Meat smoking in sauna
Smoke saunas are also used to prepare very delicious smoked meat. Pork is the meat most commonly smoked in a sauna, but lamb, poultry and venison can be prepared there as well. Though meat smoking is a common part of everyday life in Võromaa, not everyone can do it. Meat smoking must be learned from a knowledgeable person over an extended period of time. Often, members of a community will give their meat to the person in the neighbourhood who knows how to smoke it best.
Before smoking, the pieces of meat must be soaked in salty water for at least a week. One must know how to do this properly, because the soaking process also has its own traditions.
Prior to being smoked, the pieces of meat are laid out beneath the ceiling on special wooden grates, or are bound and hung on nails or hooks that have been beaten into the joists. It is important that the rind initially faces the floor. The sauna is heated so that the meat can be exposed to both heat and smoke at the same time. Meat smoking lasts for two or three days. Throughout this time, the meat smoker visits the sauna frequently to keep an eye on the level of heat and the condition of the meat. If necessary, he or she adds firewood or even reduces the heat, and the pieces of meat must be turned over every now and then. Every meat smoker has their own tricks which they have learned from their parents and grandparents. Of course, every sauna is a bit different, so there is no single “recipe” for making good smoked meat.
Meat-smoking is a very old custom for preserving meat. Pigs have been kept alongside other domestic animals in the farmhouses of Võromaa for a long time. In earlier times, several pigs were slaughtered for food over the course of a year. For the most part, the pork was kept in wooden barrels in salty water, but some meat was smoked in a sauna. Pork from pigs slaughtered in the spring had to be smoked, so it would not rot in the warm weather. Smoked meat was eaten throughout the year as recently as thirty to forty years ago. Hams that were smoked in the spring were hung in cool granaries until almost mid-summer and were a salty accompaniment to bread during summer labour. If there was a need to cook quickly (for example, to offer food to guests), the smoked meat was cut on the kitchen table, then fried in a pan with eggs. Smoked meat is eaten in the same way even now, but ham smoked in a sauna is not easy to obtain and is therefore not a commonplace food.
Historically, smoked meat was made only for one’s own family or relatives. It was not offered for sale because every farmhouse was able to produce its own supply. Some twenty years ago the situation changed when many farmsteads stopped keeping domestic animals, so the practice of meat smoking came to an end as well. But the demand for smoked meat as a habitual food has remained. Nowadays in village communities, meat is smoked at particular farms. The meat is bought from neighbouring farmers who keep pigs. Skilled craftsmen smoke the meat on behalf of their neighbours and acquaintances, from whom one can obtain the meat – since it cannot be bought in any shop. Sometimes meat smoked in a sauna can be found at local fairs as well.