Feb 162019
 

Today is a two-fer in Lithuania. In 1270 the grand duchy of Lithuania defeated the Livonian Order in the Battle of Karuse, and in 1918 the Council of Lithuania unanimously adopted the Act of Independence, declaring Lithuania an independent state. Let’s take them in order.

The Battle of Karuse, or Battle on the Ice(not to be confused with this Battle on the Ice http://www.bookofdaystales.com/battle-on-the-ice/ ), was fought on 16th February 1270 between the grand duchy of Lithuania and the Livonian Order on the frozen Baltic Sea between the island of Muhu and the mainland. The Lithuanians achieved a decisive victory. The battle, named after the village of Karuse, was the fifth-largest defeat of the Livonian or Teutonic Orders in the 13th century. Almost all that is known about the battle comes from the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, which devoted 192 lines to the battle. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword, a crusading military order established in 1202, set out to conquer and convert to Christianity indigenous peoples of present-day Latvia and Estonia. They subjugated the Semigallians by 1250. However, after the Livonian defeats in the 1259 battle of Skuodas and the 1260 battle of Durbe, the Semigallians rebelled. Traidenis, who became Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1269 or 1270, supported the rebellion.

In winter 1270, the Livonian Order invaded Semigalia. However, after learning that a large Lithuanian army had also invaded the region, Master Otto von Lutterberg decided to retreat to Riga. The Lithuanians marched north, reaching as far as the island of Saaremaa, which they were able to reach because the Baltic Sea was frozen. The Lithuanian army plundered the area, taking much war loot. It is unclear whether Semigallians joined the Lithuanians and participated in this campaign – contemporary sources do not mention them, but later sources such as Jüngere Hochmeisterchronik and Dionysius Fabricius always mention their participation.

Master Lutterberg gathered a large army of Livonian knights, soldiers from the Bishopric of Dorpat, the Bishopric of Ösel–Wiek, Danish Estonia, as well as local tribes of Livs and Latgalians. The Order was well-prepared for the battle: for a year it had been recruiting soldiers for an expedition into Semigalia. The Livonian army marched north to meet the Lithuanians near Saaremaa Island. The armies met on the frozen Moon Sound (probably near Virtsu) on the feast day of Juliana of Nicomedia.

The Livonian army positioned for the battle: troops from Danish Estonia, commanded by the Danish king’s viceroy Siverith, formed the right flank; Livonian knights, commanded by Master Luttenberg, formed the center; soldiers from the Bishoprics formed the left flank. The Lithuanians arranged their sleighs as a barricade. A vanguard unit likely covered construction of the improvised barricade so that the knights could not see it. When the knights attacked, Lithuanians retreated behind their sleighs and the Livonian cavalry ran into the barricade. As the horses got stuck between the sleighs, Lithuanians speared the horses and their riders. A small number of Livonian knights managed to break through the barricade and the left and right flanks joined the fighting, but that was not enough to overcome the strong Lithuanian formation. The Lithuanians achieved a decisive victory: 52 knights, including the Master Lutterberg, and around 600 low-ranking soldiers were killed while bishop Hermann of Ösel-Wiek was gravely injured and barely managed to escape. According to the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, 1600 Lithuanians were killed, but that information is very doubtful and most likely inflated by pro-Livonian bias.

As a result of the Great Retreat during World War I, Germany occupied the entire territory of Lithuania and Courland by the end of 1915. A new administrative entity, Ober Ost, was established. Lithuanians lost all political rights they had gained: personal freedom was restricted, and at the outset the Lithuanian press was banned. However, the Lithuanian intelligentsia tried to take advantage of the existing geopolitical situation and began to look for opportunities to restore Lithuania’s independence. On 18–22 September 1917, the Vilnius Conference elected the 20-member Council of Lithuania.

The Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Valstybės atkūrimo aktas) or Act of 16th February was signed by the Council on 16th February 1918, proclaiming the restoration of an independent state of Lithuania, governed by democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital. The Act was signed by all twenty representatives of the Council, which was chaired by Jonas Basanavičius. The Act of 16th February was the result of a series of resolutions on the issue, including one issued by the Vilnius Conference and the Act of 8th January. The path to the Act was long and complex because the German Empire exerted pressure on the Council to form an alliance. The Council had to carefully maneuver between the Germans, whose troops were stationed in Lithuania, and the demands of the Lithuanian people.

The immediate effects of the announcement of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence were limited. Publication of the Act was prohibited by the German authorities, and the text was distributed and printed illegally. The work of the Council was hindered, and Germans remained in control over Lithuania. The situation changed only when Germany lost World War I in late 1918. In November 1918 the first Cabinet of Lithuania was formed, and the Council of Lithuania gained control over the territory of Lithuania. Independent Lithuania, although it would soon be battling Wars of Independence, became a reality.

The 1918 Act is the legal basis for the existence of modern Lithuania, both during the interwar period and since 1990, when it was freed from Soviet control. The Act formulated the basic constitutional principles that were and still are followed by all Constitutions of Lithuania. The Act itself was a key element in the foundation of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence in 1990. Lithuania, breaking away from the Soviet Union, stressed that it was simply re-establishing the independent state that existed between the world wars and that the Act never lost its legal power. On 29 March 2017, the original document was found at the Diplomatic archive in Berlin, Germany.

Cepelinai (lit. ‘zeppelins’; singular: cepelinas) or didžkukuliai is a traditional Lithuanian dish of stuffed potato dumplings – sometimes called the national dish of Lithuania. The dumplings are made from grated and riced potatoes and stuffed with ground meat or dry curd cheese or mushrooms. You can use your favorite ground meat combination for the recipe. You can use all ground pork or a meatloaf-style mixture of pork, beef, and veal. This dish is best served and eaten as soon as it is made. The dumplings are hard to store and are best piping hot and covered with hot gravy.

Cepelinai

Ingredients

For the Meat Filling:

1 lb ground pork (or ⅓ lb pork, ⅓ lb beef, ⅓ lb veal)
1 medium onion (peeled and finely chopped)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 large egg, beaten

For the Dumplings:

8 large Idaho potatoes (peeled and finely grated, not shredded)
2 large Idaho potatoes (peeled, boiled, and riced)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 medium onion (peeled and finely grated)
salt
1 tbsp cornstarch

For the Gravy:

½ lb bacon (diced)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup sour cream
black pepper
1 to 2 tbsp milk

Instructions

To make the meat filling

In a large bowl, mix together the ground meat, finely chopped onion, salt and peppero taste, and egg until well incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the dumplings

Add a drop or two of lemon juice to the grated potatoes so they don’t turn brown. Place them in a fine-mesh cheesecloth or cotton dish towel and twist over a large bowl to get rid of the excess water. Pour off the water, reserving the potato starch at the bottom of the bowl. Unwrap the cheesecloth and place the potatoes in the bowl with the reserved potato starch. Add the riced boiled potatoes, grated onion, and salt to taste. Mix well.

Put a large stockpot of water on to boil and add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (and salt if desired). This will help prevent the dumplings falling apart.

To form the zeppelins, take about 1 cup of dumpling mixture and pat it flat in the palm of the hand. Place ¼ cup or more of the meat mixture in the center and, using slightly dampened hands, fold the potato mixture around the meat into a football shape, sealing well. Continue until both mixtures are used up.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower the dumplings into the boiling water and boil for 25 minutes. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon, drain briefly, and place on a heated platter.

To make the gravy

Make the gravy while the dumplings are boiling, so that they can be served immediately they are cooked. In a skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until cooked and add the chopped onion in the last few minutes to soften. Drain off excess fat and add the sour cream and black pepper to taste. I necessary thin with 1 to 2 tablespoons milk. Pour some gravy over the dumplings and put the remainder in a gravy boat to pass at the table.

Mar 162017
 

Today is commemorated in Lithuania as Knygnešio diena (Book Smugglers Day). The book smugglers were an important part of the Lithuanian National Revival. Book smuggler Jurgis Bielinis, who created a secret distribution network for banned Lithuanian books, was born on 16 March 1846, hence the date of commemoration.

In the late 19th century, smugglers transported Lithuanian language books printed in the Latin alphabet into Lithuanian-speaking areas of the Russian Empire, defying a ban on such materials in force from 1864 to 1904. The book smugglers (Lithuanian: knygnešys, or plural knygnešiai, Polish: kolporterzy książek) opposed imperial Russian authorities’ efforts to replace the traditional Latin orthography with Cyrillic, and transported printed matter from as far away as the United States to do so, becoming a symbol of Lithuanians’ resistance to Russification.  A want to salute them today as a general tribute to ALL people who resist tyranny, especially attempts to control ethnic populations through policies of enforced homogeneity.

After the Polish-Lithuanian insurrection of 1863, the Russian Imperial government intensified its efforts to Russify the Lithuanian population and alienate it from its historic roots, including the Roman Catholic faith, which had become widespread during the years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the summer of 1863 Tsar Alexander II issued Temporary Rules for State Junior Schools of the Northwestern Krai, ruling that only Russian-language education would be allowed there. In 1864, the Governor General of the Vilnius Governorate, Mikhail Muravyov, ordered that Lithuanian language primers were to be printed only in the Cyrillic alphabet. Muravyov’s successor, Konstantin Kaufman, in 1865 banned all Lithuanian-language use of the Latin alphabet. In 1866, the Tsar issued an oral ban on the printing or importing of printed matter in Lithuanian. Although de jure the order had no legal force, it was executed de facto until 1904. During this time, there were approximately 55 printings of Lithuanian books in Cyrillic.

Most of the Latin-alphabet Lithuanian-language books and periodicals published at the time were printed in Lithuania Minor and then smuggled into Lithuania. When caught, the book smugglers were punished by fines, banishment, and exile, including deportation to Siberia. Some were simply shot in the head while crossing the border or executed on the spot.

In 1867, Motiejus Valančius, the Bishop of Žemaitija, began to covertly organize and finance this printing abroad and sponsored the distribution of Lithuanian-language books within Lithuania. In 1870, his organization was uncovered with the help of Prussian authorities, and five priests and two book smugglers were exiled to remote areas of Russia. Other book smugglers carried on his work.

During the final years of the ban, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 books were smuggled in annually. About one-third of them were seized by authorities. Lithuanian books reached every settlement in Lithuania, and many legal institutions served as undercover transfer points for the books. A number of secret organizations distributed the books throughout Lithuania, including Sietynas, Atgaja, Teisybė, Prievarta, Aušrinė, Atžala, Lizdas, Akstinas, Spindulys, Svirplys, Žiburėlis, Žvaigždė, and Kūdikis.

The ban’s lack of success was recognized by the end of the 19th century, and in 1904, under the official pretext that the minorities within the Russian Empire needed to be pacified after the Russo-Japanese War, the ban on Lithuanian-language publications was lifted. In 1905, soon after the ban was lifted, one of the book smugglers, Juozas Masiulis, opened his own bookstore in Panevėžys. This bookstore is still operational, and a chain of bookstores operates in Lithuania under his name.

This historical episode was widely suppressed during the years when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, book smugglers were honored in Lithuania with museums, monuments, and street names. A statue dedicated to “The Unknown Book Smuggler” stands in Kaunas.

Cepelinai (lit. ‘zeppelins’; singular: cepelinas) or didžkukuliai is a traditional Lithuanian dish of stuffed potato dumplings. The dumplings are made from grated and mashed potatoes and stuffed with ground meat or dry cottage cheese (curd) or mushrooms. They are often served with a cream sauce and bacon bits. It is sometimes called the national dish of Lithuania. Brown button mushrooms have various names throughout the world. I call them crimini mushrooms but they are also known as Swiss brown mushrooms, Roman brown mushrooms, Italian brown mushrooms, brown cap mushrooms, or chestnut mushrooms.  They are used in this recipe but it’s no great disaster to use white button mushrooms instead. A normal Lithuanian main dish would be two dumplings, plus sauce, plus vegetables, plus bread. One dumpling is enough for me.

Cepelinai

Ingredients

400g waxy potatoes
1 large egg, beaten
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
250g  ground pork
½ tsp ground caraway seeds
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
plain flour
2 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
1 tsp butter
200g crimini mushrooms, sliced
200g crème fraîche
2 strips streaky bacon
fresh dill, chopped
salt

Instructions

Divide the potatoes into 2 batches. Peel one batch and dice them small. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes until they are tender. Drain and mash them.

Peel and finely grate the remaining potatoes. Place them in a large bowl lined with a clean tea towel. Bring the edges of the tea towel together and squeeze tightly to expel any liquid.  Keep 2 tablespoons of this juice and discard the rest.

In another large mixing bowl, add the reserved potato juice, the grated potato, mashed potato, and half of the beaten egg. Beat everything together well and season to taste with salt. Set aside to cool, then chill while you prepare the filling.

Mix together the one-third of the shallots, ground pork, caraway seeds, garlic, remaining egg and salt to taste.

Mix 1 tablespoon of flour into the potato mixture and divide it into 8. Dust the work surface and your hands with flour. Lightly shape the potato dough into flat, round patties, approximately 1cm thick. Divide the pork filling into 8. Put 1 portion of the pork filling in the middle of each patty, then gently pull the dough up and around to encase the pork and form a dumpling. Roll them in your hands to achieve the signature zeppelin shape.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Carefully lower in the dumplings, cover and cook gently for 30 minutes.  If you do not have a large enough pot you will have to do this step in batches. It is crucial to keep the water at a gentle simmer and not to let it boil, otherwise the dumplings will disintegrate.

Grill or fry the bacon until it is crisp then chop it into bits and set aside.

Pour 100ml of boiling water over the dried porcini and leave them to stand for 5 minutes. Heat the butter over medium heat in a saucepan and add the remaining shallots.  Cook them gently until they are translucent. Add the crimini mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes. Pour in 1 tablespoon of the water from the porcini mushrooms. Chop the porcini mushrooms and add them to the pan. Fold in the crème fraîche, bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste.

Put 1 or 2 dumplings on each plate and pour over the mushroom sauce. Sprinkle the dill and bacon pieces over just before serving.  Serve with a green vegetable and crusty bread.

Yield: 8 dumplings