March 01, 2020

Birch



Birch
Krasnoyarsk Birches. Mikhail Mordasov

Darra Goldstein, formerly food editor for Russian Life and author of our cookbook, A Taste of Russia, traveled throughout the Russian Arctic and found a rich culinary tradition, one that celebrates whole grains, fermentation, and honest flavors. Her new cookbook, Beyond the North Wind, excerpted here, is a captivating collection of Russian recipes and lore. Featuring 100 dishes and essays on this fascinating and wild part of the world, Beyond the North Wind weaves history, anthropology, and recipes into an evocative tome that offers a rarely seen portrait of Russia, its people, and its palate.  It is a perfect complement to A Taste of Russia.

The Russians love their birch trees, both visually and gastronomically. They even enjoy drinking what they call birch juice – the light, sweet sap of the trees – which tastes like bottled spring. American companies are now beginning to sell birch sap commercially, branding it as something new, with names like TÅPPEƉ and Säpp that play on the allure of New Nordic cuisine. But birch trees have long been important to both the Russian pantry and medicine cabinet. Besides drinking birch juice straight, Russians turn it into lightly fermented kvas. They also make a lovely tisane, which is a little like wintergreen in flavor, by pouring boiling birch juice over fresh twigs and letting them steep. Birch buds are believed to have healing powers, especially when paired with vodka.

Even more potent is chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a shiny, charcoal-colored fungus that grows on birch trees. Reputed to be a miracle food with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, chaga has long been used in Russian folk medicine, either imbibed as an infusion or used as a tincture, and is even reputed to have cured the twelfth-century Grand Prince Vladimir of lip cancer. Though chaga’s efficacy remains unproven, a compound called betulinic acid, derived from the bark of white birch trees, is frequently used in cancer treatment today.


Digital Subscription Required

Get unlimited digital access for just $2 a month.

Don't have an account? signup

See Also

A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

800-639-4301
802-223-4955