Do you know about bacon rolls?
They are delicious little nuggets of bread dough stuffed with a sweet onion and bacon mixture. My sister Laurie’s mother-in-law, Aina Rans, immigrated to Canada from Latvia after WWII and along with her many talents she brought this recipe with her.
Canada’s Latvian community is scattered far and wide across our land but wherever you find a person of Latvian descent, you will find a version of this treasured and very tasty recipe. For my sister’s family, this Latvian specialty has become a Canadian Christmas tradition. I’ll share Aina’s recipe and Laurie and her husband Zig’s photos here.
When Aina Rans immigrated she was escaping Russian oppression of her small Baltic country. She came to Montreal alone and learned French and English while working as a head cashier at Steinberg’s grocery store by day and in a little restaurant on St. Catherines St. by night.She made friends, met her husband and moved to a mining town in Northern Quebec. She lost her husband and had to raise their two small sons on her own.
Aina had a cousin in my hometown in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick where she decided to relocate with her two boys. There were a few Latvian families there who worked as tailors and cooks so Aina came and worked as a cook at the local nursing home.
Aina’s food was delicious. She liked the work and the people. She adored her boys and the family thrived and enjoyed great friendships in this small Maritime town. Aina’s neighbours looked out for her. She had a little dog and a lovely home. She was a large strong woman before age robbed her of her stature. The boys called her Momma Rusinzkunz (spelled phonetically) which means Mrs. Roly Poly. She laughed. She absolutely loved that.
Years later, after she’d retired, my brother-in-law Zig, moved to Jasper with my sister and Aina’s youngest three grandchildren. They invited Aina to come so she moved right along with them. She adored her years in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. She loved the dryness of the climate, the mountain air and the light. She made friends in her senior’s apartment complex and kept her own place spotless while also helping my sister most days. Aina would quietly show up at my Laurie and Zig’s to visit, do a bit of laundry, make some soup or supper and devote herself to her grandchildren.
Aina moved with Laurie and Zig’s family to Ontario and back to New Brunswick. She was especially close to her youngest grandchild – Julija. Their bond was strong until the day Aina died this past March.
I hope you enjoy Aina’s recipe for these bacon rolls and the photos supplied by my sister and brother-in-law. She was kind, cheerful and courageous. She contributed to the lives of many elderly people by cooking wonderful food for them at the nursing home. She adored her family and made the world a friendlier place despite or perhaps because of having narrowly escaped her country under Soviet rule.
I’m glad I knew Aina. No matter what life served up, she was able to savour it all.
Aina’s Bacon Rolls – (aka Piragi or Piradzini) – A Rans family Christmas tradition
Time: 6 – 7 hours including rising and baking time
Yield: 60 portions
6 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups warm milk
¾ cup butter (melt it in the warm milk)
4 eggs – divided (3 then 1 egg, beaten and set aside)
¾ Tablespoons sugar
¼ cup warm water (100°F)
2 packages traditional yeast (1 ¾ – 2 Tablespoons)
3 ½ – 4 lbs bacon – cut in very thin slices
2 large finely chopped sweet white onions
Insert the dough hook on your stand mixer and add the flour, sugar and salt and pulse the machine to mix togehter then add the butter and milk mixture followed by the eggs.
Follow the instructions on the packages of yeast to combine it with the sugar and warm water and then add that mixture to the dough.
Knead the dough 6 to 8 minutes with the dough hook.
Remove the dough hook; transfer the dough to a large bowl covered with a tea towel and let the dough rise until doubled – about 45 minutes – in an oven with the light on as a source of heat.
Fry the bacon and onion together in a large frying pan over low heat for about 45 minutes– slowly allowing the fat to render and the onions to soften.
Drain the fat from the pan and set the bacon and onion mixture aside to cool.
Separate the risen dough into 4 balls.
Roll each of these balls between your hands and the table to form long strips about 1 inch in diameter.
Cut each of the strips into 1-inch segments and then roll each of these segments into ball shapes about the size of a “toonie”. There should be 60 of them.
Line the balls up on your counter, cover them with a tea towel and let them rise for about 30 minutes.
Flatten each ball and add 1 teaspoon of the bacon mixture.
Fold the dough to create a half-moon shape and pinch the edges and lightly roll each before placing them on parchment paper lined baking sheets.
Cover each baking sheet with a cloth to allow them to rise again for about 20 minutes.
Brush each ball with the remaining egg that’s been beaten in a bowl.
Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Enjoy on their own as a snack or appetizer or with salad, soup or chowder.