In the past six years, I have lived in eight different countries, immersing myself in diverse food traditions and cuisines around the world. And even though I still find delight in American mac and cheese and could devour endless portions of Kenyan chapati, nothing, and I say nothing, beats Estonian Christmas food!
For many foreigners, traditional Estonian Christmas food can be a bit daunting—probably because most people can’t even hear “boiled meat jelly” (sült) or “blood sausages” (verivorst) without flinching. For most Estonians, on the other hand, these two home-spun foods are the delicacies of Christmas time that we simply cannot wait to get our hands on.
In addition to meat jelly and blood sausages, which are often bought from stores all ready to eat nowadays, Estonian sauerkraut stew (mulgikapsad) is traditionally made before Christmas Eve in most Estonian homes. The stew is a vital part of the Christmas meal, always served with boiled potatoes and meat (mostly pork). I am not sure if it’s just a belief that older generations know how to make the stew better, but ever since I can remember, my grandmother has been responsible for the stew, and, inevitably, it’s the best part of the Christmas meal.
Whereas it might be difficult to find ingredients to make blood sausages (and to be honest, no Estonians really make them anymore) or meat jelly here in America, Estonian sauerkraut stew does not need much, as barley is the main ingredient.
2.2 lbs of sauerkraut
¾ cup of pearl barley grouts
1 lb of bacon
2 onions (optional)
1 carrot (optional)
1. Put sauerkraut in a saucepan with pearl barley and a little bit of the bacon. Cover the contents with water and stew on low heat with the lid on. It is important that the water does not boil off!
2. Season to taste with salt and sugar. If using, add shredded carrots and diced and sauteed onions. 3. Once the stew looks soft and creamy, it is ready to be served. Serve with boiled potatoes and pork to get the authentic Estonian feeling of Christmas.
Kadi Levo is an intern in the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and a native Estonian.