Winter farewell is a time of awakening; the beginning of new life. Since ancient times, people have enjoyed this time of the year. Festivals and carnivals are held all over the world: Chinese New Year, Venice Carnival, a holiday of the trees – Tu B’Shvat in Israel, Mardi Gras, even Groundhog Day, which was brought to America from Germany, and one of the oldest Russian holidays – Maslenitsa.
Maslenitsa lasts a week; it is full of fun and joy. The main attribute of the carnival is blintzes. All week in every home, housewives cook pancakes for their families and guests. Blyn (pronounced “bleen” – Russian word for pancake) – the symbol of the sun, which is gaining strength with each passing day, warms the earth and gives life.
Every day of the carnival has its own purpose.
The first day – a greeting of Maslenitsa. On this day, the first blyn is carried out of the house for ancestors who have already past away. It is believed that they see the sun first, as they are above this world. In later times, when people become poorer, the first blyn is given to the beggars. On this day people make an effigy of the old lady winter out of straw and dress it in old clothes.
On the second day, folks have to find the highest hill around and slide down it in a sleigh with shouting and singing. The farther the sled goes, the longer summer will be, the richer the harvest people will gather and the longer life a man would have. This paves the way for spring.
On the third day, people swing on a swing. The higher they swing, the higher the trees would grow this year, the more they bear fruit. Also, people link their spiritual growth with this ritual. After all, on a swing, people swinging up high in the air, as though closer to the Gods.
On the fourth day, husbands with all their family go to visit the mother-in-law. The mother-in-law prepares a mountain of blintzes and offers them to the guests. By tradition, the son-in-law should eat up all the blintzes and leave none. This ritual is meant to fill the man with power of the Sun, so that he could take care of his wife, please and appease her – the daughter of the hostess, the whole year through.
On the fifth day, mummers are out in the streets. They are dressed in crazy outfits, but each outfit portrays something that people want to bring in to the upcoming year. The outfits personify different spirits and angels who descend to Earth with spring. It is a good sign to treat a mummer with a blyn – spirits and men become friends and spirits would help overcome many troubles a man could encounter during the year. Scenes are played out on the squares with singing, dancing, and of course blintzes.
On the sixth day, they build a snow fort. One group of people builds a wall of snow, defending with brooms and sticks, sweeping snow on the attackers and the other group would try to assault them and take over their snow fort or wall. The ones first to break through the wall would be the winner. The snow fort is a place where the Gods live. This place is protected and not every person is allowed to get in. Only the most courageous, persistent and the pure in heart could break into the heavenly fortress. The brave one is honored with the favor of the Gods from whom he received good luck and protection.
On the seventh and last day of Maslenitsa, the effigy made on the first day is burned. The Old Lady Winter goes away, and with her all the troubles, and warmth and joy come.
(Text by my dear husband)
For more Russian recipes, visit Russian Cuisine page.
Serves: the whole family and neighbors
- 3 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
- 1 packet (1 Tbsp.) active dry yeast
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil or melted butter, plus more for cooking
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of milk. Stir in the sugar, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until foamy, about 10 minutes.
To make the dough with a food processor, combine the flour, and the salt in the processor and pulse 2 or 3 times to mix. With the processor running, pour the warm milk with honey, yeast mixture and eggs through the feed tube and process until well blended. Add the oil or butter and process just until all combined. The dough will be like pancake batter. Pour the batter in large bowl and cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel, let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot about 2 hours. During this time you need to stir the dough 2-3 times, and after each time let the dough rise again.
Preheat a nonstick or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Brush the pan with a little of the olive oil or melted butter. Slowly ladle a scant 1/3 cup of the batter onto the pan (I used my fingers to help). Continue ladling out the batter to make as many blini as you can without letting them touch. If they do touch, separate with the edge of a spatula.
When the blini have begun to rise and bubble in the center, flip them with the spatula. Cook until golden on the other side, about 1 minute more, then transfer to a platter. Cook the remaining blini in the same way, adding oil to the pan as needed.
Serve with butter, berries and farm cheese.