Crunching the kitchenstuff

Month: April, 2012

Lichen and moss

As the nature is still a bit sleepy after a long rough winter, it is hard to find anything to use from the wild. We walked around the nearby forests together with Anna-Liisa who is the horticulturist of Pädaste Manor and educated ourselves about moss and lichen. There’s a simple truth about those two, you will also find out from our clip.


Besides the similarity in nomination, there’s not much in common. For a quick reminder: Moss is a green plant with stems and leaves, lichen doesn’t have them and they belong among fungus. Lichen first and foremost reminds me of seaweeds – the texture and culinary qualities are very similar. Before you take any moss or lichen with you from the wild in large quantities, think twice – some of the moss species may take decades to grow.

From paper into a pot

I’ll start off with a question this time – how many different ways can you recall for chopping a carrot? Slicing, cubes, julienne, brunoise etc. But how thick should be the slice in case of slicing? What does ‘gentle boil’ mean, but ‘lively simmer’? How long should be the side of a carrot when making cubes? These are the questions I often run into after I’ve sent a recipe to an apprentice or for a womens’ magazine.

People who are using recipes when cooking can be divided in to two – people who follow the recipe word by word and people who are more creative and change things on the go. Either one can not be condemned for their methods – far from that! Although I feel a bit sorry for people with their nose all the way inside the recipe book, but their sauce has still as a ‘split’ texture instead of ‘silky’. One that’s sure, every recipe consists of cooking aspects that are hard to put in words and no matter how hard you try, it is hard to mess up without a sensitive touch and understanding. Without that special gut feeling.

The style of writing recipes has changed quite a bit over time. During the preparation for the culinary event ’20 by 8′ I worked my way through an ancient book that came out from the walls (and that’s no lie) during the restoration of Pädaste manor. A cooking and household book by Lida Panck was printed in 1896 – the wording of recipes there are strict and have a practical feel – no illustrative or overemotional expressions like golden brown or silky sauce. The style of John Evelyns’ book ‘Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets’ is even more strict, without a single illustration, just plain text and preparation manuals. Recipes like in professional kitchens nowadays – a lot of numbers and names, but no word by word manual of how to prepare a particular dish, as the cook must now the techniques by hard.

To sum it up, I think that one must be careful with the recipes overloaded with shiny pictures and overwhelming words, because, not to be forgotten – in the end of the day, everything is still up to you – your skills, desire and creativity! Sometimes it is better to go with your gut instead of the recipe!

Kasuline köögi -ja majapidamiseraamat by Lida Panck


Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets by John Evelyn



Grow your own vegetables

Snow is finally melting and the evenings are getting brighter every day. Birds are singing, people are smiling more often and you can actually feel spring in the air. Another rough winter has been defeated, earth is swallowing the warmth of the sun and it’s time to dig in the dirt.

As the soil is getting warmer I must prepare myself for the first open field plantings of the season in our Manors garden and in Rautsi farm in Saikla village. Taavi is the young farmer of Rautsi farm and it is the second year we are co-operating with him in growing vegetable needed in the manor kitchen and at Neh. This year we decided to increase the area we are sowing the seeds. The reason for this is our decision to keep restaurant Neh open for the summer as well, so we need a bigger volume of vegetables.

Actually I can’t wait to see the first plants to surface. Therefore – good colleagues, it is not too late to find your kitchen a farmer who would grow vegetables specially for you. Write down a list of what you want to grow and the quantities, take a look at the seeds that are on offer in special stores, find yourself a farmer with a piece of land and plan your production. No need for endless whining of how fresh vegetables are hard to come by. While selecting the seeds take notice at old and traditional assortment if possible and favor those. It may sound odd, but for example one of Estonia’ s beloved potato sorts called ‘Jõgeva kollane’ was on the verge of disappearing from our tables not a while ago.

We had a fine initiative over few weekends here in Pädaste, called Children’s Cooking class. I was amazed by the eagerness of those young kids I taught cooking and the whole process made me think about how schools all around Estonia used to have their own school gardens – something that we are clearly missing now. I remember, that we had to weed and water the plants and do other useful stuff in the school’s garden for at least couple of hours during the summer holidays back in Soviet times. I now, it wasn’t much fun back in the day, darn plants and weeds, I used to think. Especially as I was a country boy myself and it could not interest me less how the carrots grow or if pests were trying to have a cabbage feast and ruin the harvest.I could explore that in my home garden anyway, but having said that, it was not the issue with few classmates who lived in the town and didn’t have that opportunity. So they found those things rather interesting to observe.

Schoolyards and gardens are in fact not some crazy worn out Soviet thing as one might think – check out this pretty awesome site – The Edible Schoolyard Project, and you’ll see what I mean.


Nowadays when urbanization is vast and the kids further away from nature, it might be a good idea to raise their interest in eating the vegetables through exploring the whole process of vegetable growing. I reckon that no one can be left indifferent when taking part of the growing process – sowing the seeds, being there for the little plant and helping it to grow. I bet the carrot tastes a lot better when grown yourself. Putting in time and effort, makes us appreciate more and it’s no different with growing vegetables. I know – it may sound too idealistic, but if any schools have a serious interest to set up a school garden again get in touch with me and together with Pädaste’s horticulturist Anna-Liisa we’ll be more than happy to help you in any way we can. But enough of this talk – it’s time to plant some seeds

Few exotic plants from Pädaste's garden (drawing by Anna-Liisa Piiroja)

Anna-Liisa Piiroja - the horticulturist of Pädaste collecting bladderwrack (photo by Jean-Pierre Gabriel)

Beets from the last season

Beets from the last season