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Author: Marina Pustilnik
Page 60 ( 2 pages)
Now that the cold weather is upon us, it seems like a great time to talk about sbiten – a somewhat forgotten, but very old Russian drink made with honey, as well as spices and herbs.
Over the last century and a half, tea drinking has become such a staple of Russian life and culture that it’s difficult to imagine that this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the arrival of cheap Chinese tea (see “The Siberian Tea Road,” Russian Life, May/June 2013), sbiten was actually Russians’ drink of choice (both hot and cold) for at least a few centuries.
Archeological digs around the world have conclusively proven that just about every civilization used honey in its cooking, and eastern Slavs were no exception. The first mentions of sbiten date to twelfth century manuscripts, and the first known recipe was recorded in the sixteenth century Domostroy – an Ivan the Terrible era manual of various household advice and rules. The recipe reflects sbiten’s previously alcoholic nature, and the fact that, back then, it was a rather expensive drink, served in special establishments. The recipe reads as follows:
To make the sbiten, take a bottle of wine, a bottle of vinegar, a bottle of beer, a quarter of pepper, a pound of syrup, three pounds of foreign wine, however much you have, and combine it. Right away mix it with honey and cook so that it doesn’t boil over. As soon as it’s done, let it settle, and then pour it into vessels.
With time, sbiten became a non-alcoholic drink and gained greatly in popularity. In the summer it was consumed cold, but it was especially popular in the winter, when it was used both to warm up and to treat ailments such as colds.
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