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Russian Kasha: Secrets of Porridge
May 25, 2010 20:19

Porridge is undoubtedly a primordially Russian dish. Moreover, porridge is a cult dish. Following old Russian traditions, on wedding ceremony the groom and the bride necessarily cooked porridge. It is evidently this tradition that brought about the saying: “One cannot possibly cook porridge with him/her”. Even entire history of the Russian state is inseparably linked with porridge. So, Russian porridge can be justly called the most important dish of the national Russian cuisine.

"Muzhik cannot be full without porridge”, as the national Russian proverb goes. It is evident, for example, from Nikolai Gogol's famous Dead Souls, the episode with treating at the landowner Sobakevich’. Thus, porridge was often served to accompany schi (traditional cabbage soup) instead of bread.

Historically, Russia has always been an agrarian country. So, grains (and, to a lesser degree, legumes) have been the major product of Russian agriculture. Throughout centuries, and even millennia, the organism of the Russian person was formed and evolved on the basis of structural composition of cereals. In the course of their coexistence man and cereals have formed indissoluble unity.

Porridge is a very useful, nutritious, and tasty product, and at the same time inexpensive, which is quite important. Russians had nearly reverent feeling towards porridge. It was not simply a meal, but a ritual dish. No celebrations or holidays were possible without traditional Russian porridge on the table. It is remarkable that every significant event had a special ceremonial porridge pertaining to it.

Porridge was cooked for numerous events. In ancient Russian chronicles feasts are often referred to as “kasha”: for example on the wedding of Alexander of Macedonia "porridge was made up" twice – first time at the wedding in Troitsa and the second one during national merrymaking in Novgorod. Porridge was necessarily cooked on the occasion of starting an important undertaking. Hence is the expression “zavarit’ kashu” literally translated as “to boil up kasha” and meaning "stir up trouble". Porridge in Russia could even describe human relations. Thus, the saying “One cannot possibly boil kasha with him/her” is applied to an unreliable and uncompliant person.

Apart from cereal and pea porridges, the Russians cooked fish and vegetable porridges. There is also the famous Suvorov’s porridge.

As the legend says, during one of the distant campaigns, commander Suvorov was informed that they did not have enough cereals for porridge: there remained only little portion of different kinds of groats, such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, peas, etc. Then the great commander, without further ado, ordered to cook all the remaining groats together. Soldiers immensely liked "Suvorov’s porridge" and so the resourceful commander contributed to the development of Russian culinary art.

Modern dietology has confirmed that porridge made of several kinds of groats together is more useful, than porridge from one certain cereal, due to general combination of their useful qualities. Popular was the so-called “rejuvenating porridge” made of rye of milky-wax ripeness. It made an extremely delicious and fragrant porridge which had a wholesome effect and rejuvenated the body. There were three sorts of barley groats: pearl barley, when large grains were exposed to little polishing, the Dutch barley - smaller grains ground to white colour, and fine-ground barley of unpolished whole grains.

Fine-ground barley porridges were the favourite meal of Peter the First. He acknowledged it as “the quickest and tastiest”.

Great varieties of porridges were cooked in a very tasty way in Russia. Even on the dinner in honour of crowning of Nicholas the Second in 1883 the guests were served barley porridge, which had been declared by Peter I to be “Romanov’s favourite”. In order to ennoble the tsar’s favourite porridge it was even renamed into pearl porridge in the 19th century.

Another famous Russian porridge is “Gurievskaya kasha”. According to the legend, it was invented by a serf cook of Count Guriev. The porridge was served in the count’s house for dessert and unmistakably evoked genuine admiration of the guests. However its recipe was kept a strict secret. Gradually, however, cooks in many houses of the Moscow nobility learnt to make it, and cookbooks made it known far outside of Russia.

Very popular was spelt porridge, now almost forgotten; it was cooked from small groats made of spelt, or dinkel wheat. Spelt is a half-wild sort of wheat that was very widespread in Russia as early as the 18th century. Actually it grew by itself, and being not fastidious did not require any care. It did not bother about pests or weeds. In fact it supplanted any weeds. Though spelt porridge was rather rough, but very wholesome and nutritious. Gradually "cultural" grades of wheat forced spelt out, because it was hard to polish. It is notable that spelt came to Europe and America from Russia.

So why did Russians honour porridge so much? It seems that such ceremonial attitude to apparently simple food is enrooted in our heathen past. It is known from ancient manuscripts that porridge was sacrificed to gods of agriculture and fertility in order to ask for good harvest the next year. It goes without saying that gods were always offered the best things. It must be quite a pleasure to eat daily the meal that gods can have only once a year!

When people worked together in artel, porridge was cooked for entire artel. Therefore, for a long time the word "porridge" was a synonym to the word "artel". They used to say: "We are in one kasha" meaning “in one group”, something like the modern “we are a team”.

A huge variety of Russian porridges was first of all due to numerous grades of groats that were produced in Russia. From each grain culture several kinds of groats were prepared - from whole grains to those crushed in different ways.

Buckwheat porridge has always been the most favourite porridge in Russia. It can be justly called a representative of Russian traditional cuisine. Besides unground buckwheat used for friable porridges, there were also smaller ground groats.

For gourmets of that epoch the journal "House-keeper" of 1841 suggested a recipe of porridge made of roses: "Tear off some roses and grind the petals in a mortar until small; add an egg white and potato starch as much as needed to make the a dense dough. Then rub it through a sieve onto a dry board and dry it in the sun. Thus, you will get excellent groats. Boil it with cream to make porridge. You can add a little sugar if it is not sweet enough”.




Tags: Russian Cuisine Russian Porridge Russian Traditions Russian Breakfast  

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