A short walk in Pavlovsk Park (see how it looked like in spring) with my parents yesterdayturned out to be a prolonged photo session with some easy-going Russian girls all dressed up in traditional Russian costumes and some of them wearing kokoshnik – when I was just a little girl, I would die for one! A kokoshnik is a traditional head decoration piece worn by young women. And I craved for one! Especially after visiting the Russian Museum and getting all those Vasnetsov‘s and alike fairy tale pictures in my head (like this one – I wanted to become a tsarevna, apparently). My favorite one was this one of the Swan Lady by another Russian artist Vrubel. With a kokoshnik of course. More on that further on.
Yesterday was almost the only day over the last weeks when there was actually NO rain (guess what? It’s raining today after some nice sunny weather…). And we jumped at the occasion, heading on to Pavlovsk, a place we know almost by heart. Each walk there is revisiting the same places and yet each time getting this satisfying feeling of having stayed a bit with nature. Ha, what nature with all these tourists and pavilions, you might ask? Well, there is some nature!
Here is a bit of nature for you – a lovely docile black horse with its acrobatic ‘owner’, gathering hay. The guy would mount the hay and tread it with his legs – to the amusement of the crowd standing on top of the royal palace’s stairs. The Italian tourists were sighing, che splendore! I would call it a pastoral. Just like travelling back in time to some dvoryanskoye imeniye (a Russian nobleman’s estate), with a mixture of rural life and some classical pavilions built to amaze guests (ah those eccentric and usually so inefficient in managing their money Russian noblemen, comprehensively portrayed by Chekhov for example).
The stairs, lions and flowers of the nobleman’s part of the park
Zoom on the flowers:
And back to the most typical Russian tree – the birch, always compared to a young beautiful girl in Russian folklore and traditional songs.
And here are some Russian girls in person! In full attire. There’s this talented woman, Marina Shadenkova, who once created a traditional Russian costume for herself just for fun – and then she just couldn’t stop and has some 20 (or was it more?) of them at home. This was an outing with some easy-going Russian girls and my father got a chance to make some great photos. And so our walk got suddenly prolonged : ) I was particularly admiring the astonishing painstaking bead decorations on the kokoshnik and the way the girls looked so natural in these long forgotten women dresses. It’s funny that just a day earlier I was looking at the photos of me wearing a traditional sarafan (kind of long sleeveless dress) at a school theme party back in 1998!
The traditional Russian costumes from left to right: ‘Love’, then there’s ‘Cranberry’, ‘Scarlet Flower’ (named after a fairy tale, which is a Russian interpretation of the more famous Beauty and the Beast) and finally ‘Summer’. Even the boots are tailor-made. The girls have this white handkerchief attached to a ring (and when you dance traditional Russian dances you wave the hand with the handkerchief according to the music). The braids are also decorated and there is usually a lot attached to its tail. The pink dress has loooong sleeves (which is actually a blouse), worn in the days of leisure (you can’t work wearing such long sleeves, hence a Russian saying – to work with sleeves down, which means, well, work really bad). Underneath the dress (!) there are two skirts and the slimmer the girl the more skirts she will need to wear. The forehead used to be covered, either with a shawl or this elaborate bead decoration. The Summer costume is that of a village girl with a wreath (venok) instead of a kokoshnik. And you will be right if you think all these colours and patterns of the dresses could tell a lot for those who lived some 3-5 centuries ago!
At first I wanted to include a recipe of a very successful sheep-shape sourdough recipe in this post but then I remembered there was this traditional Russian multilayer cake I nearly forgot about with all the rest of the recipes and other events of my life. The cake goes well with some Russian nature and who else would serve it to you on a large plate with a traditional embroidered linen towel rather than a Russian beauty in kokoshnik?
No, this is not chocolate or cocoa or coffee. No, there are no nuts inside. I made this recipe back in April when I returned from my icy trip to Siberia. It was in Novosibirsk in a posh gourmet supermarket that I found ground bird cherry and thought of this cake which my Mom once told me about – she ate it when she was little, somewhere in the Southern part of Russia. The cake is called Cheryomushka (a diminutive for bird cherry).
The bird cherry bird cherry blossom usually brings cold weather in spring (it’s one of our traditional primeta – weather token) and this was almost all I knew about it. But actually you can grind the dried fruits and use the powder when making dough, pie filling, Siberian small pies and beverages. They say the fruits contain a lot of phytoncides too. We call the tree cheryomukha and it rarely brought any food images to my mind when I pronounced the word. But now it does.
A year ago – Coffee Cheesecake and Cinnamon Cake from Asia Minor
Two years ago – Patatopita, Hortopita and… Kolokithotiropita!
Bird Cherry Cake or Tort Cheryomushka adapted and translated from www.trapeza.su (the producer of ground bird cherry I bought) will make a traditional Russian sweet treat which is exotic even for a Russian : ) ATTENTION: you will definitely find it hard getting ground bird cherry outside Russia – and in Russian either. My remarks are in italics.
- 1 cup ground bird cherry – good luck with getting it, though…
- 1 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 100 g butter, melted
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1.5 cups sour cream (smetana) – I guess you could try cream cheese instead
- 3 Tbs sugar (or to taste, also powdered sugar might work better)
Pour boiling milk over the ground bird cherry and leave for several hours (or boil it in milk and let cool – which I did). Add the egg mixed well with the sugar, then add the melted butter and the baking powder. While stirring, add the flour until the mixture resembles pancake batter (the Russian measure for this is to compare the dough with the batter for oladyi – small thick Russian pancakes, paradoxically known in France, for example, as blini, which is a different product : ), mix everything well. Line a pan with baking paper and grease it. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 200 °С. Let cool, cut in two layers.
Beat sour cream with sugar and spread over the first layer. Top with the second layer. Decorate with fresh or preserved berries.
Result: The taste is weird, almost almond-like but really hard to distinguish and explain unless you try it yourself. You can tell those were hard dried fruits the bird cherry ‘flour’ was made from cause if the ‘flour’ contains larger grains than you will immediately taste it between your teeth. At the same time the cake is super soft, sweet and almondy-tangy at once. With the sour cream filling the cake gets even softer with time. Already with the first bite you realize there’s nothing you could compare it from your previous your food experience. THE thing to surprise your guests! (and don’t forget the kokoshnik : )
And this is how ground bird cherry looks like – in case you were wondering:
Remarks: Bird cherry flour is almost like flaxseed meal but grainier. And the flavour is different and very distinct I should say! Also when you boil it for the recipe the mixture gets almost velvety. Try ordering such a cake at a touristy restaurant in Russia or at a bakery – no way will you find it easily… Although you can try a large pharmacy as bird cherry is also an anti-inflamatory and antiseptic. But then you will have to grind it! And yes, there are still some Russians who grind their bird cherry flour themselves! And no, you cannot substitute it with flaxseed meal or almond meal, because this weird exotic bird cherry taste is the IT of the cake. Period.
It’s a pity the light was poor back in April and I have just several photos of the cake. But that was an experiment and a discovery in itself – from opening the package through boiling this velvety powder in white milk to actually tasting the cake!