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Voulez-vous some SUIR or some SÕIR ce soir?

On the left is suir, a mass of pollen with added honey, packed into granules by worker bees to feed their young. Humans have also grown to appreciate the naturally fermented protein (valk) and vitamins found in bee pollen, also known as beebread. On the right is sõir, a homemade quark cheese (kohupiima/juust) that hails from Southern Estonia. It traditionally contains caraway seeds (köömned), but need not. Although you can purchase it at various markets all over Estonia, it's easy to make yourself. Suir photo by Riina Kindlam, sõir photo courtesy of Pille Petersoo, nami-nami.eeOn the left is suir, a mass of pollen with added honey, packed into granules by worker bees to feed their young. Humans have also grown to appreciate the naturally fermented protein (valk) and vitamins found in bee pollen, also known as beebread. On the right is sõir, a homemade quark cheese (kohupiima/juust) that hails from Southern Estonia. It traditionally contains caraway seeds (köömned), but need not. Although you can purchase it at various markets all over Estonia, it's easy to make yourself. Suir photo by Riina Kindlam, sõir photo courtesy of Pille Petersoo, nami-nami.eeHave you considered popping some suir as part of a healthier New Year's regime? Or tried sõir as an appetizer (eel/roog)? They're both made for consumption with great care and love.

When I first typed sõir into my internet search engine (otsingu/mootor), the only hits I got were for soir – evening in French. And I have to admit, I kept forgetting "that other word" (suir), that I've wanted to simultaneously introduce for a while, since it's so similar and most likely just as new to readers. Are they both fringe delicacies? Well, suir (bee pollen), also known as mesilaste leib (bee bread) is not eaten for its great taste. In fact it's kibe (bitter), some say hapu (sour) and magically, naturally hapendatud (fermented) by the bee's secret ingredient, an amazing lactic acid bacteria (piim/happe/bakter).

If you're not a beekeeper (mesinik), you're most likely not familiar with many apiarian (mesinduse) terms, but it's a fascinating world, that yields products renown for their preventative and healing properties. Royal jelly is mesilas/ema/toite/piim ("queen bee feeding milk"), propolis is taru/vaik ("hive resin"), pollen = õie/tolm ("blossom dust") and pollination = tolmeldamine ("dusting", as in stirring it up, not whisking tolm off furniture). The Estonian terms paint quite a clear picture... A human-built hive is a taru or mesi/puu (honey tree!), while the bee's architectural feat within, the honeycomb = kärg. The suir is actually meant as a feast for the growing larvae (vastsed, sing. vastne) inside the comb's brood cells (kärje/kannud).

The origin of the word suir, (genitive suira) is unknown, says the brand spanking new 6600 word Estonian Etymological i.e. word origin Dictionary (Eesti Keele Instituut, 2012). What is known, is that bee pollen contains large quantities of iron, cobalt, phosphorus and calcium and is one of the richest natural foods containing selenium (others being para/pähklid (Brazil nuts) and kreeka/pähklid (walnuts), which helps detoxify the body. Suir is also an excellent source of potassium, B-group vitamins and amino acids, which are predigested for easy assimilation in the ratio that the human body needs, boosting the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin. Others who could benefit are those suffering from complications (tüsistused) resulting from inflammation of the prostate gland (ees/nääre) and high cholesterol.

Sõir does not claim to have such healing properties (ravi/omadused), instead, there is the threat of swallowing your tongue, as per the Estonian expression "viib keele alla", meaning it's so yummy, it'll take your tongue down in tow. Sõir is made of milk, quark aka fresh or curd cheese (not cottage cheese, that's kodu/juust in Estonian), butter, eggs, salt and caraway seeds. Sõir is always served at jaanipäeva, i.e. midsummer festivities in South-Eastern Estonia, but not only. Making pasha for Easter is somewhat in the same ballpark, but sõir is made by heating the ingredients, pasha is prepared cold and is sweet. Nami-nami.ee has many alternate recipes for making sõir, encouraging adding basiilik (basil), küüs/lauk (garlic), päikse/kuivatatud tomatid (sun-dried tomatoes), karu/lauk (wild garlic), petersell (parsley) and jõhvikad (cranberries). My trusty etümoloogia sõna/raamat says the word comes from the old Russian syru or current syr meaning cheese. The Livonian (liivi) word is sõira and Votic word, i.e. used by Votes in Ingria (Ingerimaa vadjalased) is suura.

Local cosmopolitan food blogger Pille Petersoo wasn't quite sure where you can buy sõir in Tallinn. She insists it's so easy to prepare, she's never even thought of buying it ready-made. Try it for your next get-together on a piece of rye näki/leib (crisp bread) with some red pepper jelly and an introductory granule of superpower suir on top.

Riina Kindlam, Tallinn

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