All human life is here
"Everything in the sauna has both a practical and a spiritual purpose," clarifies Eda. That's not quite the impression you would get from visiting an average gym sauna today. Yet throughout history, the sauna has always been a multi-functional space — serving the needs of humans to survive and thrive in this sometimes challenging landscape, and ultimately understand who they are.
Remember that space on the top bench beneath the smoke? There is indeed a good reason why it might be needed, even during the heating process. That is the traditional place of birth and healing for Estonians since long before hospitals were available. The sauna could be lightly heated at the same time to provide some comfort.
And the sauna is not just for humans. Animals, such as chickens, would shelter inside here too — just not when it's being used for bathing. And, after their life, they would be cooked and smoked there too. This is the main produce of Mooska talu. Their sauna-smoked meat is sold at markets across Estonia, although the occasional car would pull up during our visit in order to buy it directly from from them too.
Unsurprisingly, Estonia's modern commercial food hygiene rules are a little less enthusiastic about preparing food in the same space where people bathe. There is a loophole though. Here, and at other commercial providers, a separate sauna has been built just for smoking meat.
Pork is most commonly smoked in the sauna, but lamb, poultry and venison are also commonly prepared there in the Võru region. The smoking process is complex and infused with old traditions. It's a skill that's passed down through generations. The meat is soaked in salty water for at least a week then placed in the sauna either on special shelves or hooks from the ceiling, first with the rind facing the floor.
The smoking process lasts two to three days. During that time, the fire is kept alive and the meat is periodically turned in order to get just the right exposure to both heat and smoke simultaneously.