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History of Russian Cuisine
July 20, 2010 16:12

Before the 17th century Russian cuisine was quite plain and natural, without any gourmet luxuries. It was based, as a rule, on turnip and cabbage, cooked in different combinations and in all possible ways, often flavoured with spices. Russians also consumed all sorts of fish, as well as berries, mushrooms and numerous porridges (kasha). Fasting was an integral part of living, in accordance with the lent schedule prescribed by the Orthodox Church. About 216 days a year it was improper to eat meat and milk products.

Instead there was an abundance of fish dishes (fish was cooked, baked, dried, smoked, salted and fried) and dozens of grades of caviar, not to mention vegetables and cereals.

Unfortunately, not so many records of exact recipes of ancient and medieval dishes of the Russian cuisine have come down to us. The first known cook book in Russian history dates back to 1547, but it has only enumeration of dishes, without disclosure of components or a way of preparation. The majority of records still remain unresolved by modern researchers.

However, some recipes seem to be unfading: Russian pancakes (bliny), porridges (kasha), stuffed pies (pirogi), spice cakes and rye bread (black bread), the recipes of which almost have not changed throughout centuries.

The 17th century brought the Tatar dishes to the table of common Russians. It was one of the consequences of the Russian conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan, as well as taking Bashkiria and a part of Siberia. This is when the well-known Russian meat dumplings (pelmeni) and noodles came to be. Besides, the nation developed a habit of tea-drinking to such an extent that today it can be considered a national drink, rather than vodka, as many people believe. That alcoholic drink appeared later and was brought from China. Besides, a variety of spices was imported to Russia in the 17th century and added tons of bakery food recipes. Besides, there was time when Korean style grated carrot and grated black radish with pepper were devised.

The nobility also ate all kinds of fish and game. Hunting was very popular among the nobility; birds and animals were cooked as a whole. Sometimes dishes were so huge that three or four servants were required to bring them in a dining room. The dinner could last up to eight hours as dishes went on arriving!

The cuisine fashion was sharply changed in the 18th century. It became fashionable among Russian aristocracy to employ foreign cooks, mainly from France. Using a combination of Russian recipes and their own methods of cooking, those cooks brought new understanding of the traditional Russian cuisine, which later became standard in Europe and America there were even Russian cuisine courses. Instead of serving all the food at once, (as the custom had been), now the dishes were served in turn. Soups became the first course, followed with salads accompanied by the main course and drinks. French cooks suggested to cut meat, game and fish into pieces before cooking them, and introduced into Russian cuisine thick soups and lighter dishes with lesser amount of fat and wheat. At the same time there appeared the first Russian home-made sausages, cutlets, and T-shaped bone stakes, together with exact recipes and the trick of mixing many products into one dish.

In due course, the Russian cuisine became more complicated and refined. Even in the Soviet period with its tendency to simplify substantially everything, the variety of recipes used in daily Russian cuisine was not reduced. On the contrary, daily food menu during that period was enriched with traditional recipes from 15 republics of the Soviet Union.

The tsar of the Russian cuisine is, certainly, the soup. The range of soups is huge borsch (beetroot soup), shchi (cabbage soup), solyanka (a spicy soup of vegetables and meat or fish), salamata, pottage, botvinia (cold soup of fish, pot-herbs, and kvas), etc. And each of those has tens of versions! French writer Alexander Duma was so impressed by the traditional Russian cabbage soup (shchi) that he asked for the recipe and included it into his private cookbook.



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