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A Place to Taste Tree Cakes : Culture: The Lithuanian Fair, this weekend in the Los Feliz area, features the good food and fine crafts of the tiny immigrant community.


Yes, you've heard the call for freedom from little Lithuania, the once-independent republic that was annexed as one of the 15 Soviet Socialist Republics at the end of World War II. Still, you probably couldn't locate it on a map and you surely don't know what the people there eat.

You can change all that with a visit to the Lithuanian Fair this weekend at St. Casimir's Church, 2716 St. George St., in the Los Feliz area.

"We want especially to acquaint Americans with our culture through these events," says Gene Plukas, a recent immigrant who is an accountant and sometime-caterer known for the quality of her tree cakes and other Lithuanian foods.

There are about 10,000 Lithuanians in Southern California many of whom maintain their traditions through publications, a language school and cultural and social events held by an organization called the Lithuanian-American Community.

For the fair, Plukas and other members of the L.A.C. will prepare Cepelinai , mashed potato dumplings known as "potato Zeppelins." Good cooks use "old" potatoes, which contain the higher starch levels needed to keep the dumplings from falling apart when they are boiled. In the absence of "old" potatoes, which are hard to find in markets here (although the potatoes can be aged at home), cooks coat the dumplings heavily with flour to seal them before cooking.

The huge dumplings are usually served with the sort of homemade Lithuanian sausages and sauerkraut that will also be available at the fair. "These dishes are great for people who live and work in a cold climate, like Lithuania," Plukas said. "They are a bit heavy for sunny California, but still interesting and very tasty."

You'll find several other kinds of dumplings at the fair as well. There is the lighter potato souffle called kugelis --made with raw potatoes, flour and eggs--and Koldunai, a crescent-shaped won-ton-type dumpling filled with lamb, beef or cheese and eaten with a dollop of sour cream and melted butter.

Soups are another important staple of Lithuanian life. At the fair you'll find a warm weather soup called saltibarscai-- a cold beet soup made with cucumbers, dill weed, green onion, eggs and buttermilk, that is eaten with boiled potatoes on the side. In winter, the soup is served hot.

Almost every Eastern European country boasts its own style of cabbage roll. In Lithuania, the roll is called balandelai and is stuffed with meat and rice and served with boiled potatoes. In fact, there is hardly an entree that does not come with boiled potatoes, a staple in the Lithuanian cuisine.

Lithuanians are proud of their desserts. Good cooks at the fair will show off their skills in a bake-off of traditional Lithuanian sweets: cookies (grybai), cookie twists (zagarelai) and the formidable multilayered Napoleon, made with puff pastry, cream and nuts. Just watching the Napoleon being prepared will make the trip worthwhile.

Another spectacular cake worth noting is the "tree cake," which is cooked at the side of an open fire for five hours in an upright position and turned often. Little branches form on the trunk. The cake lasts up to half a year and feeds 60 persons. All of these pastries will be sold at the fair.

And for thirsty visitors, there will be the national favorite, gyra, a refreshing and healthful drink made with black bread, yeast, sugar and raisins.

The fair also features art displays and typical Lithuanian crafts, among them prized amber jewelry. There will also be continuous folk music, dancing, sports competitions, and fortune telling. Admission is $5; free for children younger than 12. For further information about the fair call, (213) 666-7593 or (714) 540-0942.



1/2 pound ground beef

1 small onion, minced

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Salt, pepper

7 medium Russet potatoes, preferably old

3 small cooked Russet potatoes, preferably old


1/4 pound bacon, diced and crisp-cooked

Melted butter, optional

Sour cream, optional

Combine beef, onion and allspice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Peel and grate raw potatoes. Strain through cheesecloth to remove any excess liquid; do not squeeze. Add mashed boiled potatoes and mix well. Set aside.

Pinch off 2-inch portion from potatoes. Flatten with heel of hand and top with 1 tablespoon meat mixture. Fold potato over meat filling and shape into torpedo-shaped dumpling. Roll generously in enough flour to coat dumpling completely. Repeat with remaining potatoes.

Bring salted water in 2-gallon pot to rolling boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Drop dumplings into gently simmering water and poach 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove with slotted spoon.

Sprinkle crisp bacon pieces over dumplings. Serve with melted butter or sour cream, if sauce is desired. Makes about 30 dumplings.

Note: Old Russet potatoes, which are starchy, are needed in this recipe to hold potato dumplings together.



1 egg

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