5 Recipes: What Does Christmas Taste and Smell Like?

Sille Vadi is a valued food blogger and an award-winning cake master who works at the Institute of Cultural Research and Fine Arts at the University of Tartu. If you speak some Estonian, check out her popular food blog.

It seems to be quite a simple question, at least for Estonians. Almost everyone would reply at once: sauerkraut, roast pork, and blood sausage. And maybe not so much the taste, but rather the smell of gingerbread and clementines. Then I started to think whether the taste scale is still wider than that. That’s why I decided to carry out a kind of sociological inquiry and asked my friends, colleagues and acquaintances: What does Christmas taste and smell like to you?

To me Christmas smells probably most like a blown-out candle, or rather a mixture of smells of blown-out candles, fir tree and clementine peels. It reminds me of this peculiar, a bit sad, and bittersweet feeling from childhood, when candles were blown out, smoke was curling into the air and there was Christmas night outside the windows.

People who shared their thoughts with me brought up several tastes and smells.
On this basis Christmas seem to taste like: sauerkraut, roast pork, blood sausage, lingonberry jam, hazelnuts (with the shells on), (red) apples, pickled pumpkin, (pickled) fish, roast duck with apples, stuffed eggs, cranberry juice, clementines, crispy ham, potato salad, thick fruit soup with whipped cream, meat pie with raisins, dried fruit loaf cake, pickled cucumbers.

For most people Christmas smells like: fir tree, candles, cinnamon (rolls), clove, cardamom, snow, mulled wine, Irish coffee, allspice, vanilla, garlic, ginger, orange, ground coffee beans, honey, cold fresh air, new books (received as a gift), a mixture of (food) smells when returning home from church, and the cemetery on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps just these rather homey tastes and smells represent the true nature of Christmas, instead of the fake shine of commercial holidays.

And in order that all this would not be just a sequent theory I tried to put a little part of those tastes and smells into practice. Here they are: christmas spices, pickled fish, sauerkraut, clementines, cranberries and gingerbread.

So can you smell some Christmas already?

Spiced cider. Photo: Sille Vadi

Spiced cider

0.75 l medium dry apple cider (or apple juice)
75-100 g (brown) sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods
4 tbsp dark rum

Combine all the ingredients except for rum in a pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, then remove from heat and add the rum.

Pickled baltic herring. Photo: Sille Vadi

Pickled baltic herring

500 g baltic herring fillets
300 ml water
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
10 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
3 whole allspice
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
4 tbsp white wine vinegar

Bring water, salt, sugar, onion and carrot slices, and all spices to boil. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes, then remove from heat and add vinegar. Layer fish fillets in a glass jar, pour the cooled pickling liquid over them and seal the jar. Let it stay in the fridge at least a day before eating.

Sauerkraut pie with bacon and cranberries. Photo: Sille Vadi

Sauerkraut pie with bacon and cranberries

500 g yeast puff pastry

350 g sauerkraut
200 ml meat stock
125 g bacon
salt, sugar
2 eggs
200 ml whipping cream
100 g cranberries

Fry bacon on the bottom of the pan, add sauerkraut and stock, season with salt and sugar and let cook until the sauerkraut is soft (approx. 45 min). Preheat the oven to 200 C. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pie pan and spread the sauerkraut filling onto the bottom. Beat eggs slightly, add whipping cream and pour over the sauerkraut filling. Add cranberries. With the remaining dough, make a braided edge to the pie. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Clementines in spiced cider. Photo: Sille Vadi

Clementines in spiced cider

20 little clementines
0.5 l spiced cider

Peel the clementines carefully and place in a glass bowl, fitting them tightly next to one another. Pour over (slightly cooled) spiced cider. Leave to season for at least a few hours. Serve with whipped cream.

Cranberry and curd cheesecake with gingerbread crumble. Photo: Sille Vadi

Cranberry and curd cheesecake with gingerbread crumble

Gingerbread crumble:
400 g gingerbread
125 g butter, melted

500 g cheese curd
125 g sugar
2 eggs
200 g sour cream
200 g cranberries

Preheat oven to 200 C. Line the bottom of the square (22 cm) springform pan with baking parchment. For gingerbread crumble, crush the gingerbread and mix with melted butter. Press 2/3 of the crumble into the bottom of the pan. In a separate bowl, mix the cheese curd with sugar, and add sour cream and slightly beaten eggs. Pour it over the crust. Add cranberries. Sprinkle the remaining gingerbread crust evenly over cranberries. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve cooled.

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