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:
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