CulturallyOurs Homemade And Handmade Pies From Central Russia

Russian Holiday Tradition Of Handmade Pies

12.05.19
CulturallyOurs Homemade And Handmade Pies From Central Russia

Most people have holiday traditions regardless of what holiday they are celebrating. Be it Easter, Ed Al-fitr, Diwali or Chirstmas, there is just something about the holidays that bring a smile to your face and a little skip in your heart as you warm up to the idea is spending time with family, being present and celebrating in your own special way. Holiday traditions become an essential aspect of how we celebrate, and there is a reason why we keep them as a part of our lives for so long. We hold onto holiday traditions because they add meaning to our celebrations, and help bond us to those we love.

Today our friend Maria Dokshina shares holiday traditions and memories from her childhood growing up in St. Petersburg Russia and spending the night before New Years baking traditional handmade pies with her grandma, Vera.

From Maria

Almost every woman in Russia has her own very special recipe of pies. Some cook them with apples or cranberries, some with green onion and boiled eggs, while others use fish or meat. The amount of recipes for the dough is endless too and the origin of the recipes is hard to determine. Still, I have the recipe that my grandmother left us and here is the story behind it.

My grandmother Vera lived in Koryazhma, a small city located in central Russia, where she worked as a teacher of literature and the Russian language. She met her husband and my grandfather, Vladimir there in the evening school. He always dreamed to go to Saint-Petersburg (previously called Leningrad), as he remembered this place to be the most beautiful, despite the fact that he was one of the few survived children of the Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944). He only saw the city as a 3 year old and was then evacuated. Being born in Koryazhma, I spent the very first few years of life and consider Saint-Petersburg as my only true home, just like my grandfather. In the late 90s, they moved to Saint-Petersburg together and brought something with them – the pie recipes my grandmother had learned in central Russia that she used to cook for the whole family every New Years’ Eve.

Now, if you let me, I will show you the last few days of the year 2001, located in my aunt and uncle’s home, where my whole family was busy in preparation for the big magic night. Or was the preparation the magic in itself?CulturallyOurs Homemade And Handmade Pies From Central RussiaIt all started the night before, on the 30th of December. The shadow of the night covered this part of the planet but only children were sleeping. A busy life was happening in kitchen. Sleepy, I snuck from my room and watched the adults from the hall corner. The smell of steaming cabbage woke me up and swirled my belly from hunger. I could see that the cabbage was already cooked and shining from oil. A strong old hand was holding a wooden spoon and mixing it all with just in a few masterful flips. My mother was sitting on one side of the kitchen table and mashing steaming hot potatoes in a huge pot, my aunt was next to her chopping vegetables for the ‘Olivie’ salad which is traditionally cooked with boiled cubed root vegetables and mayonnaise. Suddenly, I felt something soft and furry touching my legs and then a convincing ‘meooow’ from another hungry fellow spread throughout the kitchen. Rodion, a huge red cat, was not shy to demand his food. Everybody turned to us.

“Oh, shhhh, Rodion! Masha? Why aren’t you asleep?”, my grandma whispered. “Come on in, what do you want? It is too late.” She took a little piece of just-cooked codfish, prepared for the pies’ filling and placed it on a plate and gave it to my aunt. “Luda, give this to him”, she said. And I immediately thought Rodion was one lucky cat.

“Can I help, please?”, I asked quietly, as the idea of participating in magic was overflowing my mind with joy. The doorbell rang. My mother ran to open it. Within seconds my uncle came to the kitchen with big bags of even more food. Glass was tinkling in one of them.

“Careful with the bottles. It’s Champagne”, said my uncle as he gave the bags to my aunt. The other bags were full of more beets and green onions. With that, he went off to sleep leaving only the women in the kitchen again as it is in most kitchens in Russia.

My mother gave me a little knife and a bowl of boiled cooled carrots. I was so proud to be a part of the team and made sure that each dice was even and perfectly the same as the others. “Pour some more water to the pot with cans, Varya, or your cream will be all over the walls”, instructed my grandma. Four shiny metal cans of condensed milk were boiling in the pot on a stove covered with water on medium heat for 4-6 hours to caramelize the sugars inside through the walls of the cans. If you leave the water to evaporate, the stove will overheat the cans and they might explode which could be a very dangerous and undesirable situation indeed. But tomorrow my mother would make her special honey cake with boiled condensed milk whipped together with butter and use it as a cream. I remember the honey biscuits layered with silky soft caramel-colored sweet cream from the previous year and I remember thinking to myself, “Tomorrow is the day!”.

In the morning I knew what to wear. My fairy pink celebration dress suited the day well. The excitement was flooding through my veins. I checked the time and say that it was 12 o’clock. I knew that my grandma was probably already baking and so within seconds I joined her in there.

“Good morning, sleeping beauty. Good that you slept so long today. It is a pity to sleep at New Year’s night, right? Are you going to help me this year again?:, my grandma asked me but seeing the huge smile on my face she immediately showed me where to sit. She noticed my dress and asked if it was really appropriate for a morning in the kitchen working with the dough. But I begged her to allow me to join her. “Alright! If it will be covered in flour in the end, you wanted it”, she jokingly said.

Now the moment of truth! She placed the soft floury ball of dough into my 8-year old hands and asked to make one shanga. Shanga is an open round one-portioned pie filled with buttery potato mash. When it is baked slightly golden it’s blissful. I sifted a bit of flour on the table, grabbed a small wooden roller and pushed it with my hands back and forth. The round was ready, but my favorite part of the process was always to constantly check the quality of the dough by grabbing a tiny piece and chewing it. The taste test had started but this time I got caught.

“Ah, what are you eating, Masha?! The raw dough. What a hungry kid,” she said laughing and I started laughing too. “But it is so tasty now and I like it,” I answered giggling. “Masha, but don’t you want to try them baked?”, she smiled nodding her head.

As I write these lines, I start to remember the sound of my grandma’s high laugh, the smell of the kitchen on that day and the exact taste of the raw dough. It was buttery, floury and smelled heavenly and if you would give it to me now, I would probably still eat a bit.CulturallyOurs Homemade And Handmade Pies From Central RussiaWe all have a story to tell. These holiday traditions and memories are gold and this gold we can share. Since we had it, we then move it further in time. Bring the same magic into the lives of new 6-year olds, give them the opportunity to be a part of the process, to learn, to become passionate, to transfer the knowledge and traditions from one century to another.

As I see it – cultural and holiday traditions are here so we remember where we come from and to remind us of how connected we all are.

The original recipe for the dough

Ingredients:

  • 750g of wheat flour
  • 150g of butter (softened)
  • 450g of cream fresh
  • 1 medium egg + 1 egg wash (optional)
  • 1tsp of baking soda
  • 3 tsp of ACV
  • Salt (to taste)

Method:

  1. Mix softened butter, an egg, cream fresh, ACV and salt in a big bowl with a whisk.
  2. Sift wheat flour with baking soda into the wet mixture and mix it in with a wooden spoon until the pliable soft dough is formed.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the dough for the pies, fill and form them, then lay on the baking tray covered with parchment paper. Brush the tops of the pies with oil or brush with egg wash. Bake for about 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Plant-based version of the dough

Ingredients: 

  • 480g of wheat flour
  • 120g of almond flour
  • 150g of oat flour
  • 500g of vegan cream fresh
  • 150g of vegan butter
  • 2 tsp of tapioca starch
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 3 tsp of ACV
  • Salt (to taste)

Method:

  1. Mix softened vegan butter, cream fresh, ACV and salt in a big bowl with a whisk.
  2. Sift all the flours with tapioca starch and baking soda into the wet mixture and mix it with a wooden spoon until the pliable soft dough is formed.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the dough for the pies, fill and form them, then lay on the baking tray covered with parchment paper. Brush the tops of the pies with oil or plant milk. Bake for about 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Potato filling: Cooked mashed potatoes with milk of choice and optional butter of choice, seasoned.CulturallyOurs Homemade And Handmade Pies From Central RussiaCabbage filling: thinly sliced white cabbage fried with a bit of shredded carrot with oil, then steamed until soft and seasoned.CulturallyOurs Homemade And Handmade Pies From Central RussiaCinnamon sugar filling: brown sugar mixed with a bit of powdered cinnamon. Butter of choice melted for brushing the dough.CulturallyOurs Homemade And Handmade Pies From Central RussiaMaria, these handmade holiday pies from your grandma’s recipe book look absolutely divine. But your memories of cooking with her in her kitchen are priceless. Thank you for sharing these memories and your family’s tradition of making holiday pies from your hometown of Koryazhma. We cannot wait to try these this holiday season!

Maria Dokshina is a founder of the plant-based food blog Planty_ and a certified ICE chef. Apart from writing about food and a healthy lifestyle, she is studying holistic nutrition and creating inspiring wholesome recipes to serve both body and soul. She also has an ebook on plant based Italian recipes called Planty In Italy on her website.

{Words and images by Maria Dokshina; Website: Planty_; Instagram: @planty_ }

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  1. Ann says:

    Oh I just love coocking, so I would love to try this out!