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Fruit, Jam and a Rite of Initiation for Foreigners in Russia


???€??́???‹??: spiced, savory, piquant

Visitors to Moscow this week could be forgiven for thinking they'd arrived not in a city, but into a large, outdoor food storage facility. Huge jam pots dot the squares, piles of watermelons cover street corners, and baskets of apples decorate churches for a religious holiday. It's not yet clear if it's what Russians call ???€???¶?°?????‹?? ?????? (a bumper crop year), but the harvest of berries and fruits have been more than enough to keep home canners busy.

And since we are trying not to think about the various catastrophes that tend to descend upon Russia in the month of August, we'll think about traditional Russian sweets, both literal and figurative, instead.

In the old days — and perhaps now in the new days of food sanctions and double-digit inflation — home cooks had lots of ways of preserving the summer bounty. Take cherries (??????????): ???… ?????????»?? (they dried them); ?????‡???»?? (pickled them); ???°?€?????????°?»?? (marinated them); ???µ?»?°?»?? ???· ?????… ???????????‚ (steeped them to make a drink); and of course ???°?€???»?? ???°?€?µ?????µ (made jam).

?’?°?€?µ?????µ (jam, more or less) contains the method of its making in its name. It's from the verb ???°?€???‚?? (to boil), which is what you do with fruit or berries and sugar. Some people make ?????‚???????????‚???° (five-minute jam), and some don't make jam at all, but rather ?????????‹, ???µ?€?µ?‚?‘?€?‚?‹?µ ?? ???°?…?°?€???? (berries mixed with sugar).

?’?°?€?µ?????µ is thinner and usually more concentrated in flavor than ???¶?µ?? (jam), which Russians tend to dismiss. Sometimes they damn with faint praise: ?? ?‚?µ?±?µ ???°?? ???€?????????? ???°?€?µ??????, ?°?????»??????????????, ?????? ?????????»?????? ?????????????µ (I'll give you different jam — it's English and tastes good enough).

One of the great rites of initiation for foreigners in Russia is their first traditional ?‡?°?µ?????‚???µ — a complex tea drinking ceremony that is as distant from a teabag dunked in a mug of hot water as a five-star restaurant dinner is from a Happy Meal. This is where you learn that ???°?€?µ?????µ is not spread on toast, but served with tea.

It's first placed in a large bowl with a funny name: ???‹ ???????µ?»?? ???° ???????°???µ ???µ?€?µ?? ???€?????»?‹?? ???‚???»????????, ???° ?????‚???€???? ???‚?????»?? ???°?€?µ?????µ ?? ???°?·???‡???µ (We sat on the couch at a round little table with a dish — literally "vase" — of jam). And then it's doled out in other dishes that have a different funny name: ?? ???°?¶???????? ???????‚?? ?????????? ?‚???€?‚?° ???° ?‚?°?€?µ?»???µ ?? ?€???·?µ?‚???° ?? ???°?€?µ?????µ?? (Each guest had a slice of cake on a plate and a little dish — literally "rosette" — of jam). And then it's eaten off a spoon in between sips of tea.

Often you'll be served another very traditional Russian sweet with tea, ???€???????? — something like gingerbread, only sometimes very hard, as if a gingersnap had married a lollipop. Like ???°?€?µ?????µ, its name is also the key to how it's made, or rather what it's made from. The name comes from ???€?????‹??, an adjective that means spiced or savory. Traditionally in Russia, ???€?????‹?? referred to the strong flavors of root vegetables: ?…?€?µ?? (horseradish); ?€?µ???????° (radish); ?»???? (onion); and ???°???‚?µ?€???°?? (parsnip). And certain imported spices: ???µ?€?µ?† (pepper); ???????·???????° (clove); ?????€???†?° (cinnamon); and ?????????°?‚ (nutmeg).

???€???????? is the carrot in the Russian version of carrot and stick: ???????‚ ?? ???€???????? (literally, whip and gingerbread). ???????‚ ?? ???€???????? — ???»???‡?µ???‹?µ ???»?????° ?»???±?????? ?‚???‚?°?»???‚?°?€???????? ?€?µ?¶?????° (The carrot and stick are key words for any totalitarian regime).

May all your ???€?????????? be served with tea and not a jail sentence.

Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of "The Russian Word's Worth" (Glas), a collection of her columns.

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