Pirog and Other Specials of Central Russia

Everything can be wrapped in a pirog as they say

By Federal Agency for Tourism

Tula gingerbread by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Pryaniki

It is customary in Russia to gift pryaniki stamped with wooden imprints, serve them at tea or buy them as souvenirs in places that are famous for their gingerbreads. As the Russian name “pryanik” suggests, the dough has a lot of spice and is usually based on honey. Contemporary fillings include diverse jams and condensed milk.

Factory Honey traditions 3 by Medovye Traditsii FactoryFederal Agency for Tourism

The most famous pryaniki are from Tula, a city not far from Moscow, where they have been baked since the 17th century, a history tracked by the local Pryanik Museum.

The display features all the main pryanik varieties that have been made over the last 150 years, including those imprinted with the name of whoever was to receive the gift or those with birthday greetings. 

Factory Honey traditions 2 by Medovye Traditsii FactoryFederal Agency for Tourism

Some of those gingerbreads were baked in various shapes to mark festivals, holidays and important dates. The biggest item in the collection weighs 50 kilograms.

Great Salt Lake (1948-06) by Fritz GoroLIFE Photo Collection

Black Kostroma Salt

A regular on the home Easter menu is the black Kostroma salt. It is sometimes called after Good Thursday when it would be made by burning the usual salt with kvass malt and rye flour in a traditional Russian stove.

The product was then served with dye eggs or in other dishes. Today, black salt can be purchased in Kostroma and at the salt museum on Solyanoy Island by Yaroslavl, where you can also learn about old ways of salt making. 

KompotFederal Agency for Tourism

Belyov Pastila

On a bumper year for apples, Russians with a countryside house and a garden in the central region will make dozens of preserve jars with all manner of apple jam, dried and soused apples and vegetable preparations, such as courgette caviar, with apple flavour.

When glass jars were expensive, the best way to preserve apples was to bake them in a Russian stove, grate them, whip the puree with egg whites or simply sugar and use the same stove to dry the resulting layers.

Dish of Apples (ca. 1876–77) by Paul CézanneThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

The amber-coloured apple sheets were called “pastila” from a Russian word that meant “arrange in layers in a stove”. One of the major production centres has been the town of Belyov in the Tula Region, famous for making layered pastilas by putting one pastila sheet on top of another before cutting the mass in pieces or by adding berry-made pastila on top of an already finished product. 

The production is still in place with guided tours available to explore the process in minute details.

Pie by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Russian Pies: Pirogi and Kulebyaki

An old proverb says that everything can be wrapped in a pirog or pie, which is actually true given the multitude of fillings in Russian cuisine that range from potato, cabbage and meat, to fish, berries, fruit, celery, hard boiled eggs, fried onion or “just so” - that is, with flour ground with sugar and butter and no filling. 

Karavai (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

 The traditional Russian pastry is called “sour” because it is based on yeast, but the shortcrust and puff varieties are in use today as well. Larger pies or smaller buns just large enough for a few bites or more, depending on one’s tastes, are served with tea, soups, consumed as snacks or baked for special occasions.

Composition with fish (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

Kulebyaka are a separate kind of pirog, often a high closed variety made from yeast dough with a layered filling, usually fish. Given how hard it is to make one, it usually takes a bold cook to venture. 

Pancakes with caviar (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

Bliny, the Pancakes

Russian bliny pancakes are made and eaten fast. A myriad of additions include jam, sour cream, herring or other salty fish, all manner of caviar, hard boiled eggs with onions, and honey. Some fillings, such as hard boiled eggs, green onion, or cabbage may be fried together with the bliny themselves in a fashion called “pripyok”. 

Dishes for Maslenitsa (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

Maslenitsa, a traditional Slavic festival, is, without a doubt, the season of bliny, and is celebrated the week before the Lent, which, in turn, will last for 40 days to end in Easter. This festival had a great many customs.

Pancakes for Maslenitsa (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

Some of those survived, including making bliny, visiting friends and family, and engaging in outdoor activities on the last day of the week that culminates in the burning of the Maslenitsy effigy as a way of giving a send-off to winter. 

Pancakes with ice cream and condensed milk by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

The Maslenitsa week sees restaurants and cafes put together special bliny menus that offer a chance to savour most bliny varieties. 

Old bread kvass with malt by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Traditional Drink Kvass

The most traditional Russian beverage with a characteristic sour taste, Kvass is first mentioned in the 10th century. Far from being just a drink, its numerous uses ranging from a seasoning agent for meat before roasting, to a flavour for soups, and even a source of aroma steam in banyas or Russian saunas where it would be spilt on hot stone.

For centuries, kvass would be produced from malt or sprouted seeds that would be dried in a stove, watered and left to ferment producing a sour drink with a bread aroma. There are thousands of recipes. 

Kvass (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

Kvass may be made from rye, oats, buckwheat, wheat, a mixture of various cereals and malts, or fruits, including apples. It may be flavoured with fruits, too, or herbs. Many factors influence fermentation which explains weak (1-2%) alcohol content in some homemade drinks.

In the Soviet Union, kvass was mostly made from dried rye bread and later from specially manufactured malt concentrate that yielded increased sweetness and tinted it dark-brown leaving it unlike the traditional varieties popular before the 20th century. This is what Russians call kvass today enjoying a cold drink on a hot summer day in much the same way as their ancestors 300 years ago.

Kvass will also be used to flavour cold vegetable soups such as okroshka or botvinya. Production of the historical white kvass and its many varieties is slowly being revived. Homemade or commercial products have also been used in making cocktails a la russe at bars and restaurants. 

Mushrooms by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Mushrooms

Even though not endemic to Russia, certain species of mushrooms, including the salty milkcaps and red pine mushrooms, are traditionally considered a national treasure. There are many mushroom varieties in central Russia, including penny buns and so on. 

Primutka with dry mushrooms by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Less noble varieties, such as Russula, Lactarius and Paxillus, are usually foraged by aficionado mushroom pickers.

Mushrooms by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

In late summer and autumn, when the weather is warm and humid, the markets are overflowing with penny buns, aspen mushrooms, brown cap boletuses and chanterelles. 

Primutka with dry mushrooms by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

The mushroom season marries dining in to dining out in the selection of top picks that include fried potatoes with mushrooms, mushroom soups and pies.

Honey by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Honey

Honey varieties are classified by the kind of plant that the bees have taken most of their nectar from. In Central Russia alone, there are dozens of varieties: sunflower, sweet clover, buckwheat, linden, cornflower, pumpkin, motherwort, apple, herbal, and so on. 

A jar of linden honey coupled with dried raspberry, for example, will be stashed away to face an occasional winter cold prepared. Most often, however, honey will be consumed at tea or used for desserts or pastry. 

Adyghe cheese by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Kostroma and Uglich Cheese

During the Soviet era, the Russian town of Uglich founded a Research Centre for Cheese Making, which ended up developing almost all Soviet cheese varieties from Kostroma to Altai, most of which continue to be produced today.

None of these types of cheese undergo ripening, which results in a rather bland product still perfect for the most common Russian way of eating cheese by putting it on a toast with butter. 

Pickled mushrooms by Alrxander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism

Pickles

It is hard to imagine such traditional Russian recipes as rassolnik or fermented cabbage shchi without pickles or fermented foods. Pickling and fermentation are the most fashionable Russian ways to preserve food for a long winter ahead.

As such, nearly all foods in Russia may be salted. Unlike marinading in vinegar, a technique brought to Russia as late as the 20th century, pickling and fermentation rely on salt with an occasional addition of such spices as cumin, horseradish, or dill seeds, and are done in a container which is not hermetically sealed.

The process yields both pickles and brine which has its own culinary values and is used in brassolers soups. In addition to cabbages and cucumbers, the list of pickled options includes tomatoes, greens, courgettes, mushrooms, plums and even watermelons. 

Watermelons (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

In those regions that abound in watermelons, such as the Lower Volga or the south of Russia, they are pickled in chunks or whole by being pierced in several places. The final product is served as a side dish. Less or no salt is usually needed to ferment apples and berries with flavours such as honey, sugar, or rye wort in a process called 'mocheniye' or watering.

Sour shchi with meat by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Grey Shchi Soup

Green cabbage leaves may be chopped into squares and fermented in Russia’s northern and central regions to produce “kroshevo”, or a rougher variety of sauerkraut with a slightly different taste. Kroshevo is not a standalone food but an ideal foundation for a hearty and warm shchi.

Herring with onions and herbs by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Herring

One of Russia’s main hors d’oeuvre, herring can be consumed in its own right or with various garnishes. Many types of herring exist, just as there are many ways to pickle it. Some varieties are named after the source location, e.g. Olyutorsk, Caspian,  Astrakhan, or Solovetsk. 

Herring with cucumbers and onion by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Apart from “herring”, which is true in the biological sense, Russians also apply the name to the Coregonus tugun and to the European cisco, which also inhabits Lake Pleshcheyevo by Yaroslavl and can only be savoured in Pereslavl.

Credits: Story

Сhief Сonsultant — Ekaterina Drozdova, restaurateur, gastronomic entrepreneur, food and social activist, Contributors — Natalia Savinskaya, Anna Kukulina, Proximity Russia, tm agency, Denis Yershov, Yuliya Romashikhina 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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