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 https://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.



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)
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


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.

Sep 272018

Today is a big day in Poland. It is the birthday (1533) of Stefan Batory (Hungarian: Báthory István), a Hungarian-born noble who was voivode (highest official) of Transylvania (1571–76), prince of Transylvania (1576–86), and from 1576 queen Anna Jagiellon’s husband and, thereby, jure uxoris king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania (1576-1586). Batory is my main subject today, but look at all the Polish anniversaries. On this date in 1331, Poland fought the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Płowce, and on this date in 1422, after the brief Gollub War, the Teutonic Knights signed the Treaty of Melno with Poland and Lithuania. Today is also the birthday of Stanisław Kazimierczyk (1433), Polish canon regular and saint, and of Hieronymus Łaski (1496), Polish diplomat. In 2013 today was declared Polish Underground State’s Day, Dzień Podziemnego Państwa Polskiego, set on the anniversary of the formation of Service for Poland’s Victory. Służba Zwycięstwu Polski (Service for Poland’s Victory, or Polish Victory Service, abbreviated SZP) was the first Polish resistance movement in World War II. It was created by the order of general Juliusz Rómmel on 27th September 1939, when the siege of Warsaw, where Rómmel commanded Polish defence, was nearing its end (Warsaw capitulated the following day).

Stefan Batory was the son of Stephen VIII Báthory and a member of the Hungarian Báthory noble family. Batory while a ruler of Transylvania in the 1570s, defeated another challenger for that title, Gáspár Bekes. In 1576 Báthory became the third elected king of Poland. He worked closely with chancellor Jan Zamoyski. The first years of his reign were focused on establishing power, defeating a fellow claimant to the throne, Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, and quelling rebellions, most notably, the Danzig rebellion. He reigned only a decade, but is considered one of the most successful kings in Polish history, particularly in the realm of military history. His signal achievement was his victorious campaign in Livonia against Russia in the middle part of his reign, in which he repulsed a Russian invasion of Commonwealth borderlands and secured a highly favorable treaty of peace (the Peace of Jam Zapolski).

Batory was born in the castle at Somlyó, also known as Szilágysomlyó (today’s Șimleu Silvaniei). Little is known about his childhood. Around 1549-1550, he briefly visited Italy and probably spent a few months attending lectures at Padua University. Upon his return, he joined the army of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and took part in his military struggle against the Turks. Some time after 1553, Batory was captured by the Turks, and after Ferdinand I refused to pay his ransom, joined the opposing side, supporting John II Sigismund Zápolya in his struggle for power in the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom. As Zápolya’s supporter, Batory acted both as a feudal lord, military commander and a diplomat. During one of his trips to Vienna he was put under house arrest for two years. During this time he fell out of favor at Zápolya’s court, and his position was largely assumed by another Hungarian noble, Gáspár Bekes. Batory briefly retired from politics, but he still wielded considerable influence and was seen as a possible successor to Zápolya.

After Zápolya’s death in 1571, the Transylvanian estates elected Batory voivode of Transylvania. Bekes, supported by the Habsburgs, disputed his election, but by 1573, Batory emerged victorious in the resulting civil war and drove Bekes out of Transylvania. He subsequently attempted to play the Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire against one another in an attempt to strengthen Transylvania’s position.

In 1572, the throne of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, at the time the largest and one of the most populous states in Europe, was vacated when King Sigismund II of Poland died without heirs. The Sejm (parliament) was given the power to elect a new king, and in the Polish–Lithuanian royal election, 1573 chose Henry of France. Henry soon ascended the French throne and forfeited the Polish one by returning to France. Batory decided to enter into the election; in the meantime he had to defeat another attempt by Bekes to challenge his authority in Transylvania, which he did by defeating Bekes at the Battle of Sinpaul.

On 12th December 1575, after an interregnum of roughly one and a half years, primate of Poland, Jakub Uchański, representing a pro-Habsburg faction, declared Emperor Maximilian II the new monarch. However, chancellor Jan Zamoyski and other opponents of Habsburgs persuaded many of the lesser nobility to demand a Piast king, a Polish king. After a heated discussion, it was decided that Anna Jagiellon, sister of the former King Sigismund II Augustus, should be elected monarch of Poland and marry Batory. In January 1576, Batory passed the mantle of voivode of Transylvania to his brother, Christopher, and departed for Poland. On 1 May 1576 Batory married Anna and was crowned king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania. After being chosen as king in the Polish–Lithuanian royal election, 1576, Báthory also began using the title, prince of Transylvania.

Batory ‘s position was at first extremely difficult, as there was still some opposition to his election. Emperor Maximilian, insisting on his earlier election, fostered internal opposition and prepared to enforce his claim by military action. At first the representatives of Lithuania refused to recognize Batory as grand duke, and demanded concessions – that he return the estates of his wife Anne to the Lithuanian treasury, hold Sejm conventions in both Lithuania and Poland, and reserve the highest governmental official offices in Lithuania for Lithuanians. He accepted the conditions. In June Batory was recognized as grand duke of Lithuania, and duke of Ruthenia and Samogitia.

With Lithuania secure, the other major region refusing to recognize his election was Prussia. Maximilian’s sudden death improved Batory ‘s situation, but the city of Danzig (Gdańsk) still refused to recognize his election without significant concessions. The Hanseatic League city, bolstered by its immense wealth, fortifications, and the secret support of Maximilian, had supported the Emperor’s election and decided not to recognize Batory as legitimate ruler. The resulting conflict was known as the Danzig rebellion. Most armed opposition collapsed when the prolonged siege of Danzig by Batory’s forces was lifted as an agreement was reached. The Danzig army was utterly defeated in a field battle on 17th April 1577. However, since Batory’s armies were unable to take the city by force, a compromise was reached. In exchange for some of Danzig’s demands being favorably reviewed, the city recognized Batory as ruler of Poland and paid the sum of 200,000 zlotys in gold as compensation. Tying up administration of the Commonwealth’s northern provinces, in February 1578 he acknowledged George Frederick as the ruler of the Duchy of Prussia, receiving his feudal tribute.

After securing control over the Commonwealth, Batory had a chance to devote himself to strengthening his authority, in which he was supported by his chancellor Jan Zamoyski, who would soon become one of the king’s most trusted advisers. Báthory reorganised the judiciary by formation of legal tribunals (the Crown Tribunal in 1578 and the Lithuanian Tribunal in 1581). While this somewhat weakened the royal position, it was of little concern to Báthory, as the loss of power was not significant in the short term, and he was more concerned with the hereditary Hungarian throne. In exchange, the Sejm allowed him to raise taxes and push a number of reforms strengthening the military, including the establishment of the piechota wybraniecka, an infantry formation composed of peasants. Many of his projects aimed to modernize the Commonwealth army, reforming it in a model of Hungarian troops of Transylvania. He also founded the Academy of Vilnius, the third university in the Commonwealth, transforming what had been a Jesuit college into a major university. He founded several other Jesuit colleges, and was active in propagating Catholicism, while at the same time being respectful of the Commonwealth policy of religious tolerance, issuing a number of decrees offering protection to Polish Jews, and denouncing any religious violence.

In external relations, Batory sought peace through strong alliances. Though remaining distrustful of the Habsburgs, he maintained the tradition of good relations that the Commonwealth enjoyed with its Western neighbor and confirmed past treaties between the Commonwealth and Holy Roman Empire with diplomatic missions received by Maximilian’s successor, Rudolf II. The troublesome south-eastern border with the Ottoman Empire was temporarily quelled by truces signed in July 1577 and April 1579. The Sejm of January 1578 gathered in Warsaw was persuaded to grant Batory subsidies for the inevitable war against Muscovy. A number of his trusted advisers were Hungarian, and he remained interested in Hungarian politics. In addition to Hungarian, he was well versed in Latin, and spoke Italian and German; he never learned the Polish language, however.

Before Batory’s election to the throne of the Commonwealth, Ivan the Terrible of Russia had begun encroaching on its sphere of interest in the northeast, eventually invading the Commonwealth borderlands in Livonia. The conflict would grow to involve a number of nearby powers (outside Russia and Poland-Lithuania, also Sweden, the kingdom of Livonia and Denmark-Norway). Each of them was vying for control of Livonia, and the resulting conflict, lasting for several years, became known as the Livonian War. By 1577, Ivan was in control of most of the disputed territory, but his conquest was short-lived. In 1578, Commonwealth forces scored a number of victories in Liviona and begun pushing Ivan’s forces back; this marked the turning point in the war. Batory, together with his chancellor Zamoyski, led the army of the Commonwealth in a series of decisive campaigns taking Polotsk in 1579 and Velikiye Luki in 1580.

In 1581, Stephen penetrated once again into Russia and, on 22nd August, laid siege to the city of Pskov. While the city held, on 13th December 1581 Ivan the Terrible began negotiations that concluded with the Truce of Jam Zapolski on 15th January 1582. The treaty was favorable to the Commonwealth, as Ivan ceded Polatsk, Veliz and most of the duchy of Livonia in exchange for regaining Velikiye Luki and Nevel. Batory’s health declined through the early 1580s and he died on 12 December 1586.  He had no legitimate children, though contemporary rumors suggested he might have had several illegitimate children.

Batory is commemorated to this day in Poland in a number of ways. The most significant to me is the naming of the ocean liner TSS Stefan Batory, flagship of Polish Ocean Lines from 1969 to 1988, the ship I sailed on from London to Montreal when I migrated to North America in 1975. It was by no means as grand as the great Cunard and P&O liners I had sailed around the world on in my younger years, but it was the last sea voyage I took. (I did take a short cruise 10 years ago, but that was a vacation cruise, and, so, does not really count).

I have given recipes for classic Polish dishes in the past, such as, flaki and bigos, so now I want to look at foreign influences on Polish cuisine. When Bona Sforza (of the Milanese house of Sforza) married Sigismund I of Poland in 1518, she brought a number of Italian cooks with her who greatly influenced the ciusine. Although native vegetable foods were an ancient and intrinsic part of the cuisine, Bona’s reign began a period in which vegetables like lettuce, leeks, celeriac and cabbage were more widely used. Even today, some of those vegetables are referred to in Polish as włoszczyzna, a word derived from Włochy, the Polish name of Italy. Zupa pomidorowa, is Polish tomato soup with a long heritage, probably descended from Italian soup preparation, and undoubtedly popular in Batory’s day.

Zupa Pomidorowa


6 cups meat broth
1 lb “Italian” soup vegetables (celery, leek, celeriac, cabbage), washed and roughly chopped
5 medium carrots, scrubbed
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tbsp tomato concentrate (optional)
¾ cup/200 ml sour cream or tart yoghurt plus extra for garnish
2 cups cooked pasta or rice


Put the soup vegetables, carrots, bay leaf and broth into a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered for about 1 hour. At the end of the cooking process remove the vegetables from the broth, but leave the carrots. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan, then add the diced tomatoes and cook over medium-low heat to a thick consistency. You can add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste at this stage, if you like. When the sauce is well cooked add it to the broth and mix well.

Pour the sour cream or tart yoghurt into a heatproof bowl. Gradually add small amounts of the soup, whisking vigorously at each addition. When you have the cream well combined with the soup pour it back into the soup pot and mix well. Add the pasta or rice and heat through gently.

Serve hot in bowls with an extra dollop of cream or yoghurt for garnish.