Sunday, February 12, 2012

“Vastlad” in Estonia with traditional pig’s trotters and beans and hills of whipped cream

Fastewaie or Fastewähe, original with cumin, traditional at Swiss Basler Fasnacht
In many countries the coming week brings various forms of pre-fasting festivities like Fasnacht in Switzerland, Carnival... The Tuesday, 21st is "Vastlapäev" in Estonia, a day in the Estonian national calendar and dates back centuries. It is a moving national day and falls on the Tuesday 7 weeks before the Easter. In England this day is called the Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day if I rightly remember from my 5th grade English textbook.
Swiss Fasnacht treat: Fasnachtchüechli or Merveilles
Now the origin of this day in Estonia is somewhat controversial. Some sources reference the old religious influence and there is significant evidence to it for sure. However, a Christian website refers to this day as a pagan tradition and there is a lot of truth to that too considering the typical activities, superstitious to an extent, that people used to do on that day to ensure they got all sorts of happiness coming their way that year. Here is a selection of such:
-         Children, young people and grown-ups all competed for the longest ride on a sledge down a hill – the winner would grow the longest flax which used to be a popular fabric material in the old days. The ride is popular now too whilst the length of the flax has as little meaning to anyone now as Facebook would have been to people centuries ago.
-         You were supposed to comb your hair for 7 times to make sure your hair grew well and nice.
-         This was a women’s holiday. Some typical women’s work was prohibited. Women went to the pub and men stayed home to do the housework.
-         In some sea side areas people sang special songs to invite fish into their waters on that day.

Special traditional food was eaten on Vastlapäev. The pig’s feet or pig’s head and beans and / or peas were a must, served as soup or cooked together in other ways. The pig’s tail is said to have been a special treat for the head of the family. Typical barley bread belonged to the menu and in more recent times up until now  “ vastlakuklid”, fresh buns made from wheat flour and topped or filled (I prefer these!) with whipped cream (lots, please!) are the most popular item. One can see Moms and everyone else too standing in the queues of the best bakeries on that day, especially in the morning as you want make sure you get some ( I mean enough!) , and walking around in the streets with boxes in their hands. Be sure they are full of these buns with whipped cream. My view is that one can be generous on that special day and it is allowed to whip some extra cream and add on the bun during the eating process.
Vastlakuklid in Estonia
Bean soup

1-2 pig´s trotters, smoked or fresh ribs or a pig’s tail
300g beans, soaked overnight, drained
1 whole carrot
1 onion, halved
3 bay leaves
10 black pepper corns
150g barley, soaked and drained
1 carrot cut in small cubes
1-2 teaspoons salt
Pig´s tail and trotters

Rinse the meat pieces and place them into a big cooking pot with cold water. Heat up and remove the scum. Change the water after removing the scum and add the bay leaves, pepper corns, onion, one full carrot and parsley stems without the leaves. Bring to boil and simmer for 1.5 hours until the meat is soft. Remove the parsley, onion, carrot and pepper corns from the broth. Add the beans and the barley and simmer for 1 hour or until soft. Cut the other carrot into small cubes and when beans are almost soft, add the carrot to the soup.
Either cut the meat from the bones and place back into the soup or for more fun leave them in the soup for the eaters to manage the bones and the meat.
Garnish with chopped parsley or chives.
Bean and barley soup, traditional in Estonia

This soup supports the philosophy of if you kill, eat all from head to tail.