Friday, October 18, 2013

Extreme Travel Food: Siberia in 1821.

In early 1821, the German Baron Ferdinand Friedrich Georg Ludwig von Wrangel was appointed to lead the Kolymskaya Expedition to explore and survey the North-East coast of Siberia. He later, of course, published an account of his experiences, and they provide a fascinating glimpse into local life as well as the expedition experience.

What does an early nineteenth century explorer take along by way of provisions for a foray into such cold, harsh territory? The Baron outlined the basics in his narrative:

A month's provisions for five men consisted of 21 poods (90 lbs. English) of rye biscuit, 1 ½ pood of meat, 10 lbs. of dry soup tablets, 2 lbs. of tea, 4 lbs. of sugar-candy, 8 lbs. of groats, 3 lbs. of salt, 39 portions of strong spirits, 12 lbs. of tobacco, and 200 choice pieces of smoked yukhala. Each of us carried a musket and fifty cartridges, a pike, and a large knife stuck into his girdle, to which was attached the requisite apparatus for striking fire.  As food for our dogs, we had 790 large muksun yukhala, 1,200 yukola of the same, and 2,400 fresh frozen herrings. Our six provision sledges were entirely laden with the eatables, and a part of our own stores we were obliged to make room for on our travelling narti.

… for the yearly consumption of the hundred families that compose the little community of Nishney-Kolymsk, at least three millions of herrings are required. Many oilier kinds of fish are caught at this time, among which is the Nelma, a large description of salmon trout, but the first fish are generally thin, and are mostly converted into yukhala for the dogs; that is to say, cut open, cleaned, and dried in the air. From the entrails an abundance of train oil is obtained, which is used for food as well as for fuel. The yukola is distinguished from the yukhala merely by the selection of a better kind of fish, and by greater care in the preparation.

“Russian” food was fashionable for a period of time during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The following recipe sounds pretty tasty, but being an absolute non-expert in “Russian” cuisine, I cannot speak to its authenticity – whatever that means.

Siberian Lunch Dish.
This is a mince of beef or mutton, with either bacon or veal, mixed with a little suet, a dash of onion juice, and grated nutmeg. These are put into little “turnovers” of pie paste that is bound together with raw egg. The “turnover” is a small circle of pastry folded over, and with the edges crimped or pinched fast to hold the contents. Fruit turnovers are baked, but these meat turnovers are boiled, being dropped as soon as sufficient are filled and pinched tight, into boiling water. When cooked they float to the top, and are taken out with a skimmer.

London Mercury November 23, 1889


Judy said...

A type of pirogi? I have a friend from Kazakhstan that made something similar. She wanted lamb suet but the best I could come up with, in the US, was pork fat. Boy, were they good. I don't remember any nutmeg in them though, just finely minced beef, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and the finely minced pork fat. She did say any red meat would work.

Piet said...

This is definitely a Russian recipe. They're called pelmeni, accent on the second syllable, and they can be made with various proportions of meat combination, as here, or mushrooms, onions, or pickled cabbage. Sometimes they're fried a little, just to get flecked with brown, after the boiling. Delicious on the plate with sour cream, or they can be served in soup.