood sausages along with baked potatoes and sauerkraut. While this is the quintessence of Estonian Christmas food, we had it only twice or maybe three times, as on 2 or 3 occasions my mother and I made our own blood sausages and that was the only way you could have them in Germany. You could not buy them in a store. It was quite an adventure in the kitchen. Unusual as it was for most German butchers my mother’s order of pork casings and blood (several liters of it) was nevertheless filled. Estonian blood sausages have actually very little meat in them. Next to a few little cubes of pork the main ingredient is barley, which gets cooked into porridge along with salt, pepper and marjoram. It is the marjoram that gives blood sausages their particular flavor. Once the porridge is cooked one carefully adds some of the blood and mixes it with the porridge. While the porridge mixture thickens and cools you prepare the pork casings. We cut them into 8” long pieces, tied one end close with a thread and attached the open end to a funnel. Then we proceeded in stuffing the bloody porridge into the casing. When it was filled we removed it from the funnel tip and tied another knot to close off the sausage. After all sausages had been stuffed, we boiled them gently in smaller groups in a pot of water. Then we lay them out to cool. Some of the sausages we put in the deep freezer for later use, the ones we were going to have for Christmas we put into the refrigerator.
On Christmas Eve, when we returned home from church we placed blood sausages and peeled potatoes into a baking dish, laid some strips of pork belly over the sausages and baked it all for about an hour. There is a particular crackling sound that accompanies blood sausages baking in the oven, which immediately conjures up cozy thoughts of Christmas, warmth, delicious food and good company to be had.
After the main meal it was time to move to the living room and light the Christmas tree. There is nothing more magical than a Christmas tree with real candles. Even years later, when I had moved to New York and was celebrating the holidays with my then boyfriend now husband Armando, this custom called for wonder. I can still remember his face when I lit the tree for the very first time. His expression literally transformed him into a little five year old boy in total awe. Such a sweet moment to remember!
A recipe I would like to share with you, which I also associate with Christmas time is a beet salad called rosolje. Here is a vegetarian version of the classic as we serve it at my farm in Estonia. Traditionally it also contains pieces of herring and boiled beef. I make this salad every Christmas in Beacon and we have it as an appetizer instead of sült.
Rosolje á la Polli Talu
This is a very colorful salad and a beautiful addition to any festive table or buffet.
4 medium sized beets, boiled whole with skin intact until tender
2 potatoes, boiled in skin
3 eggs, hard boiled
1 apple, cored and cut into small pieces
3 pickles, preferable lacto-fermented, cut lengthwise into quarters and crosswise into little pieces
1 red onion, minced
juice of 1 lemon
500 g (18 ounces) sour cream
1 - 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
salt and pepper to taste
scallions or parsley for garnish
1. Peel the cooled off beets, cut into cubes and place into a big bowl
2. Peel the cooled off potatoes, cut into cubes and to beets
3. Peel and chop the eggs, add to salad
4. Add the apple and onion
5. Add the lemon juice, sour cream and mustard and mix well
6. Taste the salad – if it wants to be more salty and tart, add a little of the pickle brine
7. Add salt and pepper to taste
8. Let the salad marinate for about an hour in the refrigerator
9. Mix again before serving and garnish with chopped scallions or parsley
Thank you Marika! Marika’s first book “Essential Nourishment, Recipes from My Estonian Farm” won the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Award (Paris), the Living Now Book Award’s gold medal (USA) and was nominated for the Book of The Year Award in the US! You can watch the book trailer here, and visit her website Making Life a Work of Art for more information on her books and workshops. Tomorrow, Day Twelve of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas featuring Baltic holiday music!