Today in this age and time we have available food at our fingertips at any time we want. It wasn’t always like that, in fact in history our ancestors were at times almost vegetarian. Most of the food they prepared was many vegetables, oddly enough, with little meat. In fact this kind of national cuisine is still dominant in Eastern Slavic populations.
After all the national cuisine – is one way of expressing the cultural development and status of a nation. What they ate says about the ability or inability of people to farm. Hippocrates said: “We are what we eat.”
The very first food – the hunter gatherers
In those days, when people had just learned to sow the field and breed animals, the main food is the one you can collect. Slavs used the rich gifts of nature: hunting, collecting mushrooms, nuts, berries and fruit trees. The berries are then kept for the winter, but apples and pears are only eaten fresh.
Also Slavs extracted bees honey from forests. Beekeeping did not yet exist, but our ancestors knew how to take care of the wild insects while cutting down the tree trunks and special grooves for their hives.
The Slavs were skilled fishermen. That fish was the main substitute for meat. From fish they prepared a variety of dishes, including the famous fish soup. They caught fish with using special traps.
Native East Slavic products
Before, when trade between Rus and other countries has still not been established, our ancestors could serve up only those products that are grown in the middle lane. The earliest cultivated plants were rye, barley and oats. Grinding grain was labor-intensive undertaking, requiring the efforts of many people. Therefore, in each village there was only one mill with millstones, and it worked infrequently. From the resulting barley and rye flour they cooked porridge and baked bread.
Instead of potatoes they roasted turnips. This plant required care and sufficient irrigation and gave poor yields. But it could be stored in the cellar right up to the spring, and even until the next harvest. Another common product was cabbage. However, then cabbage was stored for a brief period.
Remember the tale of the turnip? Yes, it was the most “Russian” product. It can be seen in each garden. Turnip grew rapidly and it was stored for a long time, so it ended up in perhaps dozens of dishes.
Russified products and trade
Have you ever wondered why the buckwheat in Russian is called гречка (grechka) meaning “of Greece”? The answer is simple: she appeared in Russia when they established trade relations with the Black Sea region. They purchased it from the Greeks, and that’s why they called it Greek. This is not a very demanding plant quickly caught on to the banks of the Dnieper, and quickly grew into the hearts of our ancestors. From it they cooked cereals, flour and added to bread.
Besides buckwheat they acquired cucumbers, onions and some varieties of fruit trees. It is true that gardening developed in Russia very slowly, East Slavic ancestors liked to collect more fruit from wild trees, than to care for the garden.
Popular pumpkin and garlic are also “foreigners” in the Russian table. They came to them during the devastating raids of the nomadic “Volga Khazars” somewhere in the 9-10 centuries. Our ancestors garnered a pumpkin for the winter to add it to cereal, and garlic has been used for salting and seasoning the meat.
Meat among East Slavs?
So why did East Slavic ancestors more frequently ate fish and mushrooms than meat? Is it true that the stereotype about Slavs is that they are innate lazy to hunt or herd? Of course not! The reason lies in the other.
Those who live in the village, you would know how difficult and expensive it was to keep livestock. Few pigs, goats or cows is okey, but to feed the flock, to eat meat every month or day – it is something that only very few people could do in those times. The cattle were kept, but they didn’t have enough so they would eat it only on major holidays.
But if it is difficult to contain the beast, why not get the meat out of the woods? But hunting was not so simple. Hunters combined into small groups and went away from the villages, leaving the family for a few days. In addition, the rich land often belonged to princes and boyars, and ordinary villagers had no right to hunt there as it was banned.
Therefore our ancestors replaced meat with fish and mushrooms, and went on the hunt for furs. If they were lucky they would get squirrel, marten and alike. They in addition to eating their meat would sell their fur, especially in the markets of the Black Sea region.
This is how East Slavs became famous for fur manufacture and why their national dishes today are mostly vegetable based as opposed to South and West Slavic populations.