Lithuanian Lore Is Packed Along With Sausages


May 27, 1992|By ROB KASPER

To make dazra, the Lithuanian sausage, you need shredded pork, some smoked, some not.

You need spices. Bay leaves, onion salt, garlic salt, black pepper, allspice, mustard seed.

And you need conversation.

That is what I learned recently after spending a morning with veteran sausage makers as they gathered in the kitchen of the Lithuanian Hall on Hollins Street in West Baltimore.

I watched what began as shredded pork travel around a kitchen table and end up as sausage.

I watched as the hands of Dorothy Adams, Aldona Buda, Stasys Vitkauskas, Genny Austra, Jonas Kardokas, Balys and Jane Brasauskas, Dana Smith, Elena Okas and Vytautas Vaskys, seasoned the meat, mixed it, then stuffed it into a small wine press that pushed the meat into pork casings. Next the strings of sausage were weighed, labeled, then put in a refrigerator to await being boiled and served with sauerkraut at the Lithuanian Festival June 6 and 7 at Festival Hall in downtown Baltimore.

As the workers went about their duties, they talked. They discussed Lithuanian food, culture and history. There was much agreement. All heads nodded, for instance when it was stated that dazra must be served at weddings, christenings, birthdays, funerals. Without dazra, it was agreed, the event would not be Lithuanian.

And there was consensus that Lithuanian sauerkraut was better than the kind served by Germans. Lithuanian was made from fresh cabbage, it was not as sour as the German.

There was some disagreement among the sausage-making crew over the spelling or origin of words. There seemed to be two camps, the "y" and "i" camps, on whether the Lithuanian spiced honey flavored liqueur was spelled "virytas" or "viritas."

Similarly when I was told about Vytautas, the knight of yore whose brilliant military tactics in 1410 was a high point in Lithuanian history, there was some discussion about whether the great leader's name should have an "i" in it.

But the "i"-"y" dispute was minor. It did not slow the making of dazra. The sausage makers had been meeting for years, some as far back as September 1973, the date of the first city-wide Lithuanian festival. Others remembered making sausage for a smaller festival in 1954 held in Gwynn Oaks Park. All remembered making sausage with their mothers.

They were modest folks, but when I prodded them with questions, the sausage makers acknowledged feeling pride in their craft. "Beef and ham, everybody can cook that," said Mrs. Austra. "But not everybody can make sausage."

Moreover, they were pleased that their sausage, one of some five types of dazra sold at the Lithuanian festival, had a distinctive peppery flavor.

"Each cook makes it different," said Mrs. Austra who got her sausage recipe from her mother. "Ours has the pepper."

As a visitor I was treated well. I was given cookies. First the "krustai" or "little ears" pieces of fried dough covered with powdered sugar.

Then came the spiced cookies shaped like mushrooms. The cookies honored the "baravykai" -- the treasured gourmet mushroom of the homeland.

In Lithuania, I was told, mushroom eating is an all-day event. Mushrooms are served at breakfast with sour cream and onion. At lunch mushrooms might show up with dumplings or mashed potatoes. At supper there would be mushroom in a meat sauce.

I was given copies of Vilties Balsas a publication that keeps the estimated 8,000 Baltimore area Lithuanians up on ethnic events. It included a "Watch Your Language" guide to Lithuanian pronunciation, and urged its readers to "roll their Rs."

And finally I take a bite of the dazra, which had a good mustard seed flavor, and a sip of the virytas liqueur.

The list of ingredients in the liqueur was stunning. Caraway seeds, cloves, allspice, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, yellow ginger, white ginger, cardamom seeds, nutmeg, orange rind, lemon ring, saffron, honey, water and grain alcohol.

I was told that right after they are married, a Lithuanian bride and groom are given a sip of the honey-flavored liqueur and a taste of bread and salt. This is to show the young couple that life is composed of the both the bitter and the sweet.

It sounds like a wonderful custom. But after tasting that liqueur, I would want to hold off on the bitter course, and go straight to the sweet.

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