Big Grey peas with bacon are a “must have” on Latvians Christmas table.
When you ask a Latvian “What is the national dish of your country?”, Big grey peas with bacon is usually the first thing that comes up. Peas with bacon are both the food with which we identify ourselves as a nation, and the one without which we cannot even imagine our Christmas.
Latvians have always given food not only practical but also symbolic meaning. Every dish we put on the festive table has a meaning: Increasing, promoting, improving, invoking, and conjuring.
Symbolic products are very important to consume during the holidays that we celebrate according to the solar calendar, because the Latvians were pagans. The Baltics were the last tribes to be conquered by the Christians and today Christianity is the main religion in Latvia, but people still practice pagan traditions.
At Christmas, beans and big grey peas are put on the table because they symbolise fertility, life, wealth and money and, thanks to their round shape, the fluidity of life and work the following year.
Meat on the Christmas table was obligatory. The way it was prepared depended on the wealth of the hostess. For those living more modestly, it was often part of the pig’s head, but in wealthiest homes, it was fried legs of lamb and sausages.
The whole life of Latvians is linked to earthworks.
The pig, as a soil digger, also brings success and an “easy hand” to the men – field labourers. Thus, beans and peas were eaten with pork and onions, but the householder and the men, whose job was to plough the fields, ate the peas with the pig’s nose.
“Pīrāgi” – that’s how we call the small bacon pies in Latvian. They were a symbol of prosperity and were eaten to make the coming year rich.
In addition, rye bread and honey signify strength and sweetness of life, or joy in the coming year.
In Latvia, the Christmas table must include at least 12 dishes.
This symbolises abundance and prosperity, because when you have eaten well, you will be strong and able to work well. It is therefore necessary to eat nine times on Christmas Day, so that the following year the eater himself will be rich.
In any case, the Big Grey Peas with bacon should be on the holiday table. The bigger the better. That’s also why the larger varieties of peas are grown and saved for Christmas meals. So that’s another name – Big Christmas peas.
Peas mean money and prosperity, success, new forms of life in the house and garden. Peas help the sun and people to rise, to light up. They help the day stay longer at this time of year when, according to the solar calendar, Latvians celebrate the middle of winter – the longest night and the shortest day in the year. Peas, like fish scales, were also kept in the purse to promote wealth and fertility (and much money).
So if you come to Latvia, order a Big Grey peas with bacon and onions. It’s a way to get some of the Latvian success and joy of working. Our strength is our big grey peas, at least in winter, when the nights are long and the days are short.