Svyatoslav Loginov

Oh blin (“Blin” is a Russian junk euphemism and Russians use it in the same way and cases as Americans use “shoot”. At the same time, “blin” means “pancake”, and the author uses the given junk word for the wordplay purposes - Translator’s note), what a subject you find to write on – the blini (pancakes)! A pancake is a simple thing and it seems anyone can cook one. However, it is a great art to make a pancake. Someone may never taste a real pancake in their lifetime and, being ignorant, would mistake flapjacks, slapjacks, blintzes and other products of the cook’s fantasy for pancakes. Of course, flapjacks are a wonderful thing, but pancakes are something entirely else.

First of all, for pancakes you would need unleavened dough. Yeast-leavened dough is good for flapjacks, while kefir, soured milk, and milk whey would go for slapjacks, blintzes and little flats. And obviously no baking soda because sodium bicarbonate would change the taste hopelessly and spoil the chewy texture. In pancakes, everything must be natural, and only then you can eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“not just on daily bread” journey into history cooking Russian folk cuisine ethnography

Chapter 1: Breakfast

So, let’s make pancakes. We would get up early in the morning, while everyone else is sleeping, and make the start. First of all, we need flour. For pancakes, we need straight white wheat flour or, even better, dark wheat flour (the patent wheat flour should better be used for pies). In no case we may use pancake flour – it is for lazy folks and goof-ups. Besides, pancake flour contains already added baking soda – hence, no good pancakes can be made of it by definition.

Per each 1-liter jar of flour, take one table spoonful of sugar and one tea spoonful of salt. Mix it well and then mix in one egg. One egg per half a kilo of flour is quite enough, if you add more, the pancakes would be too rich and start crumbling right on the frying pan.

Now, the most important moment in dough-making – bit by bit, we pour in milk first, and then water into the flour. Mind the order – not the flour into milk, but milk into flour! So, we knead some rather tight dough and, adding the liquid gradually, we bring it to the proper consistency. While doing so, we mix the dough intensely with a wooden spatula, twirl whisk, metal fork or whatever the tool we have at hand. A spoon is not the best choice, because it is going to bend and break soon.

The secret of the whole procedure is very simple. While the dough is thick, no clots can appear in it because the whole mass of dough is one big ball. The main point is that you should not dump all the liquid at one, because in such case you wouldn’t be able to get rid of the clots even with a mixer. Many ladies sift flour into milk and as a result what they cook is anything but pancakes. But if you do it right, the clots would be dissolved in the dough, which does not differ too much from them in terms of thickness.

Per 1-liter jar of flour, we need about half a liter of milk. When we are done with the milk, we start pouring in water until the dough becomes liquid enough. It must flow down from the spoon easily and not contain any little clots at all. It’s only with such dough that you can make a really thin pancake.

The last thing to pour into the dough is one or two spoonfuls of sunflower oil – then we make some final mixing and solemnly put the frying pan on the fire.

The frying pan is a peak of human thought, and the fact that in the last one hundred years the quality of frying pans has been worsening progressively proves that the mankind, alas, is degrading and quite soon the former homo sapiens would stand down on all fours. The secret of manufacturing the proper frying pans has been lost as a result of the two world wars. As Sergey Mikhalkov once wrote in a poem, “The factory used to produce army tanks, but not it has switched to frying pans” Certainly, the industries oriented to production of military vehicles could not adjust to manufacturing of good-quality frying pans. In the past, the Zlatoust plant manufactured wonderful frying pans, and good frying pans were also made from the Kasli cast iron. At the dawn of the century it was replaced by specular cast iron, and the proper frying pans became unavailable. Some families have preserved the old frying pans – the last of their ilk. So, we’ll have to cook on what we have.

The frying pan for pancakes must be perfectly clean, and therefore it must be burned out first. Frying pans should not be washed, they should be burned out. We put the frying pan on the big fire and make it so red-hot that the bluish gauze would appear, and then put it under the stream of cold water. A vapor column would shoot up, the frying pan would be yelping but become perfectly clean. In the worst case, the hot frying pan may be scrubbed through with salt, but it is much better not to bring the so important kitchen tool to the condition when you can’t clean it without using salt.

Then we would grease the burned-out frying pan with oil or lard. As this procedure has to be repeated over each seven or eight pancakes, it is better to get prepared for it in advance. The easiest thing is to take a piece of pork-speck and, having pinned it on the fork, to grease the pan. Some folks pin a piece of raw potato, pour a bit of sunflower oil in the saucer, dip the potato in it and grease the frying pan. Those who make pancakes pretty often have the special chicken-feather whisk. For some reason, owners of such whisks prefer to use freshly melt butter. I have never had a whisk, and I use a piece of lard or sunflower oil on the potato.

So, the first go of dough gets on the hot frying pan. You think it’s a pancake? Fuff! The first pancake is always the worst and that’s why it’s better not to make the first pancake at all. Instead of that, we would rather base several little blintzes of the same size as a fifty-cent coin. “Several” means as many as the number of family members that are already up. But since all of them are still sleeping, you would make just two little blintzes –for yourself and your dog that is watching your cooking manipulations with great interest.

— So, what’s going on?

The dog is delighted. In its view, the cooking is perfect, and the only thing that we need is more pancakes. If any family members have gotten up, after having tasted the fifty-cent blintz they would start making comments on insufficiency of salt or sugar. Of course, the cook knows better, but when I was a little boy, the grown-ups used to give me a tiny blintz to taste it, and listened to my unenlightened view. So, now I do the same, Tradition is a great thing, and as far as pancakes are concerned, it is especially sacred.

The second portion of blintz coins confirms that now you may start serious pancake-making business. The frying plan is on the fire and is made hotter than hell to the condition of hissing rather than yelping – that is, if you drop water on it, the drop would not spread over the surface but would roll over it like a mercury droplet. However, if it causes yelping, this would mean that the frying pan is too hot, and the fire must be slackened a bit. So, we scoop the dough and pour it on the edge of the frying pan surface. It would be good to have a big wooden spoon, like a boat-spoon, but where would we find it now, in the times of decay and vexation of spirit? We have found a plastic one, and it’s OK (The author’s perception of the wooden-spoon market in Russia is very incorrect. Wooden spoons, whether the decorated and lacquered to be bought as souvenirs, or plain to be used for cooking purposes – are widely available in every Russian city in all food markets, at almost every subway station, in home-hardware stores, gift stores, etc. – translator’s note).

When pancakes are in the making, the whole gas stove is under supreme reign of the cook. One hearth ring is taken by the frying pan, and two more, being turned off, are occupied by the pot with dough and the flat plate for pancakes. Nearby, there is a saucer with the melt butter (if we use the feather whisk) or with a piece of lard becoming soft in the warm kitchen.

So, we pour a portion of dough on the edge of the frying pan surface, take the frying pan up and rotate it smoothly in the air, so that the dough would spread thinly throughout the surface but would in no way on the pan wall. A good frying pan weighs some three kilograms, and this motion would have to be repeated at a quick pace about one hundred times. Who would say then that to bake pancake is a female business? Well, certainly, in Russian villages, you would see women for whom juggling a heavy frying pan is not a problem, but still …

As we know from legends and TV ads, an experienced cook would turn the pancake upside down by throwing it up on the frying pan. However hard I tried, I never managed to do anything similar to such exercise. In the past, we had a special bevel-edged wooden spatula to overturn the pancakes, and now I use a knife, although this is considered to be a bad manner. By two half-ritual movements you cut along the edge of the pancake being baked, and then when the shining and moist surface of dough becomes matt, you must slip the knife under the pancake and then, within one movement, the very thin and not yet baked-though product would be overturned on the other side. This seems to be much easier than overturning a pancake by throwing it up on the frying pan.

There is a proverb that the first pancake always gets thrown out. Whoever was the first to say so, that person was not capable of cooking the pancakes. If the frying pan is burned out properly and then greased thinly with lard and is made properly hot, if the trial fifty-cent blintzes have been baked thereon, then even the first pancake as such would be a real beauty.

Just peer attentively at the ruddy surface of the pancake being baked – you would see all tints of the yellow, honey-like, and pale brown colors. The pancake, so flat to the touch, appears to be a map of some mysterious country with its seas, continents, valleys and mountain ranges. For quite a long time, I did think that every pancake was a map of some unknown planet – until I happened to see a photo of the Sun, made in infrared rays. Since then, I know that our ancestors did not make a mistake when they baptized the pancake as the symbol of the Sun!

In terms of chemistry, pancake making represents, on a first approximation, the process of polysaccharose destruction resulting in dextrin formation. Dextrin – a nice-sounding, crispy word. Dextrin is the crust broken off from the still warm loaf of bread, or the crust of potatoes being roasted in lard, or the dignified gold of soaked peas roasted in oil, or the fluffy rattle of potato chips. Roasting is the art of making the tasty dextrin – even meat or fish, before it is thrown on the frying pan, is often bread-crumbed or rolled in flour.

The main point is that destruction should not go too far and result in formation of carbon and resinous substances. It is not without a reason that the words

“burned pancake” are considered as a curse in Russian. But the half-baked dough, too, it not the food you want to eat. It sticks to your teeth and falls like a lump in your stomach causing the brash and grouch. To evade such unfavorable turn of events, let us make a simple little test – touch the pancake surface with three fingers and twist it swiftly. The half-baked pancake would turn by some 90 degrees, while the well-baked pancake would make the full turn, or, in imitation of Zsuzsa Almássy, the famous figure skater, would even make a jump of two and a half full turns. We immediately throw it to the nearby waiting plate and pour another portion of dough into the frying plan seeing that it would not get on the pan wall as otherwise the edge of our little sun would be distorted by an odd prominence.

While the new pancake is in the making, we have a couple of seconds to grease the first one with butter and meanwhile to look at its other side. One would think that there is the same dextrin, produced from the same dough on the same frying pan, but the picture on the other side of the pancake would be of the type totally different from what we see on its face. I do not know, what is represented by the picture on the pancake backside – probably nobody has taken a photo of our Sun this way, or none of pancake lovers had a chance to see such photo so far.

“not just on daily bread” journey into history cooking Russian folk cuisine ethnography

Further on, the cook would be working like at the belt line – one after another, each pancake is laid on the plate and greased with butter quickly. The pancake pile would be growing slowly and steadily like the Tower of Babel. Waken up by the pancake smell, the family members would appear in the kitchen, each of them expressing joy at the sight of pancakes in the baking, while for each of them a task is found.

— Lay the table! — you would say briskly without turning your eyes from the stove.

To lay the table is, indeed, a female business, as today the family would not have breakfast in the kitchen, but, like on holidays, would take it in the dining room, at the table covered with a white tablecloth. Therefore, the parlor dish set should be taken from the cup-board, together with little crystal dishes for jam as well as porcelain sauce boats and cream jugs.

— “This one is for sour cream”, you would command, having casted a quick look at the taken-out dish, “and that one is for sour cream with garlic and salt …, yes, exactly such amount of garlic would be perfect”.

Willy-nilly, you would recall the “Three Fat Men” movie and the hopping crowd of cookees.

“Over there, in the cup-board, take out the pastry syringe … - what do you mean by ‘What for?” I need it! No, no buttercream today...”

The cook, too, has to make some room, and the kettle is put on the only vacant hearth ring. In the big tea-pot, the brewed tea is stewing – it’s either the English tea, with bergamot and orange pekoe, or Russian, the Krasnodar tea, with added balm (Melissa) and currant buds.

The last leftover dough is scrubbed out onto the frying pan. There is too little of it for a standard pancake, and the thin streams of dough are roasted in an intricate grid shape and are laid like an exquisite decoration over the pile of pancakes.

The final strokes to get prepared for the feast, and the quire-high pile of hot pancakes appears in the dining room.

— “The meal is served!” — No provincial actor would be able to pronounce it as elegantly as you do.

“not just on daily bread” journey into history cooking Russian folk cuisine ethnography

Chapter 2: Our Ancestors Didn’t Spare Time for Meals

It seems that the pancake feasts have been described in the Russian literature exhaustively – any writer, having seen a Russian person at meals, mentioned the pancakes invariably. The most eloquent description of the pancake-eating exercise was offered by Alexander Kuprin: “She eats pancakes hot as fire, she eats them with butter, with sour cream, with fresh-grain caviar, pressed caviar, cloth-laid caviar, Achuev caviar, calico-salmon caviar and catfish caviar, with all sorts of herrings, with anchovy, sprats, and sardines, with salmon and baby cisco, with smoked sturgeon and whitefish, with fish belly and sturgeon milt, with smoked sterlet and with the famous whitebait from the White Lake. Pancakes are eaten both with some simple filling and with fancifully combined, too ”.

You are impressed, aren’t you? And, this is a just a short list of Russian delicacies that used to go with pancakes. Salted red pine mushrooms (as far as I remember, mentioned by Gilyarovsky) and more generally – all mushroom delicacies, and the infinite variety of dessert menu including the traditionally mentioned pancakes with treacle. And what about the pancakes with gold-color roasted onions or with radish baked in honey? …

However, enough, I would rather stop here…There are many things described in literature, but in our current meager situation, we do not have enough wealth to buy the fresh-grain caviar – to say nothing of the cloth-laid caviar, which, as we heard, could be cut with a knife like cheese. Let’s discuss the things than can be found in the refrigerator and in the pantry. As for the halibut belly or sturgeon belly, let it be described in hop stories.

So, what do we have on our Sunday-feast table? First of all, there is pate. During Maslenitsa, our folks do not serve meat, and even so, Pushkin characterised the festival as “greaseful”. However, Russians eat pancakes with all sorts of dressings the year around. So, you may quite well buy a tube of North American pate – the one with an angry woman on the label, although the home-made pate would be much tastier.

We cook the pate in the evening, because, as you already know, there is no time to do that in the pancake-bake morning. We should take one kilogram of beef liver, cut it in broad thin slices and roast them in the mixture of lard and sunflower oil. Meanwhile, one kilogram of carrots should be boiled. Then we would peel half a kilogram of onions, and if you like it roasted, we would roast in the same oil mixture. Also, we should add some garlic – as much as you like. Then everything should be minced in the mincing machine. Add salt, black pepper and various spices. As for the bay leaves, it would be good to mince it together with liver. Then we mix the pate thoroughly and add the softened butter. The amount of butter would vary from two to ten sticks. Some folks take more, but in that case the product will be the liver-flavored butter rather than pate. With butter in the mixture, we would mix it once again, put the bowl in the refrigerator, and in the morning, before we start baking the pancakes, we would take the pate out so that it would become softer and could be squeezed out from the kitchen syringe easily.

Now, put in the Bohemian-glass salad bowl, the pate takes the honorable position next to the pancakes. And the syringe, already filled, is waiting for the impatient hand to press the plunger.

Kuprin had reasons to mention the fancily combined fillings as these combinations contain the best savor. Pate would be combined with sour-cream sauce (sour cream, pressed garlics, and black pepper) or with horse radish, which, too, has been stretched with sour cream. All those fillings and dressings were cooked by the cookees while the chef was making miracles on the frying pan. For horse radish, I have a special beautiful container nicknamed as “horse radisher”.

All the above-described ingredients are, so to say, mandatory. But if you have the pancake feast on a Maslenitsa day – that is, when sparling fish goes along the Neva River, then you may quite well have some amount of tiny-grain sparling caviar at home. Just when you clean the sparling fish, put aside the tiny caviar bags, and if you collect at least half a jar of them, don’t fry the caviar but salt it down. Several drops of lemon juice, a bit of salt, then mix the caviar with a teaspoon and take out as many of membranes as you can. Such products should not be stored for too long, but it would be good after a couple of days in the refrigerator prior to the Sunday pancake feast. Of course, the sparling fish caviar is not the same as the Achuev caviar, but what can we do when I have never seen the Achuev caviar and even have no idea what it is.

There is enough room on the table for hot-smoked fish, which should be broken into small pieces, and the imported eggplant paste. With pancakes, everything is tasty.

Well, let’s cut the cackle, the pancakes are getting colder!

Everybody is sitting at the table, has taken several pancakes and put them on their plates. At this point, we have to tell how the pancakes should be eaten before we start.

This question, as it seems to be clear, has never been addressed in literature. But the pancake is not just another dish, but a ritual dish, and the culture of pancake-eating is millennia-long. A round pancake made of unleavened dough is a dish much more ancient than bread. Pancakes used to be cooked on a flat stone luted in the hotbed of primitive human dwelling. Pancake is a sacred product, a symbol of sun as well as rich and successful living. To cut a pancake by knife or to pierce it with a fork is a great sin because such actions would injure the sun and doom the whole population to hunger and diseases. As a Russian proverb says, “A pancake is not a reap of hay, you may not pin it on your hayfork”. Even just one hundred years the one who would choose to cut a pancake took the risk of being killed on the spot with sharp poles. Indeed, do not wish trouble to your neighbor. Today, the manners are milder, but anyway the immutable law states that PANCAKES MUST BE EATEN WITH FINGERS! A wish for pancake-eaters is “let you be smudged up to your elbows and be full to your throat”. Teaspoons for all sorts of dressings are served on the table, while knives and forks are left in the kitchen as the items unnecessary for today.

As for any other actions, you may do whatever you want with the pancakes: fold, roll, or tear apart in order to share the last pancake between two eaters. The only demand is that all this must be done with fingers. As I am a staunch atheist, the sacral meaning of pancakes is lost for me, but the tradition must be respected!

So, let’s start. We lay a narrow strip of pate across the pancake (that’s why we needed the kitchen syringe!), pour the sour-cream sauce therein, fold the pancake in two and make roll. Holding the pancake with three fingers, take it up, slightly bending it like a boomerang so that the sour cream would not drip from the but-ends, bring it to the mouth … or, no! I cannot write any more, let me go to the kitchen and have some snack… The second pancake, the third one, the fifth … With smoked fish, with Russian vinaigrette, with mushroom paste, eggplant paste, zucchini or pumpkin paste… Even Kuprin could not list everything, and for me this is even more difficult. And – sour cream, sour cream, sour cream… The one-liter bowl of sour cream will be half-empty after the breakfast today.

“Pancaa-ake! . .. pancaa-ake!... paa-ancake!...” — that’s the hot blood banging in my temples.

So, we set aside the first set of dishes, take more of pancakes and reach out for desserts. The “rough-and-ready” blackberry preserve (the jar of which has been unsealed especially for this occasion), and over it – sour cream, this time without garlic and horse radish. The fluid amber of honey – and, again, sour cream …, and, tea – freshly brewed, hot and rich-flavored; of course, it goes without sugar – no sugar when there are so many sweets on the table!

One by one, the folks get away and plunge in the blissful languor. In a sense, digestion is somewhat akin to nirvana…

Oh God! I, too, cannot take any more… Nobody would be able to have more... well, maybe the very last pancake, with condensed sweet milk and grated chocolate…

“not just on daily bread” journey into history cooking Russian folk cuisine ethnography

By all evidence, we are not going to need any lunch today…

Chapter 3: Lunch

No, no, not at all! This would not be a dinner on the same day, but the next weekend! We got up late, had a scanty breakfast and now time hаs come to give a thought to pancakes.

Again, we make dough, but this time, not that much – just for two 1-liter jars of flour, not more. All females would be dislodged from the kitchen, and only some of our little assistants would be on duty at hand, while the pancake pile is growing on the plate. Everything goes in the same way as before – with the only difference that this time less sugar would be mixed in the dough, and the fourth hearth ring, vacant a week ago, would be occupied by a pot, where broth is in the making.

Quite a time ago, Elena Molokhovets used to give useful advice to housewives: if you want to have nourishing broth, she said, put the meat into cold water, and if you want to have a tasty piece of meat, put it in the boiling and already salted water. What should I do, when I want to have a juicy piece of meat and at the same time the nourishing broth? Rich people do not have to care about such problems – in old cook-books you could see the advice calling you not to throw out the broiled veal, because “your servants would eat it with pickled cucumbers willingly”. But, for a former Soviet citizen, it would do no hurt to devise a needed solution.

The recipe is found: we take a piece of beef and cut it in two different-size parts. The bony part and shackles would be plunged in cold water so that to cook tasty broth, and when it starts simmering, we take off the foam and plunge the rest of the boneless meat in the already salted broth. Today we would not cook any soup – just the broth, and therefore together with meat, salt, pepper and bay leaves, we would put nothing else in the pot but some green roots and very thinly chipped carrots. Or, rather than to chip a carrot, you may cut it in halves, burn to the coal condition on a dry frying pan and plunge in the broth, which thus would acquire the special golden color. Nobody knows as how this can be done at the same time with pancake-baking, but somehow we manage to cope with this unresolvable task as well.

When the meat is boiled properly, we would take it out to get colder, and meanwhile we would boil eggs, peel onions and take out the mincing machine from the ceiling cabinet. By that time everybody would understand already that meat-stuffed pancakes are coming.

The meat and onions are minced and eggs are cut in cubic pieces that must be felt when you chew a pancake. If you want, the minced onions can be roasted in veg oil. If the meat seems a bit dry, boil an extra carrot in the broth, and when it’s ready, mince it together with the meat. Those, who like spices, may spice the ready mince with crushed nutmeg, thyme, sweet marjoram, sweet basil, dried dill, or mushroom powder…

Since this moment, everybody, young and old, are let into the kitchen – we would start stuffing the pancakes. A pancake would be placed on the chopping board, a tablespoonful of meat would be taken from the bowl and placed like a neat hill-shaped lump on the pancake. It is to be placed neither in the center, nor on the edge, but at the distance of about 1/3 radius from the edge. The nearest edge would be folded first, the two edges on the sides next, and finally the pancake envelope would be sealed by the vacant opposite edge. Pancakes may not be placed on one another, because the filling would quickly absorb the oil and the pancakes would start sticking to one another. And, if you do not overturn a folded pancake, it would most probably unfold, and all our efforts would turn out vain.

Bit by bit, the kitchen boards would be covered by pancakes, while the broth is ready and everybody is looking forward to having the dinner.

Again, the frying pan, still warm from the recently hot pancake-making is put on the stove, but this time we would not spare oil. I roast the meat-stuffed blintzes in the mixture of sunflower oil and lard or margarine, but there is unlimited liberty of choice – any person would roast in whatever they want or whatever their heart and stomach like better.

The blintz, the folded side down, would be placed on the frying pan. Within a minute its edges would be roasted and become ruddy and crispy. Now, even if you wish to do so, you wouldn’t be able to unfold such pancake. Hence you may turn it over and roast the other side, so that the pancake would be soaked in meat flavor and the filling would be warmed properly and would be permeated by the pancake flavor.

The meat-stuffed blintzes should not be warmed for the second time, but they must be eaten hot, and therefore we would not roast all of them at once, but as many as we would eat during one meal. By five pieces per person would be quite enough. If my wife eats three, I will have seven.

We would serve the broth in tea bowls and the blintzes would be placed like a hill on the sole plate in the center of the table. I hope, you remember that there would be no knives and forks on the table? Your fingers would get oily, but to lick fingers on such occasion would not be a wrong thing to do.

Today, we would forget the Rabelaisian variety of dressings and additions for common pancakes. Meat-stuffed blintzes are good as such, without any dressings. First we drink the broth and bite a pancake bit by bit; then we eat pancakes and wash them down with the remaining broth. In an extreme case, the not-too-sweet berry drink would be served. On such day, no main course would be expected. What kind of steaks and potatoes are you talking about? We would not dare even think about dinner!

“not just on daily bread” journey into history cooking Russian folk cuisine ethnography

Chapter 4: Dinner

To go to sleep on an empty stomach is no good, all anxiety and no sleep. Those who go to bed while feeling hungry are either idle people who could not earn their meal during the day, or scatterbrains, who torture themselves with all sorts of diets. A serious person always has supper before going to sleep.

However, to eat too much before the bedtime is also no good as you would have nightmares and in future you would be haunted by the wheezy ghost of obesity.

Because I’ve reached my early forties,

And many roads I have passed,

What I need now is the curd cheese,

And cottage cheese, too, is a must!

I do not remember who wrote these candid words, but that poet was right. Evening is the time for fruit and curd-cheese dishes. So, we would cook the nalistniks (apple-stuffed blintzes) and curd-stuffed blintzes, also known as curd blintzes, or tvorozhniks.

As the procedure of pancake folding and roasting has been described already, let us discuss nothing else but fillings.

Nalistniks is a special name for apple-stuffed blintzes. Actually this is a way to bake apples on the iron sheet. For the sliced apples not to be effusing, getting dry and burned fast to the iron sheet, they would be wrapped in a pancake. Today the nalistniks are roasted on a frying pan, but you certainly may try doing it on a baking sheet. You may take any apples for the nalistniks - green windfalls collected before the Savior of the Apple Feast Day, or – if you want to cook it in mid-winter – the overripe autumn brands which by that time would be less flavored and crunchy. Any apples would be good for the nalistniks.

So, we peel the apples, remove the cores and peels, crunch finely and whelm with a small amount of granulated sugar, leave it for about an hour, pour out the extra juice (I hope, you know what to do with that juice), and wrap the apple slices in pancakes in the same way as we wrapped the meat mince. And then, roast and eat, reminding ourselves vainly that eating too much before the night sleep is not good for health.

Apples – whether all or a part of them – can be mixed with steamed lingonberry, sprinkle with cinnamon, or add thereto slices of kiwi, or canned apricots or peaches. With such excesses, however, your nightmares would be guaranteed – unless you cook a too small number of nalistniks.

The curd filling is very easy to prepare. You take fresh curd cheese, mix it with a small amount of thick sour cream, sweeten the mixture to your taste, and that’s all.

Then the cook’s tricks would start. The curd may be flavored by vanilla or different spices. The sweetened cheese is very good with cardamom – several nuts should be peeled, the seeds mortared and then added to the filling. Sometimes it might be good to add the grated cumin, and I always add hemlock seeds. A coconut lover would certainly use coconut flakes that would add wonderful flavor to hot curd-cheese, but would gnash slightly on the teeth.

Besides, the curd filling must contain such traditional ingredient as raisins. You may add just a bit of raisins, or many raisins or very many. You may even cook raisins-stuffed blintzes without any curd, but in such case the raisins must first be steamed.

Once I happened to eat curd-filled pancakes with dates. Besides, I happened to add dried blackberries, and I would also note that the human fantasy is unlimited, especially when it comes to eating something new.

Nalistniks and curd-filled blintzes must be eaten just when they are off the frying pan and so hot that you can hardly touch them. Cautiously, bite off the corner and suck the flavored filling in so that it would not drip out. These blintzes go with hot tea. Tea was accommodated in Russia during the reign of Tzar Alexey Mikhailovich (1645 – 1676), while coffee appeared only under his son, destroyer of traditions Peter the Great. No wonder that coffee continues to be perceived as a foreign beverage, while an indigenous Russian resident – blin, does not recognize coffee. Instead, berry drinks (mors), dried fruit compote (uzvar), honey water (syta), and, if you can actually make it – the honey-and-spices drinks (sbiten) would be very good with nalistniks and curd-filled blintzes (tvorozhniks)

Well, do you still believe that eating too much for supper is bad for you?

“not just on daily bread” journey into history cooking Russian folk cuisine ethnography

Epilogue

The kolatch (white loaf) the rich man, pie the landlord, sieved bread the petty trader, and spicy gingerbread of the Tula nobles – all of those used to gather around the pancake and bow to it:

Hail to thee, the round pancake! You are the master for all of us! Your sides are oily, and you are like the shiny sun! Whoever eats you, will never have trouble or misery!