Some people’s Estonian grandmothers share recipes

…with the Toronto Star, no less: Estonian cuisine via grandma.

Mine on the other hand, is deeply reluctant to share.

I have her recipe for apple cake: “It’s a sweet dough, with yeast and cardamom. Then apples and some sugar and flour on top.” Okay then! I did attempt this “recipe” once. What I made was yummy, but resembled her applecake not at all. I’ve clipped the recipe from the Star article, but it doesn’t sound right either. Ah well, at least experimenting is a tasty process.

Or I could try her buttermilk pancake recipe, which is something like: “Some buttermilk, flour, and sugar. Then cook it.” Right.

It took my mother — who is not Estonian — something like fifteen years and two tries to extract a usable version of the Christmas cookie recipe (which makes 200 dozen tiny cookies, all brushed carefully with egg white, all with a tiny piece of citrus peel on top, if you do it whole hog. Estonians don’t mess around with the desserts.). Even then Grandma didn’t mention that she usually doubles a bunch of the seasonings; this pearl of information took another ten years.

I’m not sure whether she thinks we’re just asking to be polite, or whether she’d really rather we not even attempt to make them since in her mind we’re probably incompetent in the kitchen, or what. I have a suspicion she amuses herself to tears thinking about us struggling with the vague little clues she drops. Which in turn amuses me. The whole thing is just funny — frustrating, but inherently farcical, and I can’t help but laugh as I play my part.

Recently Grandma gave my mom the recipe for pasha, an Easter dessert. Well, sort of. Grandma wrote it down in Estonian. She actually wrote it down! A first! But there were no instructions, just a list of ingredients. Mom’s trying to make it, now, and (as was revealed in a series of progress-note emails) apparently it needs to be wrapped in cheesecloth, pressed and drained at a certain point, which Grandma didn’t mention.

The whole thing makes me giggle helplessly. I’m sure I’ll be hooting loudly and wiping my eyes when I turn my first pasha attempt out of the cheesecloth. The stuff can’t help but be good, given the ingredients in it. But I’m sure it won’t resemble Grandma’s — not a bit.

9 thoughts on “Some people’s Estonian grandmothers share recipes

  1. Too funny 🙂

    I think the problem is that Grandma doesn’t actually HAVE a recipe for any of these things… Which explains why, every time she makes a dessert, she ends up saying “oh, it’s not quite right, it’s supposed to be more x/y/z, i must have used the wrong pan/flour/sugar/butter, ingredients just aren’t the same these days as they used to be”.

    I’ll have a crack at extracting an “apple cake for dummies” recipe out of her in May when I visit. Since I can’t cook at all, she has to explain everything to me! And I can write it down in English, which is helpful…

  2. The finished product was good. It tastes ‘similar’ to Grandma’s but not exactly the same….I may have to have another go at this.

  3. Having tasted Mom’s first attempt, I have to say the ingredients are definitely right! Especially the cheesy/creamy base. It smells exactly like Grandma’s!! But Mom pointed out that she doesn’t remember any nuts in Grandma’s pasha, and I think she’s right — I don’t remember any either. So, nutless, and put together in the right order (apparently there used to be a meat-grinder involved somehow?!), I reckon she’s nailed it.

  4. Hmm. I was just doing a shopping list and was looking askance at the almonds — I didn’t remember any almonds! So I’ll try leaving them out. Now I just have to find a source for dry cottage cheese and dried currants, which are NOT on my list of everyday purchases and therefore not on my radar at all.

    Trial and error, trial and error…

  5. Western Dairy makes dry pressed cottage cheese in a lump shaped plastic package–usually around the milk and sour cream products (at least at Longo’s).

    My grandma’s recipes were all lost when she moved to the nursing home and that is one thing I really regret.

    Good luck with the experimentation–at least it is edible unlike the trial and error in chem labs!

  6. I just had the Grandma Kalda pasha this eve – yum yum yum – even if she didn’t give the full recipe…I went to look it up on the i-net and it is in fact a finnish recipe. The recipes tossed up by google sound like they’re the ticket.

    Give them a try and have Granny give a taste-test… She should be able to help you fine-tune.

    The apple cake is typically scandinavian

    875 ml flour
    200 ml butter
    4 tbsp sugar
    1 tbsp yeast
    2 eggs
    200 ml milk (approx)

    200 ml butter
    300 ml dark brown sugar
    2 tbsp cinnamon
    2-3 med-large tart apples

    Cut butter into flour with pastry blender. Heat 1/2 the milk and add sugar and yeast and stir well. Mix the egss with the remaining milk and add the yeast/sugar/milk and the egg/milk mixture to the flour/butter mixture. Mix and knead to a smooth dough (don’t overhandle as it toughens the flour.) Place dough in a jelly-roll pan (9×9)and spread evenly. Set aside for one hour.

    Pre-heat oven to 400F

    Peel and core the apples and slice thinly. Mix the other topping ingredients. Spread half of the sugar/butter/cinnamon mixture on the dough after it has risen. Poke fingers into the dough to make multiple pockets. Spread the apples in a layer over the topping and cover with the rest of the sugar/butter/spice mix. Bake for 15+ minutes (or slightly longer if you wish the apples to be mushy) One can also lower the heat to 375F and bake for 25 minutes to make the apples quite soft.

    Good luck!

  7. Try my foodblog (in English) for traditional Estonian recipes. I’ve still got two grandmothers – one of them doesn’t cook much (so no need to ask for recipes), and the other one cooks, but doesn’t use any recipes (she’d be the same: take some buttermilk, add enough flour & eggs, season with sugar:)
    Greetings from Estonia! (PS If my boyfriend would ever marry me, I’d be Kalda as well:)

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