top of page

Case study on implementation of  heritage plants preservation process in Latvian Open Air Museum

By Jolanta Platpīre, Latvian Open Air Museum

Open Air Museum of Latvia is one of the oldest outdoor museums in Europe.  Established  in 1924 it  has collected 118 historical buildings from all over Latvia. Riga and all of Latvia’s regions, Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Zemgale, and Latgale, are represented here. The buildings have been set up to give visitors a sense of Latvia’s rural landscape.

All photos from museum materials

The Museum

At the Open-Air Museum you can find farmsteads of Latvian farmers, craftsmen, and fishermen. They all contain permanent exhibitions – household and working tools, interior furnishings – which characterize the time period, the district, and the owner’s vocation. It is the  only place in Latvia where it is possible to view the similarities and differences of how people used to live in the various historical regions of Latvia. 

The museum also gives and insight on how people used to decorate their farmsteads as well as how people made a living. The project Growing Seed Savers in Museums  has highlighted another important mission of the  museum - to be  a place that inspires, reactivates, or even induces historical work, suggesting new topics or points of view for ancient gardening and captivating stories from the history of the gardens.

The New Landowners farmstead was chosen for the implementation of project activities due to  options to use  well-preserved historical evidence and  current research on garden planning, as well as the sound reflection of cultural and historical heritage both in the content and design of the hollows.

The Garden

Review of  the archive materials of the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum (OAML) was made at the early start of the project and evidences of the research on ancient gardens in the territory of Latvia carried out by OAML employees M. Goba and V. Rosenbergs in the 1970s was found and served as a future basis for project outcomes development.Studies have shown that the garden has l  been a beauty and ornament of the backyard since early times of museum history. Buildings surrounding  the museum   have been planted with deciduous trees, fruit trees, shrubs and flowers.

Leaf trees are one of the oldest types of greenery that go through centuries. Lime trees, chestnuts, ashes, willows, birches, birches, oaks, willows, hazelnuts and mountain ash were planted near the houses. Each tree on the farm had its own use. They were planted to protect the yard from cold winds, to provide shadow and reduce the risk of fire, because in the event of a fire, the foliage of the bushy trees was very good protection against the spreading of fire from one building to another. Bread was baked on maple leaves, juices were flowed from birches and maples in the spring, and a favorite birch of maple sap  drink was made from them, so as acorn coffee was made from oak acorns. Linden was planted especially for bees, because linden honey is one of the tastiest. Linden flowers were collected for tea and this tea was used against colds. Hazelnuts were planted to get hazelnuts, and hoops were made from hazelnut barrels. Rowan   was planted to protect the farm from evil spirits and witches. Conifers were not usually planted near ancient buildings because of the lightning strikes.

In the ancient times the only tree widely known was the apple tree.  Cherry , plum  and pear  trees have appeared later.  Apple trees were usually planted next to the house, in the middle of gardens,  in certain rows, or scattered. Cherries and small blue plums būkas  were planted along the edge of the garden, along the fence, along the road that led from the house to the highway.  Rarely grown large yellow plums and dark red-brown plums were planted directly in the garden between the apples.


The intensified establishment of orchards near  houses began with the regain  of   family houses  in the mid-nineteenth century. Already around 1885, in Kurzeme and the southern part of Vidzeme, about 90% of farms had larger or smaller orchards, and only about 10% of farms did not have them at all. Fruits in the 19th  and  the beginning of the 20th century  were mostly grown for own use and consumed fresh. 

 The pale pink roses near the house has  grown since old times. Other shrubs as  jasmine, lilac or snowballs  appeared in the plantations around the turn of the 19th century. Jasmine and lilac were planted both near the windows of the houses and along the fences. The flowers of the shrubs were not cut or broken at that time, they were meant only for splendour. 

Latvian farmsteads were also planted with colorful flowers. The flower garden was the pride of every good hostess. It was usually installed in front  or at the end of the house near the windows and doors.


Flower bed borders

In the beginning of 20th   the shapes of flower beds were very simple. Parallel to the wall of the residential building, near the windows, the earth was dug and an elongated, rectangular hollow was created. The beds were usually made so wide that the flowers could be easily planted on either side. If a larger flower garden was installed near the house, the flower beds usually tried to be created in different shapes: round, heart-shaped, triangular, cross-shaped, horseshoe-shaped, square-shaped.

At the end 19th century   the beginning of the 20th century, the most popular flowers were dahlias ( jorģīnes)  and helmet flowers. Poppies, calendula and cardboard roses are grown in almost every farm. Very often  the horseradish cress, broken hearts, emperor crowns, mycelium, irises,   white and red thistles were cultivated.  Red lilies, student carnations, white perches were   grown rarely.  Due to the beautiful white flowers,  the rhubarb was used as a flower in the past, which was not used for food at that time. In the gardens of the richest farmers already in the  end of 19th century and the  beginning of 20th century  flowers such  as asters, roses and  carnations appeared. The seedlings of these flowers were bought from the manor gardeners for big money at that time.

At the end of 19th century the borders of the flower beds  were only  weeded   or applied with sod. The grass growing on the sod was cut short. Later, whitewashed wicker was squeezed around the beds in a circle, or torn slits were squeezed vertically or crosswise. The scales were sometimes painted, for example in green colour. In later times  the borders of the hollows were covered with stones or pebbles.  Less often, the stones were painted.

During the first Latvian independence, potter Gustavs Ozoliņš (1866 - 1942), whose potter's kiln is located in the Open-Air Museum, made decorative flower bed borders from clay.  Also  for the flowers beds installed  within the framework of the Nordplus project “Growing Seed Savers in Museum”  the decorative borders made of clay will be applied. 


Herb use in Latvian cuisine

Latvians have always loved to eat delicious food. Even the simplest food - gray peas - Latvians used to cook with adding  of  leaves of garden cedar (bean mint), which enhances the aroma of legumes. Herbs have been grown in the territory of Latvia for a long time, as evidenced by Latvian folk songs, which mention such herbs as poppies, cumin, mint, hyssop,  oregano, as well as other wild plants. (Žukauska I. Garšaugu ģenētiskie resursi Latvijā. Agronomijas vēstis (Latvian Journal of agronomy) No.10.LLU, 2008.).

 Herbs were used not only as herbs but also as medical plants. For example, oregano was used to treat flu and colds,  tea was used for  improving the  heart rate  etc. 

The "Chronicle of Kurzeme” also gives an insight into the spices grown in the territory of Latvia in antiquity by  revealing what spices the Duke of Courland  and his entourage and service staff  340 years ago  used for their gastronomic needs  (Deputy of the Dukes of Kurzeme. - "Latvian Newspapers", No. 18, 05.05.1876.)

It shows that saffron, nutmeg, tomato grains, pepper, aniseed,  cumin, ginger, cloves were bought for money, but onions, mustard, horseradish and parsley roots were grown locally because no price is indicated for spices, as well as for cereals. 

In ''The first cookbook’' translated from German  by Christoph Herder (1747 - 1818) and published in Rubene in 1795  we find a very wide range of spices used in cooking e.g. anise, ginger,  nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, celery, cardamom, parsley, bay leaves, thyme, onions, garlic, mint, dill, cumin and other spices. In addition, the cookbook contains a recipe for storing parsley for the winter.

During the first state of Latvia, the cultivation of herbs and medical  plants was especially promoted. In 1934, a protective  custom tariff was introduced for plants that grow well enough in our agro-climatic conditions, and in 1936 a special law was passed on the cultivation, collection and selling  of herbs, and  the set price was established  for 140 herbs and medicinal plants  not exceeding  the prices they were purchased from producers. This made the cultivation of herbs and medicinal plants a profitable industry in Latvia. By 1939, herbs were grown on 554 hectares. 



Therefore, we decided to install a spice bed in the framework of the Nordplus project “Growing Seed Savers in Museum” next to the first exhibition building built during the independence of Latvia, where we will grow  spices that are most commonly used  as well as  some exotic herbs. The small spice bed  already  have  dill,  onions, chives, garlic, oregano, parsley, mint, hemp, thyme, rosemary and monard planted . The horseradish was planted  separately, because they are very fertile and will take up a lot of space in a small bed.

On the recommendation of Latvian permaculture workers, a 70 cm deep pit was dug in the sandy soil of the Open-Air Museum in autumn, filled with rotten  leves, horse manure, recently cut deciduous tree branches, hay, grass and tree leaves. It was topped with the black soil and   left alone until spring to settle. In the spring, additional blacks soil  was added to the bed. We got to remove the wall, because otherwise the birds would destroy  our plantations by  roaming the half-broken wall in search of insects and using it to twist their nests.

The arrangement of the spice bed reminded of the arrangement of the flower bed published on the portal Tāļumnieks recommends digging a 3-foot-deep pit in the intended bed, if the ground is not clayey, then fill one foot in the flower bed with clay and two feet with crushed firewood, broken sod and various other debris. (Tāļumnieks, Rota, No.19 07.05.1885.)

Gardens complement our exposure with plants that have long been grown by our ancestors and create an appropriate environment in which our ancestors lived. That is why it is very important to take care of the gardens near the exhibits, because the gardens are part of our exposition.


Use of spices in cooking

Traditonal and ancient herbs are also widely represented in the recipes of Latvian   national  and also contemporary cuisine.

For instance, Latvian traditional food- Jāņu cheese, which was eaten at every summer solstice, is  never possible without use of cumin. Fresh potatoes  after cooking and peeling were sprinkled with  finely chopped fresh dill. 

Horseradish was grated and eaten with fatty meat dishes, and used as a spice in pickling cucumbers. Onions, chives, garlic, parsley and dill were added to salads and soups. 

 In any case, the use of spices in the kitchen has been very diverse.

Buttermilk cheese:  0,61 l ( pusstops)   of buttermilk, 0,61l  of milk, 1 tablespoon of cumin, salt.

Pour the buttermilk into a deeper container and place in a warm place, boil the   milk and add it immediately to the buttermilk and keep it covered until the juices are clearly separated. Then pour the mass into a  fabric bowl, wait until it  run down to  dry, rub vigorously with a spoon and add 1 tablespoon of cumin and two teaspoons of salt. Make small cheeses, which are kept covered in a dry place until they are drained. (Marra Korts. Praktiska pavāru grāmata. Rīga, 1910., p.627)

Traditional Latvian food pea braids : 500 g of gray peas, 1 kg of potatoes, 300 g of smoked pork, 1 onion, 100 g of crushed hemp seeds, salt.

Potatoes and peas are first boiled separately. Gray peas  should be soaked 10 to 12 hours before cooking. Boiled potatoes are crushed, ground or blended. Then the same should be done   with boiled gray peas.  Use a stamp for potatoes use a stamp and a  blender  for gray peas. Mix the mass together. Cut the onion into fine cubes, fry  to the browns and then add the sliced meat. Sprinkle with pepper, if necessary salt and  fry everything for a few more minutes. Fried meat and onions, along with fat, add to the mash of peas and potatoes. Mix everything well again. Balls or lumps are made from the mass and then flipped  in the crushed hemp seeds. Pea  braids are ready! Should  be eaten immediately, served with kefir. 

Classic basil pesto: 500 g of  basil, 50 g of garlic, 50g  cedar nuts, 100 g Parmesan cheese, 400 ml of olive oil, 5 g of  freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, ground black pepper.

Only  the basil leaves can be used,   so  first start  with separating  from the stems. Then finely chop the leaves. When the leaves are chopped, they are sprinkled with salt and allowed to 'stick together' a little. Add the half amount of olive oil and blend it to the smooth consistency. To make the blending process  less difficult, add a few tablespoons of boiled, chilled water. There may be some fragments of leaves left, that's nothing.

Finely chop the garlic  or squeeze through a garlic press. Add crushed black pepper, finely grated Parmesan cheese,   garlic and chopped nuts to the herb mass. Add the remaining olive oil and mix thoroughly.

Taste and add  more salt, if needed. 

Then fill the jars and place in the refrigerator. (>padomi)

Green parsley leaves for winter preserves:

As long as its parsley leaves are still green and prickly in the autumn, cut off a good court,  wash  and finely chop. Then take a good butter,  heat it  up, throw in the chopped leaves there and bake a little together, then put it to  to rest for  one day. After taking it out again, you will find that some juice has soaked there. It  should be removed. Then the mass should be  reheated  again  and stored in jars.( Tā pirmā pavāru grāmata. Rubene, 1795.,p.143  .)

Mint sauce:  1 tablespoon sugar, 1 lemon juice or 3 tablespoons  of water diluted vinegar , 1 plate  of mint.

Thoroughly washed mint leaves grind in a meat or root grinder, grate with sugar, mix with lemon juice and serve with roasted or cooked lamb. (Zeltene; 15.07.1940.)

Herb butter. 

Mix 200 g of butter with 3 - 4 tablespoons of chopped herbs.

You can take a wide variety of herbs that are available in the garden or in  the market. The use of herb butter is very versatile, it can be placed in green food bowls, cold plates, etc.(Zeltene; 15.07.1940.)

Dill sauce. Take the delicate leaves of dill, cut into small pieces, add flour - cream sauce and cook together. (N.Bergs; Zemkopis; 25.08.1934.)

Horseradish ( mērdiķa)   butter. Stir and whisk 50 g  of peanut flour and 50 g of  grated horseradish . Allow to rest for five minutes or longer  and mix with 50 g of  rhubarb juice or 30 g of  apple juice if rhubarb is not available (“Nākotnes Sieviete,” Nr. 11 – 12; 01.11.1927.).

Onion soup: 100 g of  butter, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 6 onions, 1.5 l beef broth, 2 tablespoons  of sherry, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, salt and pepper, French baguette, 100 g melted grated cheese, 50 g grated hard cheese

Preparation: Melt the butter together with the olive oil in a saucepan or deep pan. Cut the onions in half and simmer until translucent and soft. They must not be burnt or    brought to brown. Add the broth, sherry, thyme, salt and pepper. Boil by  stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. The soup is poured into heat - resistant pots with  sliced baguette  with  cheeses placed on the top.  Then put in the oven on the grill mode until the cheese has melted.

bottom of page