Ancestral Cake


Daniel had to work on his “Heritage Badge” for Cub Scouts.  Basically this boiled down to making an ethnic dish, representing your ancestors.  On the plus side, I am a “mutt”.  My ancestors came from all over Europe.  On the down side, none of the mother countries are particularly known for their food.  When I was in high school, we had a similar challenge.  I didn’t feel like overcooking something to celebrate my English heritage.  So, I went to the library and checked out their single book on Lithuanian Cuisine.  I was dismayed to find their diet apparently consisted of fish, potatoes and lard.  It made sense that – traditionally – Lithuanians didn’t have much sugar in their diets.  Lithuania has a climate similar to northern Wisconsin and they don’t grow too much sugar cane around Green Bay either.  I ended up trying a recipe for “Sand Cookies”.

The name actually turned out to be pretty accurate.  As best as I can recall, the recipe for Sand Cookies called for four cups of flour and an egg.  Granted, I’m no Julia Child, but it was impossible to mix four cups of flour with just a single egg.  Even my mom had to add some extra ingredients to make the flour stick together.  I did get a good grade.  However, no one actually attempted to eat a sand cookie at school.  I brought them over to my grandma’s house (her parents were from Lithuania) and she tried one, but I can’t say it brought back fond memories.  Even dunking them in coffee for several minutes didn’t soften them up much.

When we found out about Daniel’s badge requirement, my wife joked about making more sand cookies (this from a woman whose ancestors gave us lutefisk; I think that’s a case of the potte calling the kettle juodas).  However, between now and when I was in high school, Lithuania is its own country again and the Internet has been invented.  I could look up recipes directly from Kaunas (unfortunately they were all in Lithuanian, so that didn’t help me much).  However, there were plenty of sites in English offering information on Lithuanian food.

While there were still an awful lot of deep-fried-dough-made-from-potato style dishes, I did find out they grow apples in Lithuania and Daniel and I made an apple crumb cake together.  The recipe didn’t look too difficult.  We mixed butter, eggs and flour by hand until it was “crumbly”.  That was a bit of a challenge; the butter kept sticking to the spatula.  Daniel shook it off at one point; butter and flour flew off in all directions.  After cleaning that up, we had to shred ten apples.  Meka’s food processor shreds.  We dodged that culinary bullet; I was worried we’d have to rub them all against the cheese grater.  It ended up not quite making the amount it claimed in the recipe.  Maybe our crumbs were a bit bigger than theirs.  We put it in the oven to bake for an hour and the house smelled really good.  We sampled a bit of it and it wasn’t bad… probably better than lutefisk and definitely better than sand cookies.  Daniel should get his badge, no problem.

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