An ode to verivorstid

Sappho gave us Ode to Aphrodite. Beethoven composed the musical setting for Ode to Joy. John Keats praised a songbird in Ode to a Nightingale. But seemingly nobody has paid poetic homage to those odd little Estonian verivorstid (blood sausages). And frankly, that’s a tragedy.*

Traditionally the centrepiece of the Estonian Christmas Eve meal, verivorstid are a mixture of pork, barley, animal blood, and spices. The filling is stuffed in casings and the links are boiled until firm and then roasted to a crispy crimson black. A rather unique treat, they deserve a bookmark in poetic lore. So with all apologies to the masters, let’s recognise these Estonian oddities with an Ode to Verivorstid.


Verivorstid, verivorstid you are so very

Dear to me on each Christmas Eve

Such a treat next to the lingonberry

Without you a Yule I could not conceive

Best washed down with a Saku brew

‘Cause suds so complement your spices

To verivorstid I pledge my love anew

Truly, you are one of my vices


And so I ask, what Christmas fool would eat plain ol’ ham

Instead of barley, cow blood, and marjoram

My verivorstid epiphany, when I realised what those freakish little links were truly about, occurred one early December morning in my childhood. Leaving my toys behind to fetch a drink, innocent and unaware, I wandered into the kitchen.

And there they were: my mother, godmother and grandmother had gathered around the table. Three ladies, with blood-coated hands and blood-splattered aprons, mixing some unknown concoction in a small tub. Kitchen utensils, gleaming on one end and dripping gore from another, lay scattered like a surgeon’s tools in an operating room. The witches of wurst carefully added ingredients and stirred their mysterious stock.

My first reaction – there had been a murder. No, an accident. No, definitely a murder. How else to explain all the blood everywhere coupled with the blatant lack of concern. Why wasn’t anyone calling an ambulance?

Stifling a scream, I watched. One lady would stretch a flat hog casing over the small end of a funnel. Another would hold the funnel steady against the slip of a bloody hand. The third accomplice would pack the other end of the funnel with the sausage filling, slowly stuffing the intestinal wrapper. An assembly line most macabre, like some sort of low-budget Henry Ford inspired horror movie.

For many years, I was ruined. No verivorstid on my Christmas Eve plate. I would pass over the serving platter with a suspicious eye. Potatoes, yes. Sliced pork, sure. Pirukad (pies), bring them on. Bovine hemoglobinwurst, no thank you. And so it went – me with a conspicuously empty spot on my plate, and my parents assuredly wondering if their Estonian child had been switched at birth with some southern European.

But years later, after much soul searching and a convenient mental block of that dreadful December day in my childhood kitchen, I came around. It probably started with a nibble. Maybe a small forkful followed by a long drink from my glass, later progressing to timid helpings. Enthusiastic mouthfuls and requests for seconds followed later still.

Estonian blood sausages, known as verivorstid.

Today, I look forward to verivorstid. I typically get at least two helpings, one at our local Estonian clubhouse Christmas party and another on a cold and dark Christmas Eve. I feel a connection to the old country when the oven opens and the sausages appear, bursting and charred, under a layer of crispy bacon. 

In an instant I can imagine peasants of yore, culinarily efficient and creative, not wanting to waste any part of the animal. I am transported back in time, to a farmhouse in Elva, and I embrace the scene, grab my fork, and acknowledge both my appetite and my ancestry.

It’s always fun to explain this tradition to my friends with roots in other parts of the world. They typically ask a few questions about taste and texture. Some ask about the source of the blood. Others ask for more information about the sausages’ history. None ever ask to be invited over for a sample.

And then there are my vegetarian and vegan friends. When exchanging stories of Christmas traditions the reaction to verivorstid is not quite revulsion, but something pretty close. What’s one to do though? I suppose a vegetarian recipe for blood sausages could be concocted. But as I’m sure true verivorstid enthusiasts would agree, soy sausages infused with a beet juice reduction and served under a layer of tofu bacon just wouldn’t cut it.

So this Christmas Eve, sing the “Ode to Verivorstid” before enjoying a plate full of Estonian blood sausage links. They are as much a part of the holiday as Christmas Eve mass, jolly fat guys in fuzzy red suits and decorated felled trees.

But be forewarned – as the old saying goes, sausages are like laws, you should never watch either being made.

Häid jõule kõigile! (Merry Christmas to all!)

Cover: A dish with an Estonian blood sausage. Picture by VisitPärnu. * Please note that this article was originally published on 23 December 2013.

10 thoughts on “An ode to verivorstid”

  1. In Boston, we would often host a large group of folks over to make them. Yes, a literal sausage party.
    What I found the grossest was that all of the women’s nail polish would be gone by the end of the process. In other words, the blood was so acidic it would strip the polish off…

  2. My mother’s family is from Rõngu, not far from Elva, your memories of verivorst are so similar to mine, especially bacon-wrapped.

    I am SO looking forward to Christmas Eve!

  3. What a joy to read this little essay, homage to the humble verivorst. Brings back true treasured memories. All the best to you in the New Year, Andres Simonson.

  4. I never understood my mother’s appetite for these sausages, but I think she would certainly have enjoyed this essay describing them. I wish she were still here to enjoy verivorstid.

  5. I did not know about my mother’s love of blood sausage until I was 29, a newlywed whose mom had come to stay for Christmas.
    She got her hands on some blood sausage, and my husband prepared it for her on Christmas Eve. Still thankful he will cook and eat almost anything!

  6. Ah, I so miss lingonberries ! Not sure about the rest of the lovely meal, but can’t wait to eat some lingonberry jam with everything! Thank you for a wonderful story.

  7. Love this. my best friend is an Estonian American..and each year she makes verivorstid. Her sister in law does it in a group and the LA Estee Maja does their own. A big deal/celebration just as you mentioned. They too are enthusiastic estophiles,. LA, San Francisco–bay area, and other enclaves. All so good..

  8. A warm hello and a huge ‘thank you’ for the read from the Southern Highlands, south of Sydney, Australia ! Hate to tell you that at age 86 I have to count myself amongst all the ‘mothers’ talked about here . . . heavens above !! But am talking first hand . . . Am an ardent foodie and have been an international food blogger for more than a decade. Cook 70% Asian right across the board plus Middle-Eastern, North African and other Mediterranean. BUT, well remember what a real ‘verivorst’ looks like and how it tastes – have truly enjoyed this Yule present from you ! Oh, the British naturally love their ‘black pudding’ . . . methinks that is a very ‘pale’ version of real ‘verivorst’ !!! Actually at this time of the year I rather enjoy myself ‘teaching’ all my friends how to make breakfast ‘vere pannkoogid’ out of still warm pig’s blood and have it with a big foaming glass of sour milk !!!!!Well, it is truu . . . isn’t it . . . and then one can talk of black bread and spicy anchovies eaten head, bones and all and go onto pickled cucumber and veal kidney soup et al ! Rather fun to get the world to remember a tiny Baltic country ! Oh – I am a Tallinn-gal, Kaupmehe Street and all that . . . . Happy Christmas . . .

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