3 Estonian Things That All Young (and Young at Heart) People Should Try
(Originally published in Estonian Life newspaper on March 12th, 2021)
Youth is a time of thrills. It's a time of blooming. It's a time of sweetness. No matter how many years one has been on planet Earth, though, we all deserve to stay in touch with our younger selves, and here are a few ways to do that, Estonian-style.
1) Kiiking: When kiiking, sometimes known as extreme swinging, was invented by Ado Kosk in 1993, not only was he channelling a much older Estonian custom of village swings in public areas of communities across Estonia; he was maximizing the dreams of thrill-seeking kids the world over. Who hasn't gone to great lengths to make the seat of a playground swing go all the way up, so your back is parallel to the ground below? Even more reckless (and fun) if you leap off at the top and make a smooth landing in the mulch.
On the classic Estonian swing, you won't get moving by sitting down. Instead, the aim is to stand up, hold onto the wooden side shafts, and push, to gradually build momentum and get higher and higher up. These swings, like the one at Jõekääru Estonian Children's Camp, can hold multiple people. Now that will really get you moving. Another famous Estonian swing is by the castle on the hill in Viljandi. There's a wonderful view of the lake in store for you if you push extra hard.
However, contemporary kiiking swings are different. They're made of metal. The shafts are adjustable (the longest of all is eight metres), with a greater challenge presented to those who extend the distance between the bottom and the “spindle” at the top of the swing. Finally, you'll be strapped in where your feet are because — get ready for it — you can do a lot better than a mere 90 degree angle. With pro-level squatting techniques, you can swing all the way around the middle of the swing, once, maybe even twice!
To find places where you can swing (even as far from Estonia as California and the northern coast of New Zealand) and learn about the latest kiiking competitions, visit the Estonian Kiiking Federation site at kiiking.ee .
2) Weaving flower crowns: Flower crowns seem to be just about everywhere these days. Weddings, music festivals, and all kinds of summer celebrations. The act of piecing flowers together as a decoration to wear on your head is ancient, going back at least to the Ancient Greeks, who gave crowns made of bay laurel leaves to soldiers and victorious athletes, and wore them for pagan celebrations. For Estonians, these types of celebrations were likely the first occasions in which people made flower crowns. It's a practice that appears in Latvia and Lithuania, too, where makers try to source as many different types of flowers as possible for each crown.
These days, we see flower crowns at Estonia's song and dance festivals and, of course, Jaanipäev. What's an easy way to make one? First, take some floral wire of a moderate thickness, measure the circumference of your head, then cut two lengths of wire to the size of that circumference so it's not too tight, and not too loose either.
Wrap the wires together, tightly around each other. Take the first flower and place it lengthwise along the edge of the wire, and wrap some floral tape around it. Go around the ring of the crown and layer each new flower over the stem of the last one to make it abundant in its appearance.
3) Eating koogel moogel: Koogel moogel started as a dessert made by Jewish people in eastern Europe — with the potential of it being used to treat a sore throat, too — and has since been whisked into Estonia's culinary traditions. For a nation that places greater emphasis on savoury foods by and large, it makes sense that a dessert that doesn't require much advanced planning is so popular.
It's troublesome when you've cooked up a fancy dinner but totally forget to plan a dessert to finish off the meal. However, if you're staring into your fridge or pantry wondering what to do, some fresh eggs and sugar are all you really need.
Take two eggs and separate the yolks into a bowl. Some people prefer to use the egg whites, while some may use the whole egg. Anything goes. Add a teaspoon of sugar for each of the eggs, and add other flavour components if you wish, like cocoa powder, honey instead of sugar. You could even add milk, or toppings like nuts. Use a whisk to vigorously mix it all together until the consistency is smooth. Though, you can also whisk it less if you prefer a bit of a crunch factor from the sugar.
Like anything youthful, be spontaneous about it, and do it according to what suits your tastes best.