Pushkin Menu

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Pushkin Menu

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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.

Cabbage Soup

Chickpea Salad with olives 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
2 sliced carrots
celery or celeriac chopped, to taste
1 lb shredded white cabbage
salt & pepper
1 teaspoon of flour (or cornstarch)
1/4 pint of sour cream (or cream or yoghurt if you prefer)
fresh dill or parsley, minced
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 a tablespoon”)
Return to pan and add
1 oz of semolina or bread crumbs or cooked rice
Add 1/4 pint of cream
2 egg yolks
salt & pepper
Stir 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.

Gooseberry Kissel
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.
1 1/2 lbs gooseberries (or use a can of gooseberries and reduce amounts of the other ingredients)
bit of lemon zest
Cook in water until soft and put through a sieve
Add 6 oz of sugar (about 2/3 of a cup)
Bring to a boil and add
2 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
pickled herring with onions (goes well with vegetable soups)
salmon, poached in white wine
sunflower halvah
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]

Reference
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