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Russian New Year's Feast
December 15, 2011 13:33

Whence is the tradition to meet the new year at a festive table? What dishes did great-grandmothers and grandmothers of modern Russians cook for this holiday? In the very beginning, in the epoch of Peter the Great who decreed to celebrate the New Year on the night of December 31st to January 1st, the main thing on this holiday was not the table, but dancing. For dinner, supper and breakfast our ancestors had... only dances and drinks to satisfy thirst.

Almost until the middle of the 19th century there was no Russian New Year's menu, and what is now considered an integral part of the New Year's table - all those suckling pigs stuffed with buckwheat cereal and geese with sauerkraut or apples - actually was adopted from Christmas feast traditions. In the early 19th century the cuisine was not complicated. Even in houses of the nobility New Year's table could have pickled cucumbers and mushrooms, radish salad and the like. Also they would feast on pigs, veal fricassee, fried poulardes, and boiled trout in wine. Special delicacy was fruit - apricots, oranges, grapes and pears. At that time greenhouses were fashionable and fruits were planted in the middle of winter in Petersburg and Moscow. The New Year's menu of the second half of the 19th century already included salmon, caviar, tittlebat and vendace, and cheeses – along with the same radish and pickles. Mushrooms for some reason fell out of favor, giving place to cod and water-melons. Game competed with roasted pig in buckwheat cereal.

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Time of soft drinks, ice-cream and cognacs came. At the turn of the 20th century French, Spanish, Italian and German wines were popular. In imitation of champagne our ancestors already made Don sparkling wines. Certainly, they also drank vodka, berry and fruit liqueurs, and German and Russian home-made beer. By the early 20th century anchovies, lobsters, and sardines started to appear on the New Year's table. It did not dispense with the notorious pig and goose with apples, but hazel grouses and turkeys already competed with them. On Christmas days 250 thousand pigs, 75 thousand turkeys, 110 thousand geese, 260 thousand hens and ducks were sold in Petersburg in 1912.

After the Revolution celebration of the New Year was cancelled. But still people celebrated it secretly. However, it was possible to dance only very quietly, not to wake up neighbors. This is when the habit to sit at the table on this night was probably generated. The food was scarce and poor. However, people tried to decorate the fir tree (forbidden by revolution) with nuts wrapped in gold and silver foil and apples.

The New Year was rehabilitated in 1936, together with night dances. The Soviet New Year's table was far from being cordon bleu – sliced sausage would serve as embellishment and luxury. In the wartime 1940s the New Year was celebrated with vodka, boiled potato and herring decorated with onion ringlets.

Cooking tour in Soviet Dacha with interactive excursion

Interactive excursion to Soviet Dacha with lunch in Russian style

In the postwar 1950s life became easier. It was no more reprehensible to celebrate the New Year. And it became possible to get together for bigger New Year parties. They started to have broth jelly, dressed herring, and Baltic sprats. It was the second coming of the Russian salad – this time with doctor sausage instead of hazel grouse. It would be mixed in a large basin and generously dressed with mayonnaise. Pig, goose or duck were desirable, but not obligatory. It became a New Year tradition to open a bottle of Soviet Champagne when the Kremlin bells are chiming midnight.

In small Soviet apartments the festive table would occupy entire room, and so people had to choose between dances or meal. With the advent of TVs the table won for good and all. Presently, however, it seems to be the time for another breakpoint. Russian salad has ceased being the star turn of the New Year's table. And we don't want to cook jellied meat all New Year’s night long. It is no longer necessary after all. One can now order in a restaurant some delicacies like baked duck, sturgeon stuffed with mushrooms, herbs and shrimps, and what not.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: New Year Russian Holidays Russian Cuisine   

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