Vitauts Take 14: 88

Vitauts Take 14: 88

Dad at 40ish
Dad at 40ish

This is Vitauts about fifty years ago or so. Dapper and dashing with his pipe. He always had that air about him. Today Vitauts turns 88-years old. Eighty-eight! What a terrific number. The crazy 88 from Kill Bill come to mind. And then there are, of course, 88 keys on the piano.

For his birthday, I decided to have a little party. I told dad that he should cook something for the party, and he said no at first. Then a couple of days later, he said that he would make his famous Mushroom Soup. I capitalize it because it probably deserves to be capitalized.

Dad has been making his Mushroom Soup for as long as I can remember. When he was a pastor in Yutan, he would make a big batch of it for the congregation on Soup Supper nights after Lenten midweek services. His soup was always the first to go, and people asked for it by name.

At many family gatherings, his Mushroom Soup would make the celebrations just that much merrier.

Dad at 88 with the Soup

The soup is a simple combination of bacon, potatoes, mushrooms all in a vegetable cream stock. I have made it before, but mine did not turn out as good as dad’s. He doesn’t even really know or follow a recipe. The soup manifests itself after a couple of days and becomes the soup we know and love. I was here to witness the whole process. He literally started making the pot on Friday and the party wasn’t until Sunday.

Rudzu Maize

Cooking is one thing that keeps dad feeling useful and lively. I urged him to start making his dark rye Latvian bread again, and he does. He will bake three loaves every few weeks. He likes to slather it in butter and eat it with beer. The bread is definitely an acquired taste with it’s thick chewy texture and tough crusts, but it is rewarding and filling. We used to make a special treat called “loki maize” which translates to spring onion greens on dark bread. We would slather the bread with butter, and mom would cut up the onion tops. Add a little salt, and that was one of our favorite snacks. Dad used to make two new loaves every Friday. He would take one of the loaves to our cousin’s house when we went to visit. The other would stay home for us to eat throughout the week.

I think dad would have made an excellent chef. He could have started his own Latvian restaurant and had a little deli in some big city. People would come from miles around to eat what he had made. How did he learn these recipes? Who taught him how to cook when he had left home when he was only fifteen?

The Soup

Sometimes he tells the story that people in the camps in Germany taught him these recipes. Sometimes it was his own mother, and sometimes it was my mom’s mother or father. Somewhere, some how, some when, Vitauts learned to cook and he loves to make and eat his own version of Latvian peasant food.


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