Friday, March 13, 2015

More on Dining in 19th C Russia.

A few weeks ago I gave you the menu for a Russian dinner in 1875, as described by the French writer Theophile Gautier. All things Russian were trendy in Britain and Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the public were hungry for information about the strange habits of the people of the country. A detailed commentary on the items served at a Russian dinner was also given by John Murray in his Handbook for Travellers in Russia, Poland, and Finland , published in 1868. It is as interesting for its tone as for its content, as travel stories usually are:

II.—The Obed, or Dinner.
1. Soups:—
Okroshka; a cold iced soup of kvas (a beverage made of fermented rye), with pieces of herring, cucumber, and meat floating in it.
Batvenia: another cold soup of green colour, scarcely more palatable.
Stchi: a very good cabbage soup; the sour cream served round should be added.
Ukhà, or fish soup: this is rather expensive if made of sterlet, but is very good of ershi, or stone-perch.
Travellers would do well to order small quantities of each description of potage, in the ratio of one portion for three or four. A mere taste will suffice in the case of the two cold soups.
2. Rastigai: patties of the isinglass and flesh of the sturgeon. Very much like muffins with fish.
3. Solianka, Krasny Perets: a dish composed of fish and cabbage. Recommended. Use cayenne.
4. Pojarskié kotlety: cutlets of chicken à la Pojarski, the patriot. Very good. Veal cutlets are also a speciality of Moscow.
5. Porosënok pod khrenòm: cold boiled sucking pig with horseradish sauce. Not a pretty dish, but very eatable.
6. Barany-bok s-kashoi: roast mutton stuffed with buckwheat. An excellent opportunity of tasting the buckwheat, the staple food of the country.
7. Jarkoé: the roast, consisting of molodyé tétéreva, or young capercailzie (up to September); riabchik, a kind of grouse (all the year round); and dupelia, or double snipe (in September). Salted cucumbers as salad. Vegetables will not be served unless ordered.
8. Pirojnoé  sweet dishes. Gurief pudding, made principally of buckwheat, is not a bad dish.
Order Nesselrode pudding, an excellent combination of plum-pudding and ices, and Moscovite, something between an ice and a jelly, flavoured with the fruit of the season.
Should digestion require it, the Syr, or cheese from the Zakuska, and even the caviar, may be served up again, though it is not customary at a Russian table.

With reference to wines and drinks, it is indispensable, for the sake of harmony and comparison, to order nothing but what is produced on Russian soil. The sherry of the Crimea is a very tolerable brown sherry; the imitations of Bordeaux and Champagne, provided they are really of the Crimean grape, not of the manufactories at Yaroslaf, are better than many inferior marks of the genuine article. Prince Woronzoff s wines are highly recommended. The wine of the Caucasus comes in very appropriately as a Burgundy. Be sure to ask for Kahétinskoé, a very sound and pure wine. The ladies will be pleased with Gumbrinskoé a pleasant sweet wine grown in the Gumbri district of the Caucasus. The champagne of the Don, Donskoé Champanskoé, very often appears on Russian tables disguised as Clicquot, and is really a very potable wine; all the sparkling wines of the Crimea have a slight taste of apples, and the others have the goût du terroir.

         But besides the wines, there are several delicious beverages, under the denomination of Kvas. Order Iablochni kvas, or cider; Grushevoi kvas, or perry; Malinovoi, or raspberry kvas. The best, however, of all, is perhaps the goblet of cool Lompopo, the recipe of which is supposed to have travelled from the Baltic provinces. There is excellent beer to be had at St. Petersburg. "Cazalet's or Kalinkinski Pale Ale" is almost equal to English draught ale. At Moscow "Danielson's" beer is alone drunk. Mead is likewise very pleasant to the taste. All these drinks are served in old silver tankards and beakers of German work. Coffee, liqueurs, and cigarettes complete the feast. Fruits can be had if demanded; excellent in season.
The service is very good; the slightest want is quietly and promptly supplied by the most civil of waiters, attired in bright-coloured silk shirts, worn over another garment of equal effect and neatness.
The cost of a dinner like that described above, exclusive of the zakuska, sterlet soup, wines, kvas, coffee, and fruit, will not be less than 2 rs. 50 cop. per head (7s. 6d), and perhaps 5 rs. (15s.) in a dear season. The charge for a plate of Merlot soup is from l.50 to 3 rs (4s. 6d. to 9s.) according to the size of the fish ordered.
The wines are very cheap compared with those of France or Spain.
The dinner should, if possible, be ordered a day beforehand, although a few hours will suffice to secure most of the dishes named. In ordering it, special mention should be made of the wines of the Crimea, of the Don, and the Caucasus, as well as of the Kvas, as the former are not generally kept on the premises. If the party be numerous, two or three rubles should be distributed among the waiters.

The famous chef Auguste Escoffier included the dish Chicken à la Pojarski in his book A Guide to Modern Cookery, first published in 1903. It is a fine and elegant dish indeed,.

Suprêmes de Volaille à la Pojarsky.
Mince the suprêmes, and, in so doing, combine with them, first, the quarter of their weight of breadcrumbs dipped in milk and well squeezed, and the same weight of fresh butter; and then an equal quantity of fresh cream, which should be added little by little. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Divide up this preparation into portions equal in size to the suprêmes, and shape them exactly like the latter; in short, reconstruct the suprêmes exactly with this mince-meat.
Dredge; cook in clarified butter, and serve as soon as ready.

There is no hard and fast rule for garnishing of these suprêmes; the garnish is therefore optional.

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