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Friday, 5 July 2013
Lost Russian Sweet Recipe Revived
Topic: Russian Cuisine

The traditional Russian sweet pastila was a favourite in the 19th century but the recipe was lost in the turmoil of the 20th. Now two Russian businesswomen - Natalia Nikitina and Elena Dmitrieva - have revived the treat.  

The pair run a museum in Kolomna, near Moscow, dedicated to the apple-flavoured confectionery.

Now they have brought a taste of it to London - using the medium of dance to put their delicious message across. 

Wearing an enormous red skirt that falls three metres to the ground, a Russian noblewoman drops eggs into a giant copper saucepan held by servant girls below. Then using a whisk the size of a broom, she mixes in the apples. While she’s stirring a ballerina dances a pas de deux with a mysterious man in a cape and top hat. The crowd applauds and boxes of traditional Russian apple sweets slide down the noblewoman’s apron to baskets at her feet. 

Food and national identity are often intertwined. But when it comes to squeezing a huge chunk of history into a bite-size sugary treat, not many can compare with the Russian pastila. 

The spongy-apple flavoured sweet, similar to marshmallow, was produced in the medieval town of Kolomna, 100km south east of Moscow, back in the 17th Century as a way of preserving apples. At the outbreak of WWI, the last factory was closed, then came the Russian revolution and pastila was forgotten for nearly a hundred years. 

Although the original pastila disappeared a century ago, the word was used to describe a different type of sweet produced during the 20th century, but it was a substitute with a different taste.  

Recently the original pastila has been brought back to life, thanks to two creative Kolomna ladies – Natalia Nikitina and Elena Dmitrieva.  

Natalia Nikitina said:  

“If you want to take it humourously it’s because we like sweet things and we wanted to try all sweet things ourselves. But speaking seriously, pastila used to be a famous Russian brand which then was forgotten and it deserves better fate.”  

The women chanced across a passage about the traditional sweet in a book by the Russian writer Ivan Lazhechnikov. It described a very large woman invited by the 18th century Empress Anna of Russia to prepare pastila for a masquerade ball.  

The story inspired Nikitina and Dmitrieva to track down an old recipe and recreate it.  

Elena Dmitrieva said:  

“Pastila is a traditional Russian apple sweet that was special to Russia. Nowhere else was it produced. It’s the flavour of Russia. That’s why it was so important to revive it. We want the whole world to know about it.”  

Pastila was a favourite among the Russian elite. When Emperor Nicolas II visited Kolomna, he was presented with the treat wrapped in silk.  

It was also loved by Empress Catherine the Great – whose image adorns the boxes produced by Nikitina and Dmitrieva today.  

Natalia Nikitina said:  

“Empress Catherine the Great visited Kolomna in the beginning of the 18th Century and she was greeted as a royal person. In Kolomna there was a habit to meet and greet important guests with Pastila so they offered pastila to Catherine the Great. She liked it so much she demanded to have pastila delivered to her court.”  

The biggest names in Russian literature also feature in the story of Pastila. It was a favourite of both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.  

Natalia Nikitina said: 

“Dostoyevsky is linked to pastila in many ways. He spent his childhood near to Kolomna and he was very fond of sweet things. He always asked his wife to buy pastila for him and his children. He liked several types of pastila, red pastila and also soft white pastila”.  

The different types of pastila are explored in Nikitina and Dmitrieva’s Kolomna museum, the Museum of Forgotten Flavours. But don’t expect any display cases - the museum is an exercise in nostalgia, replacing dusty objects with traditional tastes and smells. 

“As far as we know it is the first museum in Russia which presents non-materialistic culture,”said Natalia Nikitina. “But it’s not just taste. It’s also traditions. It’s the tradition of Russian tea parties, how to meet and greet people, how to speak and how to make nice presents.”  

A very new way of presenting something past that was almost lost forever.

© The Voice of Russia. 05 July, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 1:29 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 5 July 2013 2:23 PM EDT
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