Honey has been important to Lithuanians as far back as anyone remembers. During the reign of King Mindaugas, it was one of the country’s most important exports. Honey (“medus”) is featured in Lithuanian cuisine and daily life, and is deeply meaningful as well. Superstitious though they may sound, many folk rites included speaking to bees, walking around their hives, and organizing honey-harvesting celebrations. The word “bičiulis” means a good friend, andis derived from “bitė”, or bee, from the olden days of beekeeping and sharing hives with a trusted friend.
Mead (“midus” in Lithuanian), was the first known alcoholic beverage consumed by mankind (believed to predate wine by nearly 3,000 years, and today often referred to as “honey wine” because the process of making mead and wine are so similar). Eating cucumbers with honey has been enjoyed by Lithuanians for countless years, and farmer’s cheese is not as good without it.
In its time, honey was called edible gold because it was also used in medicine for its antinflammatory and antioxidant properties, and even as currency.
Aside from its essential role in desserts, honey has also become popular as an ingredient in marinades and salad dressings. A refreshing lemonade can be made by blending ¾ cup lime or lemon juice, ½ cup honey, and a handful of basil, then adding 3 cups water and ice cubes.
A famous Lithuanian cake called “Meduolis” is not to be confused with the layered Honey Cake, but is more of a coffee cake. It is also familiarly called Medauninkas or Medaunykas. Recipes vary from kitchen to kitchen, but here is a basic, old-fashioned version, perfect on a rainy day with coffee or tea. “Meduoliai” (plural) also refer to what we know in North America as gingerbread cookies.
Old-Fashioned Honey Cake/Meduolis
1 cup liquid honey
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
3 cups flour
1 tsp. each baking soda, cinnamon and ground cloves
Beat sugar with eggs until fluffy and gradually add sour cream, honey and butter. Mix spices and baking soda with flour and add to honey mixture. Bake in a greased pan at 350oF for about 45 minutes.