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Cook Book Club: February's Ingredient Is Potato Starch. The Country: Estonia!

This year we are doing things a little differently. Instead of simply an ingredient, we are highlighting entire cultures. Kits will include a little bit about the country of focus, a recipe that is native to the country, and a unique ingredient or two from that recipe without which, it wouldn't be the same. Most recipes are from writers native to the country covered. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking!


As we continue on our culinary journey through Europe, we make our way to Eastern Europe and the small country at the crossroads of many major European cultures, Estonia.

The Story of Kissel

As adapted from various different historical records

A staple of Eastern European holiday celebrations, these days, kissel is something resembling a thickened fruit soup, somewhere in the mix between a fruit juice, gelatin, or smoothie.

It is of ancient origin. Its first recorded mention is from the Slavic city of Belgorod Kievsky in the mid-900s avoiding attack from the Pechenegs, a nomadic people from near Turkey, because of an old man’s idea:

He had the villagers fill two barrels. One with a kissel made of grain (not the more common sweet kissel of today) and the other with their sweetest mead. They were then buried and two fake wells were erected over them. When the Pecheneg ambassadors came and witnessed the villagers seemingly being fed by the earth itself, and they, themselves, tasting the treats, they left without sacking the city.

The city would survive another roughly 250 years before falling to the Mongol invasion in the 1200s.

These days, kissel is more often of fruit and a very popular holiday treat throughout Eastern Europe. Truth be told, you could use any berries for the base to this fruit soup. Prior to this recipe, I also debated doing a strawberry kissel (red for Valentines Day). Both are delicious and beautiful and completely Eastern European holiday fare. However the blueberry has a secondary symbolism attached. February 24th is also Estonia's Independence Day and the colors of this soup just happen to be that of the Estonian flag (Black, White & Blue) and I just couldn't pass up adding in that tidbit.

A Quick Look at Estonian Cuisine

Adapted from various online history resources

Historically, Estonian cuisine is based on seasonal products with staples including rye bread, pork, potatoes, and dairy and belongs to the so-called beer, vodka, rye bread, and pork “belt” of Europe. And being of a location where a number of overarching cultures come together geographically, there is a decent amount of influence from Scandinavian, German, Russian, Latvian, and Lithuanian food cultures, to name a few.

Meat based soups with seasonal vegetables, open-faced sandwiches of rye bread, butter, and Baltic sprats (similar in flavor to sardenes), and similar dishes are common. Most savory meals are served with black rye bread and deserts like kissell, kama (think cream of wheat but with barley, rye, oat, and pea flours instead of wheat, and sweetened with sugar or blueberries, and served with milk, buttermilk, or kefir), and compotes, marzipan, kringle, and pancakes (both sweet-filled or savory) are common.

Over holidays, you are likely to find spring/summer filled with fresh berries, herbs, veggies, fish, and hunted foods, and winter filled with blood sausage, head cheese, roast goose, potatoes, mulled wine, gingerbread, and fruits like apples and mandarins, and lingonberry jam is always a crowd pleaser.

What is Potato Starch?

Adapted from various different scientific and culinary sites

While the potato might have originated in South America about 13,000 years ago, potato starch is a much more modern invention (by comparison). A few decades after the potato was first brought by the Spanish conquistadors to Europe, Europeans discovered how to use the starch from potatoes first to starch linen and later to powder their wigs and faces. And about two centuries after its introduction to Europe, potato starch began being used in food.

Potato starch in its simplest form is a basic carbohydrate naturally occurring in potatoes. It has very little nutritional value but a lot of culinary value as it is frequently used for thickening soups/sauces and helping fried foods achieve that all-important crispness. A modified form is even used in those single-serve cups of mac and cheese from the store to thicken the water and keep it from boiling over in the microwave. Potato starch is extracted through a series of shredding and washing and sieving and while I could give you a recipe for how to make your own, let's just settle for purchasing the white powder from the store.


The Known Main Event


(Estonian Blueberry Soup)

As adapted from for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Yield: 4-6 servings ● Time: 20 minutes


  • 300-400 g (approx. 2 cups) blueberries

  • 2 liters (approx. just under 8.5 cups) water

  • 2-3 tablespoon potato starch

  • sugar to taste


  1. Bring the berries and water to a boil. Season with sugar.

  2. Mix the starch and little cold water and add mix to Kissel, stirring constantly.

  3. Bring to a boil, but do not boil!

  4. Serve Kissel chilled with whipped cream or quark cream

And in the spirit of the month, I included a surprise for our devoted and beloved fans...


Surprise Main Course


(Estonian Cottage Cheese Cheesecake - a.k.a. Peat Cake, a.k.a. Moss Cake)

As adapted from for use by the Brown Deer Library Cookbook Club

Yield: 6-8 servings ● Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Note: The original recipe was in metric so the approximations might not be as precise as a traditional recipe


For the crust:

  • 200 g (approx. 1 2/3 cup) flour

  • 120 g (approx. 8.5 Tbsp.) cold butter

  • 2-3 Tbs. cocoa powder (Dutch is best)

  • 2 Tbs. sugar

For the filling:

  • 600 g (approx. 2 2/3 cup) cottage cheese - farmer’s style if you can find it as it is a little drier

  • 150 g (approx. 1 1/4 cup) sour cream

  • 160 g (approx. 4/5 cup) sugar

  • 2 eggs, whites separated

  • 2 Tbs. potato starch


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and parchment line a 7" Springform pan. - Otherwise, you can use a different cake pan if you put long parchment strips in an "X" that come up the sides under the parchment circle to help you lift the finished cake out.

  2. For the crust and crumble: Combine flour, cocoa powder and sugar in food processor bowl. Add cubed butter and pulse until resembles crumbs. Set aside.

  3. For the filling: Beat egg whites, slowly adding sugar until foamy with soft peaks, about 5-7 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine cottage cheese, egg yolks and sour cream. Fold in egg whites and potato starch.

  4. To assemble: Spread half the crumbs over bottom of prepared pan and press to form crust. Pour filling over bottom crust, then carefully sprinkle remaining crumbs over entire surface of filling.

  5. Bake 50-55 minutes or until wooden skewer inserted in center shows a few moist crumbs, but is not wet. The top and sides will be firm but the center will still wobble. Cool on the counter 1 hour, then refridgerate overnight to fully set. Serve as is or topped with tart cherries or other fresh fruit.


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