Chickens and Ducks (c. 1680) by Hondecoeter, Melchior d'Mauritshuis
“Some truth seen but by inward eyes”
Russian fairy tales are an important part of staging the national culture and dining traditions. Get to know more about what are the gastronomy specials coming from fairy tales. “Some truth seen but by inward eyes”: is the way Pushkin chose to end his tale The Golden Cockerel.
The Gigantic Turnip (21st Century) by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism
Fairy tales may seem outlandish,
but some things in them are real, such as food. What do characters in Russian folk tales cook or feast on? Enjoy our selection of folklore dishes in this first part of the exhibit with the well-known Russian fairytales characters.
Morozko (21st Century) by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism
'Bliny', the Crepes from Morozko Fairy Tale
'Morozko', a traditional folk tale, has an evil stepmother sending her kind and hard-working stepdaughter to the forest during a cold winter. There she meets Morozko, the ruler of the winter realm, who decides to test her endurance through cold.
Even though the girl is freezing, she still acts kind and polite, prompting Morozko to richly reward her. Thinking her stepdaughter gone, her evil stepmother makes the bliny, a dish to remember the dead. But the girl defies expectations and shows up alive and bearing rich gifts.
Pancakes for Maslenitsa (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism
The envious crone then decides to send her own daughter to the forest so that she, too, brings back valuable possessions. But the daughter is so aloof and rude that she fails Morozko’s test.
Historically, the bliny was a pancake-like dish made and consumed at a wake to pay homage to those no longer with us. This was the original reasoning behind making them at Maslenitsa, a traditional holiday meant to send off winter and welcome spring, where they served as an invitation for ancestors to join the sumptuous feast before Great Lent.
In the ploughed field. Spring (first half of the 1820s) by Aleksey VenetsianovThe State Tretyakov Gallery
Celebrations traditionally involved popular processions, entertainment, sledge rides and the burning of human-sized effigy symbolizing Maslenitsa.
The bliny would later lose any ritualistic connotations, and are now made year-round.
Dishes for Maslenitsa (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism
The dough is from flour, eggs, butter and milk with each cook having their own recipe for thicker or more delicate pancakes. The black caviar variety has long become Russia’s trademark holiday meal.
Vasilisa the Beautiful (21st Century) by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism
The Kvass Drink from 'Vasilisa the Beautiful'
In another take on an evil stepmother tale, Vasilisa the Beautiful is sent to Baba Yaga, a forest witch, to procure some fire. The witch agrees on the condition that Vasilisa helps her around the house and orders the girl to fetch some food from the stove and the cellar.
Vasilisa the Beautiful goes to the cellar and brings back some kvass. Kvass is a common Russian cuisine beverage. Brewed from malt or germinated wheat, rye or barley, but also from bread, honey or beetroot, and flavoured with fruits or berries, it was made all over the Russian Empire to a host of family recipes.
Old bread kvass with malt by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism
Regional varieties abounded with berries added in the frosty Karelia instead of apples, a favourite flavour in Kuban far to the south. Centuries ago, kvass was considered an alcoholic beverage and could be made strong or weak. Today, it is also a foundation for various cold soups, namely okroskha, botvinya or tyurya.
Honey (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism
Honey from 'Vasilisa the Beautiful'
Honey was another product that Vasilisa retrieved from the cellar. Originally, it was obtained from what the Slavs called bort, or a hollow tree inhabited by wild bees. Then came the invention of apiaries or bee farms.
Today, honey is a flavour, a treatment, and a treat that goes with tea or pancakes. It is extracted from lime trees, buckwheat, flowers, and even mustard. Many Russian folk tales end with a set expression that mentions honey drunk by the narrator. Yes, it’s true: in days of old, honey was also a beverage made by brewing honeycombs in hot water mixed with hops.
Glass of beer by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism
Honey is part of present-day drinks like sbiten and medovukha. Sbiten contains herbs and spices, while medovukha is brewed from yeast.
Traditional Russian mead can be savoured in Suzdal, which is a 4-hour drive from Moscow and home to a mead brewery.
Сabbage soup (shchi) (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism
Shchi Soup from 'Vasilisa the Beautiful'
In addition to the kvass and the honey, another dish that Vasilisa puts on the table is shchi. As a famous Russian saying goes, "Porridge and cabbage soup is but our native food". The soup, shchi, boasts centuries of history and is an inalienable part of Russian culture, its main ingredient is cabbage or sauerkraut with numerous recipes.
There were lean "poor" shchi that only contained vegetable and mushrooms. Other, thicker varieties, were called "rich" and contained fish or meat. What never changed was that shchi was a favourite with people from all walks of life and at every juncture of Russian history.
Сhief Сonsultant — Ekaterina Drozdova, restaurateur, gastronomic entrepreneur, food and social activist, Photo production — tm agency, Contributors — Proximity Russia, Denis Yershov, Alexandra Grigoryeva