Hot, fragrant and sweet, for a long time sbiten replaced for the Slavs modern tea and coffee. It was enjoyed mostly in winter, and often used as a medicine, because honey and herbs in sbiten allowed fighting diseases more efficiently.
Sbiten is one of the simplest Russian drinks. It was prepared by boiling honey. Sbiten’s traditional recipe appears in the book on the Russian cuisine by Valentina Korshunova. First, you need to dissolve in one liter of boiling water 150 grams of honey and the same amount of sugar. Then you let the mixture boil, remove the foam and add spices. Usually people added cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg. In other variations, mint, hops, raspberry leaves, currants, St. John’s wort were used. When the drink had some time to infuse, it is strained and served hot.
William Pohlebkin, however, offers a slightly different recipe. According to him, the spices should be boiled separately and then the strained liquid is combined with a honey brew.
Russian Mulled Wine?
Non-alcoholic sbiten was prepared and drank almost in every Russian family. But there was also an alcoholic version, potent sbiten. In the traditional drink wine was added. The alcohol content of such sbiten was 5 percent. Only not everyone could afford it. Most often it was prepared only in drinking establishments in major cities, and one pint of alcoholic sbiten was pretty expensive.
A People’s Drink
The researches of the history of the Russian cuisine argue that sbiten appeared in Russia in the 12thcentury. There are mentions of it in old chronicles. A complete recipe is given in “Domostroi”, a book about households, written in the 16thcentury.
Sbiten can really be called a people’s drink. It was especially popular during festivals and fairs. On those days, sbiten sellers, sbitenschiks, walked the streets of towns and villages. You could recognize them by special copper vessels that looked like samovars. In such vessels sbiten was prepared. And you could treat yourself to that wonderful drink right on the street.
Today you can try sbiten in a variety of restaurants specializing in the old Russian cuisine.
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