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History and Features of Russian cuisine.

2 december 2016

Russian cuisine has come a long way of development, which can be divided into several stages.

Ancient Russian cuisine from IX to a XVI centuries.

It's quite a long period associated with the following main events in the history of Russia:

All these events, of course, impacted on the Russian national cuisine development.

At the beginning of this period the Russian bread made from yeast rye dough appeared typical for Russian cuisine throughout all its development. Till nowdays Russian menu is unthinkable without bread on the table. At the same time any other typical Russian flour products appeared: loaves, pies, bagels, pancakes, hash browns, juicy bread, donuts, etc. These products were also prepared on the basis of sour dough.

Addiction to the sour meals was also reflected in the creation of kissels - oat, wheat and rye, emerged long before the modern berry kissels. Around the same time classic Russian drinks appeared  - various kvas, honey, sbiten.

Bread and kvas

A great place on the menu took a variety of cereals, which were originally ritual, a solemn meal. For example, buckwheat cultivation and buckwheat cereal cooking came to Russia from Byzantium. This was associated with the establishing in X c. trade route "from the Vikings to the Greeks." From there the variety of spices came to Russian cuisine: coriander, bay leaf, black pepper and cloves, known since ancient times in Asia and the East.

Buckwheat porridge, dried apricots, nuts

Cereal food supplemented with fish, vegetables, mushrooms, wild berries, milk and rarely with the meat. Fish cuisine was developed in Russia due to the abundance of freshwater and marine fish from the North Sea. Culture of vikings — the Scandinavian nations, whence came the first Russian kings, had an impact on the Russian cuisine formation, mainly in the use of marine fish. The fish was ate salted, dried, boiled, baked and rarely fried. Fish soup — ear could  be from sterlet, burbot, perch or ruff, etc...

Baptism of Russia in time of King Vladimir started the Russian table separation onto lean one (vegetable-fish-mushroom) and skoromny (milk-egg-meat). It had a huge impact on the further Russian cuisine development. Separation of skoromny and meatless products led to the creation of some original dishes, although in general the menu became monotonous and simplier.

Since most of the days in a year, from 192 to 216, was meatless, assortment of lean table was expanded. Hence the abundance of crops, mushroom and fish dishes, using vegetables, wild berries and herbs. Vegetables such as cabbage, turnips, radishes, peas, cucumbers, are known in Russia since the tenth century. They are prepared and eaten — raw, pickled, steamed, boiled or baked.

Russian pickles

Therefore, such dishes as salads and vinaigrettes were never typical for Russian cuisine, and appeared in Russia only in XIX century, as a borrowing from the West. But they were initially made with one vegetable — cucumber salad, beet salad, potato salad, etc...

Each species of mushrooms salted or cooked separately, what is practiced up to nowdays.

The variety of dishes was achieved by heat or cold treatment and by the usage of different vegetable oils: hemp, walnut, poppy and much later — sunflower, as well as spicy addition, such as onions, garlic, horseradish, dill, parsley, anise. Later in the XV — XVI centuries, they have added ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and saffron, which was caused by the Asian influences during the Mongol-Tatar yoke.

During this period of the Russian cuisine formation develops a tendency to use liquid hot dishes, named "hlebova". Such hlebova as cabbage soup — shchi, pottage from raw vegetables, different types of flour soups: zatiruhi, zavaruhi, mash, salomat became very popular.

Russian schi with pies

The meat and milk were consumed rarely, and with very simple processing. The meat is mainly consumed boiled in soup or gruel. Milk was consumed raw, stewed or soured, as cottage cheese or sour cream, but cream and butter remained unknown till XV-XVI centuries.

Every kitchen is also characterized by tableware, cutlery and accessories. Due to the geographical and natural features of ancient Russia, these items were made primarily of wood and clay. Initially, these items played a purely utilitarian role and were not decorated. Although pottery and bark products already at that time were made with great skill, and modest elegance. Objects made of iron, tin, bronze and precious metals are very rare and belonged to nobles — boyars, they are often decorated with carving, enamel, stamping and even precious and rare stones.

Cuisine of the Russian state from the middle of the XVI c. to end of XVII c.

This period is associated with the following main events in the history of Russia:

Division of society on estates in this period leaded to the emergence of the great differences between their kitchens. While the food of the simple folk hardly changed, the table of the rich and noble classes has become more refined and for the first time a number of foreign dishes and culinary techniques in Russian cuisine, mainly of Eastern origin, are introduced.

Especially it concerns the skoromny — meat and dairy dishes. For example, corned beef and boiled meat, grilled meat, poultry and fowl took a place on the table of the nobility .

Types of meat processing became more complicated. Beef is used mainly for cooking corned beef and boiled meat. Pork ham was made for a long-term storage, milk pork products are consumed grilled and stewed, and only lean pork valued in Russia. Mutton, poultry and fowl are consumed mainly roasted and partly stewed.

Roast suckling pig with porridge

In the XVII c. finally the main types of Russian soups were identified, herewith such liquid dishes as pohmelka, soljanka and rassolnik appeared in the ancient Russia.

Lean table of the nobility was becoming  more varied as well. Prominent place started to take a salmon, caviar, which is eaten not only salty, but cooked in vinegar and poppy milk.

Sturgeon and caviar

In the Middle Ages the cooking of Russia is strongly influenced by oriental cuisine. This is due to the long period of the Mongol-Tatar yoke, and then in the second half of the XVI c. joining to the Russian state Astrakhan and Kazan Khanates, Bashkiria and Siberia. In this period, dishes made of unleavened dough, such as noodles and pelmeni, came to the Russian cuisine.


Significantly sweet table is updated with such products as raisins, apricots, figs. Beside honey-cakes prjanik, known in Russia before the adoption of Christianity, it was possible to see a variety of gingerbread, sweet cakes, candies, candied fruits, numerous jams, not only from the berries, but also from some vegetables (carrots with honey and ginger, radish in the syrup) .

Lemons and tea appeared on the table of nobility, the use of which later becomes a tradition in Russia.

In the second half of the XVII c. they have begun to bring cane sugar, from which, together with spices the candies, snacks, sweets, treats were started to be prepared. But all these sweet dishes were mainly a privilege of the nobility. Sugar candies already indicated  in 1671 in patriarchal lunch menu.

Russian sweets

For a table of the nobility abundance of meals becomes a typical — up to 50, while the royal table was served up to 200 meals. And the size of these dishes were huge, the biggest fowl, poultry and fish were selected. Sturgeon or Beluga sometimes were so great that it could be raised only by a few people. A tendency of dishes decoration appeared. Huge size palaces, fantastic animals were being built of the products.

Dinners at the court converted into lush feasts, lasting from two o'clock in the afternoon until ten at night. These meals included almost a dozen changes, each of which consisted of several varieties of fowl, fish, pancakes or pies.

Tsar foods

By the end of the XVII c. Russian cuisine has become very diverse in assortment, but the ability to combine products to identify their taste was still at a very low level. Mixing of products, their crushing and grinding still not allowed . Therefore, Russian cuisine, in contrast to the European for a long time did not include different minces, rolls, pates and cutlets, it also was a stranger to all kinds of casseroles and puddings. A variety of cereal, small mushrooms, berries was used as the pie filling and filling dishes of poultry and fowl . Fish was cutten in layers for the filling, but not crushed. This trend lasted until the XVIII century in cooking.

Cuisineof the Russian Empire at the end of the XVII — XIX c.

In Russian history, this period characterized by the following major events:

A radical separation of the simple folk cuisine and cuisine of the ruling classes is typical for this stage. If in the XVII century the nobility table differed from the common table only by quality, the abundance and variety of dishes, in the XVIII century cuisine of upper classes began to lose the national character.

From the time of Peter I, Russian nobility, gentry borrowed European culinary traditions. Visiting Europe, the rich grandees bring with them foreign chefs. From the middle of the XVIII century. they are almost completely replaced the serf cooks in the houses of the nobility.

One of the innovations of this time was the use of snacks as a separate dish. From the West came previously unknown to the Russian table French and Dutch cheese and German sandwiches, burgers, sausages, omelets, desserts, compotes, etc. These new foods are often combined with native Russian ones — calves-foot, ham, cold boiled pork, corned beef as well as caviar and salted fish. A special meal — breakfast appeared.

Ham and cheese

Since the 70s of the XVIII century, when tea drinking became a national tradition, it became a custom also apply to tea sweet cakes, pies and sweets.

The order of serving dishes for the holiday table finally established in the second half of the XVIII century and it consisted of 6-8 changes. One dish was served for each change. This arrangement lasted until the 60-70-ies of the XIX century:

Holodetc in Gzhel

  1. Hot liquid dish: soup, fish soup, soup, etc..
  2. Appetizers: calves-foot, jellied fish, corned beef, and others.
  3. Grilled meat or poultry.
  4. Boiled or fried hot fish.
  5. Nonsweet pies, pie.
  6. Porridge.
  7. Sweet cakes, pies
  8. Snacks: jam, nuts, raisins, prunes, candy, etc..

Nuts, dried apricots, figs, dates, raisins, pear

After the War of 1812, in connection with the general rise of slavophilism and patriotism in the country, the interest in the national cuisine revived in the leading nobility .

However, when in 1816 squire Levshin from Tula tried to create the first Russian cookbook, he faced the fact that reliable and complete descriptions of ancient recipes almost did not survive. Thus, the dishes collected by Levshin did not reflect all the wealth of the Russian national table.

During the first half of the XIX c. the cuisine of the upper classes continued to develop under the obvious European influence. But the nature of this influence has changed significantly. In contrast to the XVIII c., when there was a direct borrowing of foreign dishes and replacement of native Russian, Russian culinary heritage process was denoted. In the second half of the XIX c. even restoring of Russian national menu begun, however, with the European adjustments.

During this period, a number of French chefs worked in Russia, reforming Russian elite kitchen. The most famous chef, which took part in the reform of Russian cuisine, was Marie-Antoine Careme. It was one of the first and few chefs-researchers, chefs-scientists. Before coming to Russia at the invitation of Prince Bagration, Careme was the chef of the English Prince Regent — later of King George IV, Rothschild and Talleyrand. His professional interest was the national cuisine of different nations. During his stay in Russia Karem appriciated the dignity of Russian cuisine and outlined ways of its development.

Nobles table XVIII century

Careme and his successors made a real reform in the cuisine of that time, which has resulted in the following changes:

Due to the above changes in the end of XIX c. cuisine of the upper classes, along with French cuisine took the leading position in Europe. At the same time, a whole pleiad of outstanding Russian cooks, who in turn have contributed to the development of the national cuisine, made cookbooks, the recipes of which we still use today.

The development of the national cuisine in the XVIII and XIX c. was also accompanied by the development and manufacture of kitchen utensils and tableware. From the time of Elizabeth and Catherine II  Russia began to produce very high-quality porcelain, expanded production of silver dishes, copper and brass samovars, coasters, metal trays, etc. And the dishes and utensils made of wood and bark begun to be decorated with carvings, plot and ornamental painting. Since that time the such items as Gzhel and Dulevo porcelain, Tula samovars, Hohloma and Gorodets painted wooden utensils, Zhostovo trays, etc. are valued and used for table decoration worldwide.

New Year's Russian table with Gzhel

These processes impacted the kitchen of the lower classes, which table also underwent significant changes.

In the countryside four meals were accustomed, and in summer  - five: breakfast or perehvatka, snack or poldnik before dinner or at noon, lunch, dinner and supper or pauzhin. With the development of capitalism, the workers in the cities have first three, and then only two meals a day: breakfast at dawn, and dinner in the evening after work. During business hours they had only an afternoon snack. A meal with a hodish came to be called dinner, sometimes regardless of the time.

XX c had rather negative effect on the Russian national cuisine what associated with complex and even dramatic political and economic processes in the Russian history. The First World War, then the social revolutions, the Civil War and World War II — all these global upheavals have led to a drop in the general life  level of the people, and as a consequence the simplification and even degradation of cuisine. They began to use cheaper products, simple recipes and cooking technology.

Only at the beginning of the XXI century, interest in the revival of Russian cuisine is designated, of course, with the latest culinary achievements and technologies.

Main characteristics and features of Russian cuisine.

Despite the big foreign impact the main features of Russian national cuisine have survived to the present day.

It could be oulined the following:

A major role for the Russian table always played the bread. With the first liquid up to a kilogram of black rye bread was eaten in the villages . As already mentioned, the white wheat bread was not available in Russia before the beginning of XX century. It was consumed rarely and mostly wealthy part of the population in the cities, the people considered it as a festive food. Therefore, white bread, called in some parts of the country the loaf or bulka, baked in special bakeries only by French and German bakers and it was slightly sweetened. "Bulka" — from the French word boule, translated as "ball".

Products made of white bread were different in different parts of the country — Moscow rolls and loaves, Smolensk pretzels, Valdai bagels, etc. At the same time, black bread differed only by the method of baking and flour grade — peklevanny, hearth, peeled, boiled, and others.

With the XX c. it came into use other flour products made with white flour — vermicelli, macaroni, and consuming of pancakes, cakes, and cereals declined. Tea with bread  made of white flour sometimes replaced the breakfast or dinner.

Russian bakery

Great importance in Russian cuisine kept the first dish that from XVIII c. known as soups. On the Russian table soups always played a major role. No wonder the spoon appeared in Russia almost 400 years before the fork almost  and was the main utensil.

Because of love of Russian people to the hot liquid dishes, an assortment of traditional Russian soups significantly expanded in XVIII-XX c. due to various kinds of Western soups. Broth, cream soup, soups with meat and cereals added to cabbage soup, chowder, fresh-soup, pickle, hodgepodge, botvinya and okroshka. Russian table also was enriched by such as soup and Ukrainian gruel , Belarusian beetroot and soup with dumplings.

However, it is old, the native Russian soup like cabbage soup and fresh-soup still define the uniqueness of Russian cuisine.

Russian uha in Hohloma wooden utensils

Fish dishes, unfortunately, less than the soups maintain its presence on the Russian table. Previously common types of white fish: sturgeon, sevruga, sterlet, omul became expensive delicacies. River fish — burbot, ruff, perch, etc. almost disappeared from the consuming. For example, a classic Russian dish — tional — specially cooked beef fillet fish has become a rarity on the Russian table, although it could be cooked from sea fish as well. Imported species of fish: sea bass, sea bream, etc. are mostly sold in modern supermarkets, which are often grown in artificial conditions. But the Russians still prefer the fish from the Russian seas — cod, halibut, haddock, capelin, saffron cod, mackerel and others.

In the traditional Russian cuisine it is known hundreds of ways and recipes for cooking fish: steamed, boiled, tive, fried, stuffed, stewed, jellied, baked in sour cream, salted, dried and so on. In Pechora and  Perm regions they even make sour fish, and on the North and in Siberia they eat stroganina — frozen and thinly sliced raw fish. Smoking of fish took the development mainly in the last 70 to 80 years, i.e. in the beginning of the XX century.

Stuffed pike with crayfish

For the old Russian cuisine it was typical to use a wide range of spices.

However, the disappearance from the menu many of fish, mushroom and fowl dishes, has also led to a reduction of spices used in Russian cuisine.

Ever since the XVII c. many spices, as well as salt and vinegar, due to high cost, have not been used in the cooking process, but served to the table and were used during the meal. Since then, there appeared a custom to put on the table, salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar in separate jars. This practice has led to the misconception that Russian cuisine does not use spices.

In fact, spices and seasonings were known even in ancient Russian cuisine, thanks to the trade route "from the Vikings to the Greeks" existing since the X century. Spices skillfully combined with fish, poultry, soups, mushrooms, pies, cakes, Easter cakes and other meals. They often used oil with addition of anise, fennel, dill, coriander seeds, celery, parsley. Seasonings were consumed carefully, however constantly, what defines one of the main features of Russian cuisine.

Technological processes of Russian cuisine.

Almost all stages of cooking in Russia was reduced to stewing or baking in the Russian furnace, and these operations were always made separately, either stewing or baking  from beginning to end. Russian folk cuisine did not know what is a combined or double heat treatment.

It was known only 3 degrees of heat treatment temperature by  the level - "before bread", "after bread" and "on the hot air" The food was always prepared by non-contact of fire method, either  with a constant or decreasing temperature in the slowly cooling oven, but never with increasing temperature, as on the stove.

Russian furnace

Thus, the dish was not just boiled but rather stewed or steamed, why it have gained a very special taste. That is why many recipes of ancient Russian cuisine do not produce the desired impression when they are prepared in different temperature conditions.

That is, to achieve the desired effect and taste of traditional Russian dishes they should be cooked either in the furnace or in the simulated conditions of falling temperature. This simulation using modern technologies is possible.

It should be noted that the Russian furnace had not only positive impact on the national cuisine, but provided also partly a negative effect, since it did not stimulate the development of technological methods.

Forced rejection of the Russian furnace usage, implementation of stove in cooking led to the borrowing of new technological methods and European dishes, as well as the reform of the old Russian cuisine dishes, which saved them from total oblivion.

All above concerns the Russian cuisine in general. However, it should be kept in mind the regional specifics connected to differences in natural conditions, plant and animal products, the impact of the neighbor cultures and the social structure of the population.

This explains strong differences in cuisines of Central region, Ural, Siberia, Caucas, Pomorie and Don region.

For example, in the North they eat fresh and salted sea fish, salted meat, rye cakes, on  Don they fry and stew fowl, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and drink grape wine. Kitchen Pomors has similarities with Scandinavian one and the kitchen of Don Cossacks had an influence of Turkish and Caucasian cuisine. Culinary traditions of the Russian population in Ural and Siberia intersect with Asian traditions.

The fragmentation of the ancient Russian state formed difference in cuisines of Central regions : between Novgorod and Pskov, Tver and Moscow, Vladimir and Yaroslavl, Kaluga and Smolensk, Ryazan and Nizhny Novgorod. And this is reflected in the differences between the preparation of similar dishes. For example, a typical Russian dishes such as fish soup — uha, pancakes, honey-cake, cereals and cookies in each region had difference in recipes, appearance, techniques of serving to the table, and so on.

Everyone is familiar with the different types of honey-cake — prjanik from Moscow, Tula, Voronezh, Gorodetsky, and others.

Russian prjanik

Regional differences enrich Russian cuisine, add variety and flavor. At the same time, they do not change its essence, the above common features, which together create a national Russian cuisine throughout Russia from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea.

Russian cuisine is widely known all around the world. This is reflected both in the direct penetration into international cuisine the most famous Russian national dishes: meat jelly — studen, cabbage soup — schi, fish soup — uha, pancakes — bliny and so on, and the indirect influence on the Russian culinary specialties of other nations.

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