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Kissel: the dessert that’s also a meal

3 min read

Depending on the person you ask and what part of Eastern Europe he hails from, kissel is either a thick juice, a dessert soup, or a gelatinous porridge.
Just one thing is certain: it is a veritable medley of forest-born ingredients and a constant presence at the dessert table.
Traditionally, Kissel is a soft, fruit-based dessert, generally made from berries, sugar and either cornstarch or potato starch. Its name comes from the Russian word “kisliy” meaning ‘sour,’ because sour fruits are traditionally favored.
Its recipe varies from country to country, even region to region, but it always starts with a combination of fruit juice and starch. The most popular fruits in Russia are cranberries, cherries and red currants, while other parts of Eastern Europe also use strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries or rhubarb.
According to some, the thickening agent was added in times of scarcity to make juice more filling.
It can be served hot, as a spiced winter drink, or cold, as a jelly or cream.
Some cultures even embrace kissel as a health tonic: Apple versions are said to help with digestion, blueberry to fight infections, and cranberry to get through a cold or flu faster.

An early reference to a food with this name provides a recipe that’s a bit different from the one widely known today, with a kind of gelatinous porridge made from oats and sweetened with syta, a sort of honey diluted with water.
Kissel’s properties come from a tale in the Primary Chronicle, an ancient Russian text dated back to the Twelfth Century. It tells the legend of how the residents in the Russian city of Belgorod were besieged in the Tenth Century. On the verge of starvation and surrender, a city elder gathered all the remaining wheat and honey and cooked kissel in a pot he’d buried in the ground. As story goes, the elder invited the enemies into the city to eat kissel with them, and when they saw what appeared to be the tasty food coming straight from the ground itself, they abandoned their siege as hopeless, and the city was saved.
Kissel also has a small role in Russian Orthodox mourning rites. After a funeral, the family and friends of the departed meet at a relative’s home for a meal, and Kissel is traditionally among the first served.

Despite the dessert versions are the most popular preparations in Slavic, Baltic, and Scandinavian countries, the traditional version still exists in the form of Russian “oat kissel.”
Many Russians even refer to paradise as the land of “milky rivers and kissel banks,” while the phrase “the seventh water on kissel” is used to describe someone who’s a distant relative.
Moreover, an “Instant” kissel can be purchased in supermarkets, and you can also find bottled drinks in Russian shops.

Images from web – Google Research

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