Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Latvian Bacon Pirags

Zola: This recipe is lovely--simple and comforting and just what the doctor ordered when your home is a construction zone. Latest apartment news: my ceiling has gone missing!

Georgia: My mother came to Australia as a refugee from Latvia some time after World War II. Whilst technically she was born en route to Australia (in a barn no less, in the middle of winter somewhere in rural Germany), she’s a Latvian chick through and through. My grandparents lived a good life in Latvia, as both worked (and meet) as solicitors in Riga, and as the son and daughter in law of the President of Latvia (1930 – 1936). Obviously they didn’t want to leave their beloved home land, and in fleeing as quickly as they did, left primarily without possessions and keepsakes to make a quick exit from the Russian tanks rolling into the city. They became separated from each other and only met up again several months later in Germany, before being confined in a German refugee camp for several years. On release, they by chance stepped onto a ship bound for Australia and the rest is history.

My mum has spent her life trying not to be Latvian – in the 50’s, Australia had a high proportion of migrants and refugees from Europe. Mum was picked on and called a wog by the other kids in school, and spent her early school years wishing that Nana would make her a vegemite sandwich instead of a salami one for lunch.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and grew up with all things Latvian instilled in me, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I actually gave my heritage much thought! In 2006 I was lucky enough to go to a reunion of the descendants of my great-great-grandmother. Over 100 relatives from quite literally all over the world met in Riga and until then, I had no idea any of these people existed. I instantly realised just how Latvian I actually am – everything just felt right. It was incredibly humbling and moving, and my biggest regret is that my grandfather was no longer around to share the experience with me as he died the year before.

Whilst there, I had one main “must do” mission – to find out how good the local Pirags were compared to my Nana’s. Whenever I visited Nana, pretty much without fail, she’d ask if I’d like some Pirags and would whip a small bag of them out of the freezer and warm them for me. I would also help her make them on occasion; the smell of the sweet-ish dough rising in the kitchen is one that I still remember many years on. It wasn’t until Nana had to go into a nursing home that any of us thought to ask for her recipe, since Nana couldn’t make them for us any more. She turned 98 in January. And no – none of the ones I tried in Latvia came close to Nan’s.

Here is her recipe. Make sure you pronounce words where appropriate with an eastern European accent.

Nana’s Pirags (makes approximately 3 dozen)

450-500g plain flour (3 1/2-4c.)
250ml milk or water (little over a cup)
25g fresh yeast (or a 7g sachet of dry yeast)
75g butter (3/4 stick)
25g sugar (2 Tbsp)
5g salt (heaping tsp)
2 peckets bacon (Nana’s pronunciation, my poetic license), aprox 500 grams
Onion powder
White pepper (ground)

[Zola: this conversion site rocks:http://www.onlineconversion.com/cooking.htm]

Mix yeast with a little bit of sugar, flour and a bit of warm water or milk (30-35 degrees centigrade), sift some flour onto yeast and keep in warm place for 10-15 minutes to rise.

Sift flour into a bowl together with the salt.

Put all of the salt, remaining sugar and butter into milk and warm.

Dice bacon finely, sprinkle with onion powder and white pepper, cook until warmed (do not over cook).

Put milk and yeast into flour and mix. (Keep mix quite damp). Mix first with spoon and then by hand. Sift some flour on top when mixed (enough to cover) and let sit for approximately 30 minutes in a warm place. Cover heavily with cloth to keep warm.

The rest is from memory…

Dust table with flour. Knead and roll dough then cut into circles with a glass. Place a spoon of bacon mix onto middle. Fold dough circle over, pinch edges and roll by hand to desired size. Form into crescent shape and place on baking tray (with seam on the bottom), brush with milk.

Put into a hot oven at around 180 degrees C and cook until you can smell the aroma that only one of Nan’s bacon rolls can emit (and until nicely browned on top).

My memory of Nan’s bacon rolls were that they were a little dusty from flour when cooked. I remember this being a nice thing so perhaps be liberal with dusting flour when rolling and not too liberal with the milk.


J13 said...


The Latvian side of my family (maternal side) have all sadly passed away...

I try and I try but I just can't make pirags like my grandmother did! I'll save this recipe and try it out later - maybe I'll have some luck.

Zola said...

J13, Let us know how it turns out for you! I have no frame of reference--except, of course, my love of bacon--but wow. They were so excellent in their simplicity!

MWraight said...

ahhhh pirags!!! i remember my grandmother (latvian) never really m ade them but her sister did and she would fly to sydney...get like 100 and bring them pack to tasmania and we would keep them frozen! SOO good...never had a crack of making them though....

my grandmother also makes this other dish called 'gallet' (dont know how to spell it) which is like a meat jelly using traditionally pork mince...i dont know the recipe or anything though when i see her next im going to make it with her! ill then post it on here for you guiys if u are interested!

also my now past grandfather (latvian) made a great dark rye bread...no one knows how to make it now which is unfortunate

mwraight said...

found it! its galert! follow this link http://latvians.com/en/Reading/LatviskaVirtuve/virtuve-01-sivena-galerts.php to check out the recipe..havent tried it out yet!

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