Did you know…
… what other foods were eaten in medieval Russia?
Fish was a major staple, both because of its abundance and because of the numerous fast days in the Eastern Orthodox calendar in which all animal products were proscribed, including butter, milk, cheese. Fish is not an animal, and Russians found a variety of ways of serving it. Close to twenty species of fish, mostly freshwater, have been identified as part of the medieval Russian diet.
The list of vegetables is not as long, and includes the inevitable cabbage, onions, garlic, and turnips. It also comprises cucumbers, carrots, string beans. Pumpkins and beans are mentioned in XIV century sources. Walnuts were imported from Greece, as the political situation allowed, and so were almonds, and olives and olive oil. The forest provided hazelnuts, mushrooms, and berries (wood strawberries, bilberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries…). Fruits were grown in orchards: sweet and tart cherries, apples, currant, plums, pears.
Spices and seasonings, used in Russian cooking many imported from Byzantium and the East, included vinegar, cinnamon, mint, anise, pepper, linseed oil, salt, dill, poppy seed. The principal sweetener was honey. Honey was also used to prepare mead, both sweet and dry, and also some kind of unfermented mead. Beer was brewed, as well as kvas, a bread-based beverage with a very low alcohol level: to this day, it is considered non-alcoholic by Russians. Wine was imported from Byzantium, Flanders, Hungary, and wherever merchants might have roamed.
Food preparation was determined by the peculiarities of the Russian oven: it had to be baked, simmered, stewed, boiled, in other words, it must have consisted of stews, casseroles, pies, soups, but not (or very little) of poached, fried, sautéed foods — those that require an open flame. However, recipes are almost non-existent, and if you could put together all the instructions on food preparation from period texts, you still would not have enough to prepare a feast. But at least, we know most ingredients!