architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Kargopol, a Gem of the Russian North

Kargopol

There are places that hold a special place in your heart even if you only spent a few days there. And not in a small part this is due to the people you meet there. Last July I visited a place like this in Arkhangelsk Region. Kargopol, an ancient northern Russian town located on the Onega River, had never actually been on my travelling list.

Kargopol

But it so happened that through some long (and I really mean that)-distance volunteering work I got attached to this place in such a way that I accepted the invitation and after some 15 rainy hours spent on the St Petersburg-Arkhangelsk train and an extremely bumpy ride (there are hardly any good “local” roads outside St Pete or Moscow) finally got there. Our first day was dedicated to exchanging news and life stories – which resulted in me almost losing my voice for several days.

Kargopol

The following day I actually visited the place I have been volunteering for and had first to overcome my fears about not being able to in fact. One thing to help people in need – coming in person to this place is the other. I was not sure I would be able to let go of all that squeamishness and just be human. It turned out right, although I was pretty drained after this visit and had just a tiny bit of my mental powers to enjoy the historical center of the town with its churches and museums (these are very often two-in-one in Russia).

Kargopol

Kargopol occupies the area where people lived already in the 4th millennium BC, although it is officially considered to be founded in 1380, being the year when it was first mentioned in writing. Its name is a bit of a riddle, containing parts that refer to both its Finno-Ugric past and the later Russification. And while “pol(e)” (field) is pretty obvious, the first part is translated either as a “crow” or a “bear”, depending on the version you stick to.

Kargopol

There’s an earth mound right next to the local bus station from where I took the photo above that testifies to the times when Kargopol was colonized by the people from Novgorod the Great. The town used to be quite an important trading center in the 16th century as it had the right to trade… salt which was quite a luxury back then and not all the cities were granted the right to do so, forcing them to actually come and buy their “white death” (or is it only said about sugar?) in Kargopol.

Kargopol

But with all its rights and privileges, Kargopol was also a place of exile – tsars would send their unwanted relatives or favourites there, while the sign on the house above tells us that a certain Ivan Bolotnikov (known to all us in Russia from the school history books) who was a leader of a popular uprising in 1606-07 was executed here as well. The wooden sign reminds us that the street was previously called Potanikha instead of Bolotnikov Street (renamed in the Soviet era when Bolotnikov Rebellion was especially celebrated). A curious thing to note about this building in the photo is that the double windows are quite lazily insulated with some moss – to keep the warmth in between the frames.

Kargopol

This 18th century bell-tower is there to remind us of a devastating fire that left the entire town in ruins in 1765 and made Catherine the Great (see her letters above the arch) rebuilt it according to a so-called “regular plan” – the one that was later applied to many cities including St Petersburg. This is how Kargopol became one of the first cities in the Russian Empire to follow this new plan.

Kargopol

But its main purpose now is to serve as an observation tower – one of the things I really appreciate, especially when there IS what to see from up there 🙂 One of the (relevantly) recent experiences that I enjoyed was an ex-monastery tower in Staraya Russa. Which makes me think I still have plenty of my travels to tell…

Kargopol

The church with green cupolas is a weird combination of baroque and whitewashed-wall architecture – I would never have thought that it was built in the middle of the 18th century! And this one with the shiny black cupolas was build 200 years earlier, in the mid-16th century, and over the years it has sunk  almost 100 cm into the ground! The crazy buttresses made of stones and planks of wood were added to support the structure after the already mentioned fire of 1765. But the main attraction of this church is actually a collection of the so-called “heavens” or “skies” (nebesa in Russian), painted wooden ceilings characteristic of the Russian North. Gathered all over the region, they are exhibited in this church just propped against the walls.

Kargopol

Walking back from the main square to my friend’s place (after visiting a local history museum also housed in a church), I noticed a house with super dusty windows and some traditional clay Kargopol toys displayed in two of them. These toys might as well be taken for the more popular Dymkovo toys but are less flashy and I would say more authentic in a way. They say that those who used to make them in the old days would do so in the winter as during the rest of the year they were busy cultivating their land and harvesting.

Kargopol

The toy is considered one of the symbols of the town (and the area) and is featured on, for instance, the local foods such as pryanik and kefir. However, there are very few foods made locally here as the agriculture collapsed with the break of the USSR and due to the remoteness of the area aggravated by the lack of proper roads makes it hard for anything to develop here – including tourism. Speaking of which, here’s what you can find here, just a few steps away from the central square:

Kargopol

This delicate intricate beauty in the traditional “uzorochye” (literally “abundance of ornaments”) style is a 17th century church and the one to the right (below) is another church, once adorned with five cupolas but now reduced to just one.

Kargopol

They are both situated on the old market square – here pictured during the annual festival dedicated to the start of the mowing season and the Kupala Night that falls on the 7th of July. I was lucky enough to arrive just in time for the festivities which included a mowing competition among teams representing various villages, a market day and a real Kupala Night with a fire show, khorovod (round dances) and music.

Kargopol

The competition included mowing a designated plot and building a haystack with a “twist”. There were also traditional chastushki (funny and often ironic short songs that rather resemble short poems) performed by the competitors themselves. And these girls (below) were preparing some treats for the participants.

Kargopol

These ladies just rocked! They were I think the first to finish their “creation” and then they sang just like real stars! Here pictured against the 17th century church with silver cupolas as the background. I really enjoyed the festival, although we missed the first part, the actual mowing, as it started quite early. And I think people around me were enjoying it as well, sincerely, you know, as mowing remains a part of their daily life, actually, since many of the locals live in their own houses in Kargopol or nearby villages.

Kargopol

I was actually also clad in a traditional sarafan that my host made – although contrary to the people participating in the contest I felt very much an impostor 🙂 Moving further towards the “private” residential area of the town where people live in their own (or semi-detached) houses, I came about this apparently old but dying wooden building – this used to be shared by several families.

Kargopol

When everyone was having a nap, I wandered about a bit and was granted with this wonderful view over the town and the Onega River. Kargopol is like this, there are almost no buildings taller than say three floors (they stick to this rule deliberately) and there’s just ONE bus that makes a stop at the local bus station before moving on to the other side of the river when everyone gets off the bus (even if their journey is not over yet) and the driver with the conductor go inside the station building to have some tea. I think that took them about 10 minutes – nobody complained as this is an established “rule”. Not joking!

Kargopol

I enjoyed the view for quite a while, spellbound by the great weather, the atmosphere, the people and the silence which was broken only by a small motor boat moving along the river. There is also lake Lacha nearby, the largest in the region, but we didn’t manage to go there. With all the guests at my hosts’ place and the festival, I only managed to see a tiny bit of the town actually, so many things were left for the next time. I hope to have a walk around it myself too, like I did in that part of the town where my host lives.

Kargopol

That evening there was also the big party, the Kupala Night itself, originally dedicated to the summer solstice (falling on the 24th of June according to the old, Julian calendar) but now mostly celebrating just the summer, I guess. Already on the first day I noticed these wooden figures in the Onega River that were still being constructed. The locals told us these were created for the famous fire show that we were about to witness soon. The figures were also symbolic, some taken from the local fokllore, some representing the traditional Kargopol toys. The big night finally came and I have to admit, I’ve never experienced anything of the kind – the atmosphere of the festival was very far from what I’m used to and I would definitely like to attend it again if I can.

Kargopol

There was also a sort of catwalk with super tall girls demonstrating tradition-inspired costumes, a “skovorodka” (literally “frying pan”) or a dance “floor” with the 1980s music performed live by a biology teacher and his band (well, he’d better stick to biology, if you ask me!), lots of food being cooked and not so much of alcohol around as I would expect (which, I guess, was banned). After that there was some dancing in circles choreographed by a team from Petrozavodsk, which I did join. The culmination of the night was the fire show to the live music by a local musician. Although we were already quite tired and feeling cold, we did watch the first figures to burn (which they did excruciatingly slowly!) and, to tell you the truth, felt some kind of regret that they did burn these structures down.

Kargopol

Next day people from various local communities organized a festival/market showcasing their products and most notably traditions. Of course, there was a much less authentic (and exciting for me) part to this event, though moved away from the main square, where you could get some fast food and completely not local goods and stuff, which people seemed to enjoy a lot, in fact. The thing is, those living in the big cities are spoilt with all the junk stuff to the point they get enough of it, longing for something truly traditional, authentic, ethnic, organic etc etc while in the regions people regard the former as something genuinely entertaining and take the latter for granted.

Kargopol

I guess for me there was much more interest in the traditional part as that is what is missing from my life in the city and I feel only a very distant connection to it. Anyway, pictured below is the same lady who was so active mowing in the early morning, now busy heating water in the samovar. What a stamina she has!

Kargopol

People were selling homemade pies, smoked fish and sweet stuff. But as we ate quite a lot of our own freshly baked sweet and savory pies in the morning (see further), I didn’t sample anything there, just wandered along the aisles, dissuading myself from buying all those baskets, boxes and the like that were on offer.

Kargopol

As I had a train to catch later that day, I couldn’t enjoy the festival and the market as much as I wished to. There was also a singing and dancing competition which I had to ignore in order to see at least some of the things I was indeed interested in. I made some last-minute souvenir shopping, buying a tall box made from birch bark, decorated with the beautiful red and black Mezen patterns, traditional painting style from Arkhangelsk Region.

Kargopol

Earlier that day there was a real treat for me by my host’s sister: she cooked the traditional shangi pies with mashed potatoes (there should have been also some smetana or sour cream on top but the Russian stove my hosts have at home – see above – was piping hot and we had to skip that part) and some qutab-like pies with berries. The funny part about the master-class was when the hosts’ cat (who hissed at me like a real snake and snapped at my face) obviously curious and at the same time pretty nervous with all those people occupying its home (there was quite a few of us there) take a stroll right over the rolled-out circles of dough ready to be filled in and baked. We didn’t mind though 🙂

Kargopol

There was also a very hot banya with veniki (banya whisks from birch branches and leaves) from where I just had to flee as I can hardly stand such heat (and had to stand next to the window for half an hour to come back to life), there was marveling at how little I know about life outside big cities, there was walking with the dog in the nearby forest, there was a ton of new people I met and tons of stories I heard, there was a torrential rain and birds singing in the early morning, there were many things I noticed about myself. And there was some cooking on my part as well, mostly improvising with the ingredients that were available. Here’re some sugar knots and a berry pie in the morning light.

Kargopol

On the train I met a woman from Moscow who comes to the festival every year. Although she seemed to have traveled all over the area and learnt a lot, she made me think that you can only learn as much about the traditions and the life in the region as you see and are shown, whereas the true life is what you can only experience if you live there yourself. The next morning, I was already in the hustling and bustling, insatiably commercial Moscow – not the best place to go after such a getaway and a soulful, meaningful journey. One to remember, for sure.

Filed under the Russian Travels collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

This summer inspired by the excursion to the Vitebsky railway station where we learned quite a bit about the technologies of the early 20th century, I made a walk in the center of the city up to the Bolsheokhtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge. It belongs to the same period and uses the same construction method which at that time was considered quite revolutionary.

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

On my way to the Bridge there were a few unavoidable stops as you just can’t resist pulling your camera out and making some photos. Above – a neo-baroque late 19th century green eye-catcher that looks pretty well in a combination with a brightly painted red ex-gymnasium building just a few meters away from it. And here’s a late Art Nouveau building (or rather ‘Northern Modern’ as it is called in Russia) that I used to pass by every day heading towards one of my jobs. It is in a very poor state now but it was supposed to look like a fortress or a castle, with its impressive walls and stonework at the ground floor level.

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

Built in 1911-12 this residential house still preserves its original windows and judging from the photographs taken in its inner courtyard and inside it has not yet lost some of those details that would help create the Medieval atmosphere around it.

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

St Pete’s backstage:

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

And now on to the Bridge that connected a – then – suburb Okhta (hence the first name) with the center of the city. As with a couple of other bridges in St Petersburg (like Troitsky linking the center to the Petrogradskaya side) its construction was not at all desired by those who provided transport services from one side of Neva river to the other. Those who did want the bridge to be built were the people who had to embark on a boat in order to commute.

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

With its tons of metal all over the place Bolsheohtinsky Bridge does look pretty powerful and at the same time – so effortless in how it stretches from one side to the other in just three spans. The most often used adjective when describing this bridge in Russian is ‘azhurny‘, laced. The lighthouse-like towers hide the mechanisms that draws the central span inside them – and thanks to them this bridge resembles London’s Tower Bridge built in the late 19th century. Ironically Bolsheohtinsky Bridge did impersonate the famous bridge over Thames in the 1983 Sherlock Holmes series, the best by the way, – see how they turned Thames into Neva… or vice versa here :). This element here looks very Northern Modern, as if someone like Art Nouveau guru Robert Metlzer created this metal curve:

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

The project that won the competition was developed and then fine-tuned by engineers, including Vladimir Apyshkov who created one of the Art Nouveau jewels, Chagin’s mansion, now a dental clinic. The legend has it that one of the clenches was made of pure gold but since all of the clenches are of the same colour – and there are more than a million of them – nobody has found it yet. Another interesting fact is that the bridge was constructed so well that it required some renovation only as late as 1970s. And yes, the second name of the bridge, which was abolished during the Soviet era, comes from the fact that it was laid down in 1909, exactly 200 years after Peter the Great won the Poltava battle, one of the decisive moments in the war with Sweden. The bridge opened to traffic in 1911.

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

This photo is taken from the Okhta side of the Neva river. It has been so heavily Soviet-style urbanized that for me – probably yet – it doesn’t really seem attractive. Okhta, a right-had tributary of Neva, gave its name to the settlement that used to be a carpenters’ village from the early 18th century. It later grew into one of those industrial suburbs surrounding the city, with many factories and a shipyard. But it also became the place where the rest of the city would get its milk and dairy from – the full-bodied Okhta women would come to various districts of St Petersburg selling their fresh produce and thus making their living.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Our dacha in St Petersburg region (aka Leningrad region) is one of those places for me, a city dweller, where I can get closer to the nature or at least follow the seasons that are much more distinct here than in St Petersburg. It’s a pity our dacha is a classical summer cottage type and we perform our dacha activities from somewhere in late April until early November, so I have never actually seen it in winter. But the transformation that the nature undergoes moving from summer to autumn for me always starts at our dacha – you can feel it in the air, in the light and even in the soil. In this post I would like to share with you just a glance of this transformation. Let’s start with…

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Early July – this year it resembled early June as the nature was one month behind the ‘schedule’ (now it seems to have gone one month ahead). I was burning old leaves leftover from last year, cleaning our plot from the many useless things that normally constitute the ‘wealth’ of most old-school dachas.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Everything was very June-like green and very slow. Apart from the grass (read: moss) and the puddles – both grew pretty fast this summer.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Late July – the beginning of the end of summer, supposed to be the best days in terms of weather with the peak warmth. This July as I said was rather like June which means we were not that spoiled with sun but rather overloaded with rain.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

I just adore that evening light…

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

In late July we finally reached that point where you get used to the summer and lose track of days (although this summer it was much easier to count sunny days than the rainy ones). This is the period that is hard to be defined as you just live through it, day by day.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Long days are nice when there’s sun – and in St Petersburg and its region we have the famous white nights – but with the interminable rain from dusk to dawn you don’t know what to do being stuck inside. One of the possible pastimes is baking potatoes 🙂

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

September – warm colours of early autumn, cozy time in jeans & sweater, a short Indian summer with a bit more sun that we did not get enough of during the actual summer.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

The setting sun is the most magical:

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

I started this summer wearing this old 90s sweater and I finished our dacha period in it as well.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Some warm yellow after the rain:

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

The soil was so wet this summer that we harvested some Lactarius mushrooms that popped up here and there. I will also make a separate post on our mushroom and berry picking in the forests of the St Petersburg region.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

This beard looks and feels pretty weird 🙂 The mushroom grows its beard when it gets old.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

The fluffy Astilbe:

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Astilbe in the backlight:

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

Our apple trees follow their own schedule – they give fruit every second year. And with every new second year they do it more and more assiduously, giving us more apples that we can possibly process ourselves. This year only the most broken tree with almost no roots (it fell down under the weight of 200 kilos of apples once) miraculously gave a couple of sweet apples (the much-suffering trunk of the tree is pictured in the 1st photo of this post).

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

October – gathering fallen leaves and getting warm through that; everything gets transparent and you can suddenly see much farther; cold graphics of autumn; nature becomes distant as if hiding from you and slipping through your fingers.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

I think I’ve broken every record in gathering fallen leaves this autumn. My back says I’ve been a bit too zealous…

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

And yet I have my favourite leaves in autumn – the super-multi-coloured leaves of chockeberry tree (haha, what a name in English – but in fact pretty exact!). My Granddad used to make a sort of extra-tart wine from these berries – it leaves such an aftertaste in your mouth you can hardly get rid of.

Dacha: From Summer to Autumn

G.

pies · sweet

Red Currant Pie with Ground Oats and Peanuts

Red Currant Pie

Berries from dacha. Some of them are now frozen, some of them turned into a sort of zhivoe varenye (live confiture, consisting of berries strained with sugar, no boiling involved – the best way to preserve all the good stuff in the fruit), some of them eaten raw (gosh, they are so sour!) and some end up as a filling to numerous cakes, muffins and this time also a pie.

Red Currant Pie

This summer with June and July almost sun-less, has not given the berries enough sugar so they are eeeextra sour. Thanks God, no apples this year – I can only imagine how sour they would be…

Red Currant Pie

Red currants are traditionally extremely sour. Yet, I like baking with them, they seem to give that special ‘it’ to the cakes and pies.

Red Currant Pie

After making quick cakes and muffins, I’ve finally got over my laziness and here’s a pastry pie I baked today with the last red currants from our dacha – soft and zesty. Why peanuts in a berry pie? Well, I just had some in front of me.

Red Currant Pie

Same goes with why I decided to add this tolokno (see Remarks below) layer to the pie 0 I guess I just had it on the table at that moment too! However, it seems it was not that bad an idea after all – it has given the berries an extra soft (and sweet) layer and also prevented the juices from destroying the bottom of the pie. I think it worked in a sort of custard-y way.

Red Currant Pie

1 year ago – Lemon-Gooseberry Bars

2 years ago – Greek Olive Buns and Breadsticks

3 years ago – Spanakopita and Mediterranean Vegetable Millefeuille

4 years ago – Summer Goes On with Sourdough Mini-Rolls

5 years ago – Pommes. Pommes de Terre too

Red Currant Pie with Ground Oats and Peanuts

Ingredients (as with most of my recipes – the amounts are very approximate!)

  • 150-200 g sugar, divided
  • lemon zest, to taste
  • 90-100 g butter, cold or from freezer
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • handful of peanuts, ground into flour
  • all-purpose flour, enough for the pastry
  • 2-3 Tb oat flour (preferably tolokno or kama, see Remarks)
  • 1/2 cup warm water, or more as needed
  • fresh red currants

Procedure

First, make the pastry. Cut cold butter into small pieces, mix in about 50-70 g sugar, depending on how sweet you want your pastry, lemon zest and the egg. Working rather quickly before the butter softens too much, add a pinch of salt, ground peanuts and start adding all-purpose flour, delicately but swiftly kneading the pastry with your hand. My idea was to make it rather soft and crumbly so I did not knead it into a disk. Leave the pastry covered in the fridge for at least 30 min.

Meanwhile, prepare the oat flour layer. I used the easiest method for making kasha from tolokno (see Remarks), by mixing it gradually into a small bowl with some warm water, adjusting the amount of flour to achieve rather thick consistency. Add in about 50 g of sugar (the mixture will get more runny).

Line a round or rectangular baking dish with parchment paper. Take the pastry out of the fridge and distribute a bigger (2/3) part of it on the bottom, by gently rubbing it through your fingers. In this way you’re creating a more ‘aerated’ sort of pastry layer rather than a smooth one, so no worries if there are ‘holes’ in the bottom layer. Keep the rest of the pastry in the fridge.

Pour the oat mixture over the bottom pastry layer and scatter red currants on top, finishing with some more sugar, depending on the sweetness of your berries (ours are as usual super sour). Take the remaining pastry from the fridge and rub it through your fingers over the berries. There will be more spaces in the top layer with berries popping out as you’ll have less pastry for it but that’s exactly what you need.

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Bake for about 40-45 min. until the top layer is golden and the berries are happily bubbling away.

Red Currant Pie

Remarks

Tolokno aka kama or talkan, is a traditional grind of slightly toasted whole oats, considered to be healthier than what you get with the industrially milled oats. In Karelia they eat it with berries and it’s such a treat! You can of course use oat flour or grind some oatmeal instead.

Red Currant Pie

My pastry ‘recipe’ is not anywhere close to what you would call classic, so feel free to use your favourite recipe. Anyway, I have to confess, putting enough butter into the pastry does make a difference – it’s just what I wanted – soft and crumbly!

Red Currant Pie

Result

Sweet-n’-sour in one bite, very soft and peanut-y, with distinct flavour from the oats detected.

Red Currant Pie

This recipe goes to the Berries and Sweet collections where you will find many more recipes with red currants in particular, like Cardamom and Red Currant Cake, Coconut Red Currant Bread, Pretty Good Red Currant Coffeecake, Moelleux aux Groseilles or Redcurrant CakeRed Currant Meringue Pie, Red Currant Flan and Red Currant and Marzipan Swirls among others.

G.

cookies · muffins · sweet

Sugarless: Oatmeal Cookies and Fruit Muffins

Sugarless Oatmeal Cookies

My sister is temporarily on a no-added-sugar diet so I’ve been experimenting with sugar-free baking for a while. She is also avoiding honey and industrially made juices which turned it into a bit of a challenge. So bananas, dried fruit and fresh fruit have all been summoned instead to substitute sugar and make my sister enjoy her meal anyway.

Sugarless Oatmeal Cookies

Here are two of the recipes I’ve come up with: oatmeal cookies and muffins with dried fruits and fresh apples.

1 year ago – Trans-Siberian Trip Part 4: Siberia Begins with Tyumen

2 years ago – Birthday Kovrizhka and Chocolate Chip Muffins

3 years ago – While Zucchini Are in Season…

4 years ago – Italian Delicacies a la Russe

5 years ago – Fruit Post

Sugarless Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients

  • about 300 g old-fashioned oatmeal, roughly ground (or a mixture of oats, rye, barley and wheat flakes) plus some quick-cooking oats, whole
  • 60 g butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 banana, preferably overripe
  • dried apricots and dates, chopped
  • sesame seeds, ground
  • mixed nuts, roughly ground
  • optional add-ins: ground flax seeds (aka coarse flaxmeal), flax bran*, wheat germ
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • cinnamon, cardamom
  • pinch of salt

Procedure

First, beat butter with the banana and eggs, then add the rest of the ingredients in no particular order (I added while quick-cooking oats last). Adjust the amount of flour and/or add-ins according to the consistency. Cover and Let chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. Then form dough balls (preferably the size of a small tangerine) and place on a baking mat / baking parchment. The cookies won’t spread so mo need to space them a lot. Slightly flatten the balls with your finger.

Bake in the preheated oven at 180-190 ‘C for about 15 minutes (depending on size). My cookies did not brown much on the top but looked apparently cooked on the bottom.

Remarks: Add more dried fruits for a sweeter result. These smell delicious in the oven!

Result: Cheeeewy cookies for those on a sugar-free diet; for sweet-tooth people these cookies won’t be as attractive though they definitely contain quite a lot of nutrients and healthy stuff.

And here’s the other recipe:

Sugarless Fruit Muffins

Sugarless Fruit Muffins 

Ingredients

  • 3 small eggs
  • 100 g dried apricots
  • A handful of dates
  • A handful of hazelnuts, toasted
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 150 ml sour cream (smetana)
  • 50 ml sunflower seed oil
  • Flax bran*, wheat germ, ground flax seeds (aka coarse flaxmeal), ground old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 200 g all-purpose flour, adjust the amount accordingly
  • A tangerine, peeled and chopped
  • Half an apple, diced
  • Cinnamon
  • Sesame seeds, for decoration

Procedure

Scold dried fruits with boiling water, drain, pour some more hot water and let them soak (I usually use a colander placed on a deep bowl). When they get soft enough, drain them (you can use the water in the recipe but I chose sour cream instead) and stone the dates.

In a blender, reduce dried apricots and hazelnuts into a sort of chunky puree (I left dates un-blended). Beat eggs with sour cream, then beat in the oil. Add the fruit and nut mixture into the eggs. Thoroughly mix baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon into the flour and add it to the eggs and fruit mixture. Add the extras (ground oatmeal, bran, germ, flaxmeal) and the dates. In a sort of a last-minute inspiration, add in chopped tangerine and some apple. Mix well but do not overmix.

Preheat the oven to 210’C. Divide the batter into the muffins cups and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake for about 17-20 minutes (mine were baking on the upper shelf together with bread below them). Left sit in the cups a bit and then leave them cool on a wooden cutting board.

Sugarless Fruit Muffins

Remarks: I added flaxmeal hence this somewhat darkish colour but you can add any healthy extras you desire. Same applies to the dried fruits, nuts and the last-minute ingredients you throw in – choose them to your liking but don’t forget to check that the dried fruit do not contain added sugar (sometimes they do add it to the cranberries). You can also add extra chopped dried apricots or mash in a banana for a sweeter result.

Result: Though you have to be on a no-sugar diet to appreciate these in terms of their very low sweetness, the muffins are soft, good in texture (not rubbery as I feared) and they rose nicely.

Adding these recipes to my Sweet collection.

*Flax bran – a recently discovered flax seed-derived thing, looks like very roughly ground golden flax seeds. Might be just a new name for coarse golden flaxmeal (as opposed to the more traditional ‘dark’ flaxmeal). Been adding it to my sweet baking.

This post was made using mobile phone pictures. But I think I’d rather keep to my good ol’ camera!

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · sweet

Midsummer Post about the Best Russian Ice Cream

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

This year’s midsummer post is about the best ice-cream in Russia – sakharnaya trubochka or sakharny rozhok (sugar tube / sugar cone). Although this type of ice-cream is traditionally associated with its сountry of origin, Italy, where it is known as cornetto, millions of Soviet kids are forever grateful to a worker of the First Leningrad Refrigerating Plant for inventing a waffle-rolling machine… and thus making their lives a little bit merrier.

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

Personally I’m not a big fan of super-sweet ice-cream with dozens of add-ins – I prefer the plain vanilla ice-cream in crunchy waffle instead. The extra-creamy one. Glazed with chocolate that delicately breaks when you have your first bite. With that tiny ‘tail’ of the sugary waffle cone filled with chocolate. And that’s exactly what you get with sakharnaya trubochka. An even plainer type of ice-cream that I also like is vafelny stakanchik, vanilla ice-cream in a waffle cone shaped as a glass (hence the name). And contrary to the gelato or other ice-cream-ball-types, it’s filled with the creamy stuff right to the end.

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

By the way, they’ll never get you if you say you’d like a sakharnaya trubochka (tube) in Moscow – they call it rozhok (cone, cornetto) there instead. Well it’s true, it doesn’t really look like a tube but this name just caught on and if you ask kids in St Petersburg which ice-cream they are dreaming of, they’ll immediately say ‘trubochka‘.

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

As its very Soviet name suggests, the Leningrad Khladokombinat #1 was the first refrigerating plant (cold-storage facility) to open in Leningrad in 1934 – and the first one in the country to start producing this very type of ice-cream. The legend has it that a worker from the Experimental workshop Dmitry Smirnov invented waffle-cone-rolling and filling machine and the country has been thoroughly enjoying sakharnaya trubochka ever since (more precisely, since 1946). They say he was also responsible for inventing other mechanisms thus making such ice-cream types as stakanchik and briket (a brick of ice-cream in-between two layers of waffles) available in the USSR.

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

Although they claim they still make this ice-cream according to the state-imposed and state-controlled standard (GOST), Sakharnaya trubochka‘s list of ingredients these daysdoes not seem particularly enticing (I doubt they had coconut butter E476 and soy lecithin back then). However, the main ingredients are still there: cream, milk, condensed milk, butter and vanilla for the ice-cream itself, flour, sugar, butter for the waffle and cocoa for the glaze. Warning: when buying a trubochka, check if its cone is hard enough, otherwise you will miss on the  bet part of it – the crunchy sugary waffle cone.

Previous year’s midsummer posts:

2016 – Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry for Midsummer

2015 – Midsummer: Samovar, Teacups and Saucers

2014 – Midsummer Roses in Pavlovsk and Almond Puff

2013 – Midsummer Berry Smoothie

2012 – Midsummer’s Black Currant Rhubarb Cake

Adding this post to the On USSR / Russia collection.

P.S. I took these photos last year in August when I had my one and only ice-cream of that summer. This summer I had it a bit earlier in July but this year again it’s not that type of summer in St Petersburg when you would want an ice-cream every day. Global warming is definitely happening somewhere else.

G.

Family recipe · no-dough · on USSR / Russia · vegetarian

Stove-Baked Potatoes

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

This summer feels like a lingering spring. Though most of June it looked like autumn – isn’t it a bit early to sit in front of the stove yet?! Thanks God, we are having pretty warm days now and are already dying from ‘heat’ (22 ‘C) :). And the White Nights period is still on:

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

Since I’m (again) searching for a job and can move around freely, I’ve spent several days at our dacha, unfortunately dressed in many clothes and trying to warm myself and the house up by feeding the stove with all that paper junk. Among which I found this Geography notebook from 1997:

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

Yes, back then we learnt that Pluto was a full-fledged 9th planet in the Solar system (what a loss!). I remember the teacher gave each pupil a planet’s name and we had to quickly rearrange in the planets’ order. We did the same with the months of the year and I can vividly recall my fear because I didn’t really study the months at home for that lesson! However, nostalgia did not prevent me from eventually throwing this school memorabilia into the dacha stove as well.

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

Heating pechka (brick stove) is almost obligatory even in summer because our house is wooden and poorly isolated. It feels pretty cool inside during hot days which is nice but it cools down a bit too much once the heat is gone (in our case the heat has not been here at all). We used to heat soup or other things using the metal ‘plate’ on top of the stove but you can also cook things inside the stove too.

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

The ‘recipe’ I’m going to share with you today is actually a no recipe at all, it’s just a way of making up a lunch or dinner which requires two main ‘ingredients’: a stove and potatoes 🙂 Ah yes, the third ingredient is that grainy salty salt!

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

My grandparents would bake us some potatoes in the residual heat left over from heating the stove when we spent our school holidays at our dacha. By the way, they constructed the stove themselves back in the 1970s when they were allotted a plot near Sinyavino in the Leningrad region. The dacha era was on!

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

So, backing potatoes in the stove goes like this: you wait till you get burning coal in your stove and then place some potatoes with the skins on (no need to clean them) right inside that coal & cinder mess. Shut the stove door and wait for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. You can check the doneness from time to time (it depends on the amount of heat left and the size of your potatoes) by fishing one of the potatoes out and touching them with your fingers (ouch!). If it feels soft and you can almost squash the potato through with your fingers – the potatoes are done.

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

So grab some salt and peel the potatoes with your fingers, creating mess all around (your face included), gobble them down while they are still hot! The best part is this burnt crispy layer which lies right beneath the skin. The rest is tender and almost sweet. New (baby) potatoes work best here – they are small and so will bake through in less time.

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

If you’re afraid your potatoes will burn too much or in case you prefer a cleaner type of meal, wrap the potatoes in aluminum foil before placing them in the stove. But this won’t be the authentic rough old-school way, you know.

P.S. I’ve tried baking potatoes in a bochka, a metal barrel traditionally placed outside the dacha plot (so that all your neighbors can enjoy the smell), used to burn down all that cannot decompose naturally (according to my Granddad). So I guess anything goes here!

Adding this recipe to Lunch/Dinner collection.

G.