Mead - A Noble Drink
Mead is a honey-based alcoholic drink – stronger and stouter than beer and weaker than wine. It consists of honey and yeast. Berries, hop, herbs, spices and roots may also be used as additives. It was originally popular with the nobility – and later with ordinary folks – in the many European cultures where it was known.
The history of mead goes back a long way. The ancestors of the Russians – the Old Slavs (especially the ones that lived in the north of the country) were always looking for foods that would help them survive in the dense forest. They came to realize that honey from bees was a good source of sustenance. So honey hunting became one of the crafts Slavs excelled at. They soon noticed a fermented liquid on top of the stored honey. They drank it and found it tasty – it kept them in a jolly good mood for some time. The only problem was that the fermentation process was long – it took from five to twenty years to produce mead (with some types of honey it took up to the fifty years to produce a decent drink). All this made mead expensive. It was the everyday stuff of nobility.
Then, in the 11th century, people tried heating the honey mixture and discovered that it was possible to speed up the fermentation process. Mead thus became available to common folk as well. In the 14th century – with the invention of the distillation tank - the process became even faster.
Ancient Slavs used the drink mainly for rituals and festivities. A typical Slavic feast usually began with an offering of mead to the gods. Only after that was is possible to drink and eat. Finns in the north considered mead a drink with magic powers – they believed that it could resurrect a person.
Okróshka - A Chilled Soup from Russia
Okróshka is a cold soup of Russian origin. The name probably originates from kroshit´, which means to crumble into small pieces. The classic soup is a mix of mostly raw vegetables (like cucumbers, radishes and spring onions), boiled potatoes, eggs, and a cooked meat such as beef, veal, sausages, or ham with kvass, which is a non-alcoholic (1.5% or less) beverage made from fermented black or rye bread. Okroshka is usually garnished with sour cream. Later versions that appeared in Soviet times use light or diluted kefir, whey, vinegar, mineral water, or even beer instead of kvass.
The ingredients are diced and then mixed with kvass just before eating; the ratio of chopped food to kvass is similar to that of cereal to milk. This allows the vegetables to retain their texture. For that same reason, even though the ingredients are similar to those in a Russian salad, the taste of okroshka is quite different from that of the salad.
Okroshka is mostly served in summer because the soup combines the refreshing taste of kvass and the lightness of a salad. Salt and sugar can be added according to taste. Okroshka is always served cold. Sometimes ice cubes are added to served portions to keep the soup cold in hot weather.
Dr. Nina Walsh continues her discussion of the benefits of fermented food and beverages from Russia. She shares her recipes for creating mead and Okroshka, a chilled soup. Click the play button below to listen to the interview with Dr. Nina Walsh from Flow Natural Medicine and Acupuncture.