September 01, 2016

A Prowess-Testing Pie

October 14 marks Pokrov, the feast of the Intercession of the Theotokos, one of the most beloved Russian Orthodox holidays honoring the Holy Mother of God.

Pokrov, or “Protection,” coincides with the last days of autumn. The final harvest is in, the produce carefully preserved for the long winter ahead. For Russian peasants, this was the most abundant time of year. So it’s not surprising that Pokrov also signaled the beginning of marriage season, with its attendant feasts. On the eve of the holiday, marriageable girls prayed to the Mother of God to cover them with a (wedding) veil. The year’s first snowfall usually occurred at this time, resonating with the secular meaning of pokrov as it blanketed the land with a protective cover.

The matchmaking and wedding festivities featured lavish pies and breads decorated with symbolic figures molded from dough. The pie served at the bride’s “hen party” was sometimes called a devichik, from the word for “girl,” while the groom’s pie was known as a kosovik. Unlike the typically round pies of the season, the kosovik was shaped into a semicircle to symbolically represent the groom as a waxing half moon who would soon step into his role as head of household. In The Encyclopedia of Ritual Orthodox Cooking, Lidia Liakhovskaya writes that prenuptial pie baking also involved superstition. The bride was expected to roll out the first round of dough as thinly as possible, while her fiancé and future in-laws tried to thwart her – it was considered back luck if they didn’t.

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