Friday, February 03, 2006

On rosy cheeks

Yesterday was Candlemas alias küünlapäev. For the old Estonians, küünlapäev marked the midpoint of cold harsh winter, the day when winter's backbone was broken, its heart was crushed. Candlemas was also considered to be a good day for making candles - apparently these would burn extra brightly then.. Substinence wise, half of the human and animal food was supposed to be left on this day, as it was still a long time before the fields would yield any food again.

Well, winters are considerably milder these days (although it was minus 30˚C in Estonia just a few weeks ago, but this is increasingly rare). And there is no need to ration your food so that at least half of the meat and grain would still be in storage on February 2nd - you can always pop into the supermarket. But this doesn't mean that you can't eat the traditional foods on that day - pork hocks, head or side, barley porridge, red beer and liqueurs. During the 20th century, red berries and fruit were added to the list of required foods of the day. I decided to skip the pork hocks and head, but made the other traditional dish of the day - barley porridge.

Most importantly, küünlapäev was a festive day for the women. This was the day when the rough Estonian peasant men were stuck in the kitchen and farm, doing the women's work. The women went to visit each other and then for a drink in a pub - kõrts. Not exactly a full-blown emancipation of women, but heading on that direction. You see, it was important to consume some red wine or liqueur on that day, so the women would have lovely - and healthy - rosy cheeks for the rest of the year.

A very simple barley porridge
(Sõmer kruubipuder)

200 grams pearl barley
25-30 grams of butter
600 ml meat or chicken stock

Wash the barley groats with hot water, drain thoroughly.
Heat the butter in a heavy saucepan, add pearl barley and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the hot stock, season with salt and stir gently.
Cover the pan with a lid and simmer on a medium low heat for about 30-40 minutes, until barley has swollen and is 'al dente' or almost soft, with a bit of bite. You can also bake the porridge in the oven.

To serve
75 grams cubed pancetta
2-3 small shallots

Slice the onion very thinly. Heat a non-stick pan on a medium heat and dry-fry the pancetta cubes until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon, add a splash of oil to the pan, if necessary, and reduce the heat to minimum.
Add sliced onion and fry very slowly until golden and caramelised (about 20-30 minutes).

There was also a small bowl of sliced salted cucumbers on the table, as well as some sour cream.

If you're brave and adventurous enough, then the porridge is best served with some soured milk, like kefir or buttermilk. We had the latter, courtesy of the recently opened Polish deli nearby.

Although extremely humble and cheap, the barley porridge is actually very nice. The groats have a nice crunchy bite to them, and the fried pancetta and caramelised onions add slight sophistication.

A simple cherry and chocolate tart
(Lihtne kirsitort)

As for the red berries, I served these in the form of cherries:) I tried a simple version of the Black Forest Cake, recipe courtesy of Jamie Oliver. But as the Estonian forests would have all still be covered in snow in early February, I made a white forest cake instead*.

A small loaf cake, sliced lenghtwise into 2 or 3
A tub of whipping or double cream
A dash of kirsch
A can of pitted cherries
A zest of one orange
Grated chocolate

Slice the loaf cake lengthwise into 2 or 3 layers, depending on the size. Lay onto a serving tray.
Drain the cherries slightly, add the kirsch and let the flavours mingle for a few minutes.
Whip the double cream until soft peaks form, add most of the orange zest.
Drizzle the boozy liquid from the cherries onto the cake base.
Cover with orange zest flavoured whipped cream. Cover with cherries, sprinkle with some orange zest and grated chocolate.

And to drink - a bottle of red wine. We don't usually drink much alcohol, but there were three Estonian girls around the table last night and we were just trying to follow old Estonian customs:)

* The 'black forest' cake was replaced with a 'white forest' cake mainly because I couldn't find a chocolate loaf cake in any of the shops on the way from work to home. Yes, I know that a true foodie would bake their own loaf cakes - and usually I would - but I had about an hour to prepare the porridge and the cake, so couldn't make it last night.


Joaquim Amândio Santos said...

Well, greatings from Portugal and congratulations for your blog!
After reading it i'm straving!!!
and suffering because i'm on a diet!

Kalyn said...

The barley porridge looks wonderful. I personally feel that the day when winter is finally half over is a day well worth celebrating.

Clivia said...

It is so interesting to hear about Estonian traditions! I particularly enjoyed reading about rosy cheeks this day - rosy cheeks all year!
In Stockholm the snow and te cold winds are back after almost a week of higher temperatures so it really feels like mid-winter!

Alanna said...

What a spectacular meal, Pille!

MM said...

Oh the cake sounds scrumptious. And the mocca apple pie in your previous post too. You definitely have a knack for yummy desserts ... and writing. Am so enjoying reading about Estonian customs.

angelika said...

I love the idea of the women festive day. What good idea. We do not have it in Austria, but a women's day full of laughter and gigglig can be something hard to beat ;-) It`s admirable how much you can prepare in one hour only, Pille.... Hugs, angelika

Anna said...

Loistavaa perinnetietoa. Talven synkkä selkä vaatii tosiaan taittamista! Ja treenaan kielitaitoani tavailemalla eestinkielisiä reseptejäsi!

valentina said...

I love the barley porridge recipe.Very different from the porridge recipes I am used to. And the wonderful cake. Yum!

paz said...

What an interesting tradition. I want a taste of the cherry & chocolate tart! I like better that you made a white forrest cake, instead! ;-)


Gracianne said...

Lovely tradition. And thanks for the recipes, you make that sound so easy - just one hour you said?
Rosy cheeks to you, cheers!

Pille said...

Amândio Santos - thanks for visiting my blog, and sorry to make you hungry:)

Kalyn - I agree! Winters can seem so long sometimes, and celebrating every day that brings us closer to the spring and sun seems like a good idea!

Clivia - I sympathise with you - it's very cold and snowy back home as well! At least it's reasonably warm here in Edinburgh, above zero. But gosh, it's constantly so windy (keeps your cheeks rosy though)

Ak - I'm glad you like it!

MM - thanks for your kind words about my desserts. I am on a mood for desserts, it seems - I've been leafing through quite a few desserts books in the bookstore recently. Must be something in the air..

Angelika - when I move back home, I'll start a campaign to raise the profile of candlemas day, especially the bit about women drinking red wine and getting rosy cheeks!
And this was a very low-key dinner, so it was easily put together in a short time.

Anna - kiitos! Luetko Sa tosissani mun eestinkielisiä resepteja? Kiva! Ma luen teidän suomenkielisiä Taikinapoikan lehdellä:)

Valentina - do you think you gonna give the barley porridge a go? I really liked the porridge, and am surprised that it's considered a very humble and old-fashioned (and alas, non-popular) dish at home. I mixed the leftover porridge on a following day with lots of chopped parsley, and made barley-tabbouleh, which was delicious as well..

Paz - I guess cherries & chocolate loaf would have been even better combination, but it was incredible simple and good to keep in mind for these moments that you just have 5 minute to whip up a dessert!

Gracianne - well, I was drinking red wine on that day, so my cheeks are guaranteed to be glowing and rosy for the rest of the year! Thanks for popping by!

Niki said...

Wow - this all looks gorgeous, especially that cake!
Candlemas is one of the festivals we generally miss in Australia because we're in summer holiday time. It's a bit of a shame we miss all the things that happen in the traditional Christmas season because as soon as 26 Dec rolls around, we're sitting by the beach for the next month!! (however my group always does a concert of Christmas to Candlemas music just before Christmas each year just so we can at least sing some of the stuff before everything goes on holiday)

Pille said...

Niki - thank you for your kind words. I think I'd find Christmas without snow and frost rather weird, but some sun and warm weather soon after the New Year would be very much appreciated, thank you:)

Sarah Jo said...

Wow! Barley Porridge looks amazing! gorgeous n healthy looking dish :) must be very filling too, shall try it sometime, today am all set for the beet rasam from ur blog, I've been wanting to prepare from a long time.