Having read a biography of
Alexander Pushkin, I amused myself by creating a menu inspired by
Russian culture. This is a fun way to experience other cultures, and a nice way
to liven up boring winter food by having a party with new and different recipes.
Anyway, the Russians know how to deal with winter. So, here are a couple of
ideas for menus.
The first menu is for rich people (be warned: it’s not for the faint of
heart). Pushkin, reminiscing about the good old days of his youth in St.
Petersburg, remembers that they feasted on: champagne, rare roast beef,
truffles, Strasbourg pie, Limburg cheese and golden pineapple (or banana)(from Eugene
Onegin, I, xvi). Strasbourg pie is duck foi gras wrapped in bacon and baked
in a puff pastry. My reaction to this is Gah! no wonder Pushkin died young! although
actually he was shot.
The second menu is for fresh local country food which is much healthier. When
Pushkin stayed at his ancestral home out in the country, he typically had cabbage
soup with hard-boiled eggs, spinach or sorrel rissoles and gooseberry preserves.
All beginning Russian students learn the name of
Cabbage Soup Shchi because it is almost the only word in Russian that
starts with a certain letter of the Russian alphabet. This letter Щ is
transcribed as shch which is just one sound in Russian.
4 pints of vegetable stock
2 finely chopped onions
celery or celeriac chopped, to taste
1 lb shredded white
salt & pepper
1 teaspoon of flour (or cornstarch)
of sour cream (or cream or yoghurt if you prefer)
fresh dill or parsley,
hard-boiled eggs, optional
Cook the stock, carrots, onions, and
celery for 15 minutes.
Add cabbage and cook until tender. Add salt &
pepper. Take some stock and add the flour to make a paste. Stir the sour cream
into that. Pour this back into the soup, and bring to a boil, stirring all the
time. As soon as it comes back to a boil, stop cooking it. Sprinkle the dill or
parsley on top. Pushkin mentioned having hard-boiled eggs with this soup and
they can be chopped and added into the soup or sliced on the side.
Spinach or Sorrel Rissoles
Rissoles are vegetable patties that can
be fried in oil, like falafel or crabcakes. Actually they can be made of any
combination of vegetables or meat, such as shredded onions, carrots and potatoes
or ground meat. Spinach is grown in the garden, whereas sorrel is usually
gathered from the wild. This might be summer food in Russia, but we have spinach
all year round here.
1 lb of spinach or sorrel, cooked, mashed to a pulp and
strained (or just chopped coarsely)
knob of butter (British-speak for “about
Return to pan and add
1 oz of semolina or bread crumbs or
Add 1/4 pint of cream
2 egg yolks
salt & pepper
this all together, and then cook until the semolina is cooked and dry, and then
let it cool. Shape into rissoles (patties), and roll them in 1 beaten egg and
breadcrumbs (leave out if WGF) and fry them in oil. They can be eaten with a
sour cream sauce made from sour cream, butter, onion, and wine.
Gooseberries are great but they are not familiar
to Americans because for many years it was illegal to grow them because the
gooseberry bushes were host to a plant disease that killed white pine, an
important timber tree. Now it is legal to grow them and they are highly
recommended. They look like grapes but the plants will produce well in northern
countries, and no, they aren’t goose...berries (I know what you are thinking!)
Kissel is like a jelly or pudding, but with different ingredients (no gelatin).
It may be more or less runny depending on how much water is used to cook the
fruit (less water makes it stiffer). If it is runny, it can just be eaten from
the bowl. If it is fairly stiff it can be made in a decorative mold. The mold
should be rinsed in cold water and then sprinkled inside with sugar. The kissel
is poured in and more sugar is put on the bottom to keep it from forming a skin.
Then it is left to chill and then turned out like jelly on the plate.
lbs gooseberries (or use a can of gooseberries and reduce amounts of the other
bit of lemon zest
Cook in water until soft and put through a
Add 6 oz of sugar (about 2/3 of a cup)
Bring to a boil and add
T cornstarch (or potato starch) to make a paste.
Bring to a boil again,
stirring, for about 5 minutes. Chill in a bowl and put whipped cream on top.
Pushkin’s mother also sent him back to St. Petersburg with fruit jam
and fruit liqueurs. I like to have blackbread with butter and wild
berry jam. There is a wonderful baker hereabouts who makes gluten free
pumpernickel bread, or you can make buckwheat biscuits with raisins in them,
another traditional Russian food. The fruit jam is good in Russian tea, too. I
don’t need fruit liqueurs but I like to make fruit wine, so if it is a special
occasion, I might have rosehip wine or black currant wine made from fruit juice.
Other traditional Russian foods to round out the meal
herring with onions (goes well with vegetable soups)
salmon, poached in white
wild mushrooms in a jar
Drinks fruit wine, kumis, kvass, sweet tea beer, or tea, especially Russian tea. Making and drinking Russian tea is its own tradition, too involved to address here. But the basic recipe is Ceylon or Indian tea leaves with lemon, sugar and a spoonful of fruit jam stirred into it. We used to make a version when I was a child which had orange zest, a lemon slice, cinnamon, cloves and sugar, and probably included tang, seriously. This is very comforting on a cold winter day. [fuggle26]
Menus based on foods mentioned in the Pushkin biography by T. J. Binyon.
This page was originally at pierce.yolasite.com/pushmenu but Yola went out of business.
© 2007, last updated 3/21/2015, at piereligion.org/pushmenu.html