All posts by claregriffin

Re-Centering Europe

By Clare Griffin

St Mary Basilica, Cracow From Wiki Commons
St Mary’s Basilica, Cracow
From Wiki Commons

Think about the histories of Europe, European medicine, European science or European magic and witchcraft you have on your desk. Think about the European cookbooks, or travel guides, or novels you have heard about. How many of them cover events, characters, places, cultures, or cuisines further east than Berlin? Of those that do, how many jump from Berlin to Moscow, bypassing the cities in between? Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe tend to be treated by English-speakers as a world apart.

In academia, expertise on those countries is corralled into regional studies departments, rather than dealt with as European history. In part, this is a relic of the twentieth century, reflecting and replicating Churchill’s idea of an Iron Curtain that cut Europe in two. As The Recipes Project often demonstrates, regions and recipes go hand in hand. There is our sister series on Russian recipes. Similar series deal with the early modern Netherlands, China, and Ancient Greece and Rome. After all, anyone reading the ‘country of origin’ labels in their local supermarket knows that recipes link together ingredients and places. This month, we will use recipes to tear down the academic Iron Curtain, reclaiming this region not only as Central Europe, but as a central part of Europe.

from Wiki Commons
Map of Modern Central and Eastern Europe            from Wiki Commons

Focusing on place and space is important – where is Central and Eastern Europe? What does it look like? What is its political geography? South-Eastern Europe is perhaps more familiar in its fictionalized guise on Game of Thrones. In that series, Croatia’s Dubrovnik stands in as both King’s Landing and Qarth. Similarly, Prague and other Czech towns have been the location for numerous fictional intrigues: Karlovy Vary stood in for Montenegro in Casino Royale

A view of the old city of Dubrovnik. from Wiki Commons
A view of the old city of Dubrovnik.
from Wiki Commons









In real life, medieval and early modern Central and Eastern Europe saw power struggles and battles no less dramatic than those of Tyrion Lannister and James Bond. At various periods, Dubrovnik was under the protection of the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Habsburg Empire.  These waxing and waning dynastic and imperial powers commonly intersected with religious divisions. In the Byzantine-controlled and Russian-influenced lands, Eastern Orthodoxy was the majority religion.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683 From Wiki Commons
The Ottoman Empire in 1683
From Wiki Commons

The Ottomans were the major Muslim power of the region, building mosques across South Eastern Europe that stand today. The Habsburgs and the Jagellonians were both traditionally Catholic dynasties, tying themselves and their empires to Rome, despite the Reformation making converts among many of their subjects. There were also substantial Jewish populations in many cities throughout the region. Each of these religions made their mark upon the landscape, with mosques, synagogues and churches, graveyards, and crosses of various kinds crowding the skylines.

In the shadow of these landmarks, Europeans wrote and followed recipes.

Medieval Serbian Mosque From Wiki Commons
Medieval Serbian Mosque
From Wiki Commons

As Marija-Ana Dürrigl and Stella Fatović-Ferenčić’s post highlights, men of the cloth jotted down medical recipes in their liturgy books. This was a Europe-wide phenomenon: from Porto to Moscow, the clergy wrote recipes, preserving them in religious manuscripts. Lay Europeans were often concerned with their stomachs. The post by Christopher Nicholson deals with recipes to husband fish. Originating in Bohemia, the text was translated and read as far away as England. Bohemians were not alone in wanting a nice fish dinner. For unhappy European households, food could lead to poisoning or bewitchment. Magic, for good or for ill, was used across Europe. Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov and Margaret Dimitrova’s post presents us with some examples of Slavic magic. A more specialized pursuit of pre-modern Europeans was alchemy. Alchemists, like those in Agnieszka Rec’s post, created networks across Europe. They circulated books, and themselves travelled from place to place. To read European recipes is to see how Europe is connected.

The Holy Roman Empire in 1648 from Wiki Commons
The Holy Roman Empire in 1648
from Wiki Commons

In order to read recipes, you need to know the language, and the alphabet, in which they are written. This is where people often see Central and Eastern Europe as divided from Western Europe. Don’t people from those places use different languages? Not always. Agnieszka Rec’s alchemists found recipes in Poland-Lithuania, but wrote in German. Christopher Nicholson’s Bohemian fish were described in Latin and English. Sometimes, the recipes are in different languages, and in different alphabets.  For example, Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov and Margaret Dimitrova’s recipes are in the Church Slavonic language and the Cyrillic alphabet. Marija-Ana Dürrigl and Stella Fatović-Ferenčićs texts are also in Church Slavonic. But they would not be comprehensible everyone who reads Church Slavonic (including me). These texts use the Glagolitic alphabet. Recipes show us connections, but they also show us the uniqueness of their authors, dividing as well as uniting.

Codex Zographensis from Wiki Commons
Codex Zographensis in Glagolitic
from Wiki Commons


 For the next four Thursdays, The Recipes Project will be returning to this region. We hope you will join us as our contributors take us further into Central, Eastern and South Eastern European recipes, to see how those texts bring Europe together.

What’s in a Vodka? Juniper Berry Vodkas and the History of Distilling in Early Modern Russia

A sick man in Russia who thinks he is being helped to walk by a cigarette and a vodka bottle, whereas they are really false friends who are hindering him.
Anti-vodka poster WikiCommons

Clare Griffin

Vodka and Russia seem to always go together. To find images to accompany my posts for The Recipes Project, and for Powerpoint presentations, I search image databases. On such sites, the key word ‘Russia’ inevitably brings up images of vodka bottles, advertisements for vodka, and posters warning about the dangers of drinking vodka. So, it seems appropriate to talk about vodka, and what that term really means, in the context of the early modern period.

The vodkas we are now familiar with, that we find in supermarkets, our homes and, *cough* offices, are grain or potato based. Immediately we can see a problem. Potatoes are New World products, introduced to Europe in the early modern period. They were introduced to Russia by Peter the Great. Some Russians were suspicious of this new plant, with the Old Believer sect claiming that they were the original ‘forbidden fruit’ that caused the Fall.

Excercise is health! From
Excercise is health!

Some of the best documents for vodka production in early modern Russia come from the seventeenth-century court medical department, the Apothecary Chancery. The ‘vodka’ that department made was distilled waters of juniper berries, to be used in medicine. For the Apothecary Chancery, the terms vodka and spirit were interchangeable, and were used to mean any distilled alcohol.

Juniper Berries
Juniper Berries From

Archbishop Afanasii of Kholmogory, who corresponded with the Apothecary Chancery, reccomended the following recipe for Juniper spirit in 1696:

Take juniper berries, pound them, and pour water or beer over them, heat the mixture, but not too hot, and put it in a wooden vessel, so that the mixture does not become too fluid, add hops, and leave it to sour for two weeks. When it has soured, distill it and you will get arak, then add a few more berries, distill it again and you will have spirit.

Today, we would call a distilled spirit made with juniper berries Gin. Even in Russian, we use the same term, or more or less: Dzhin, familiar from the omni-present (and awful) pre-mixed cans of Dzhin-tonik. The term Gin/Dzhin comes from the sixteenth-century Dutch name for a juniper-based or -flavoured spirit, genever. Apparently, that term entered the Russian language sometime after the seventeenth century. An early modern Russian would have no idea what a Dzhin-tonik is.

 Map of Russia
Map of Russia Wellcome Images

But why call a juniper berry alcohol vodka? For the answer to this, we have to look at what we know of the history of distilling in the East Slavic lands (distilling elsewhere in early modern Europe has already been discussed several times on The Recipes Project). Although much less attention has been devoted to making vodkas than to drinking them, we do know something about that history. Aqua vitae was brought to Lithuania, and later to Kiev, by Western European merchants in the medieval period. The word ‘aqua’, may well be the origin of the term ‘vodka’, which means little water. Today we use the term vodka to mean only a certain type of – distinctly Eastern European – distilled alcohol. In early modern Russia it had a much broader meaning.

So, if a seventeenth-century Russian ended up in a twenty-first century Russian supermarket – like Ivan the Terrible ended up in 1970s Moscow in the classic Soviet comedy Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession – they might be rather confused. The alcohol labelled as vodka would likely be made from a plant they had never known, let alone consumed. The alcohol they might recognise by taste as similar to their own juniper berry vodkas would be labelled by a word they did not recognise.

Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession WikiCommons
Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession
Quinine Plant Wellcome Images
Quinine Plant
Wellcome Images

The now standard mixer for Gin – tonic – would also be unfamiliar to our seventeenth-century Russian. Tonic water is made from quinine, an extract of the Cinchona tree. Cinchona was brought to Europe from the Americas. It was in stock in the Apothecary Chancery by the middle of the seventeenth century, but not as a drinks mixer. Quinine was long used as an anti-malarial drug. British colonial administrators in the nineteenth century preferred to mix their medicine as a refreshing drink, creating Gin and Tonic.

Today, more effective, but less iconic treatments for malaria are used. Tonic water has passed out of medicine and into recreation. So, with the shifting of trade networks, medical categories and names, our confused seventeenth-century Russian in our modern Russian supermarket can see vodka, and juniper berry spirit, but might not recognise either.




Love Magic in 18th century Russia: a Search for Passion in Russian History

Elena Smilianskaia

'For a Love Potion' M. V. Nesterov (1888) (
‘For a Love Potion’
M. V. Nesterov (1888)

Love magic has existed in human history from the very start, and it continues to exist today – the Recipes Project has already featured some fifteenth-century English love spells. It is not very difficult to find a person who guarantees a client ‘true’ love potions and very effective love spells in any city of the world. The texts that ancient and contemporary magicians use in their ‘craft’ have a lot of commonalities, including:

  • A desire that a love object looks at you and will ‘never tire of looking’
  • A desire that a love object forgets all his/or her relatives, primarily a father and a mother, and thinks only about you
  • A desire that a love object can neither eat nor drink in his/her love fever
  • A love fever being compared with madness, or with fire.

    So if we state that all of these concepts from love spells are the same for different cultures and historical periods, then we must conclude that human expressions of love passion do not dramatically change over time and it is hardly possible to find a specific transition in the sphere of love. Alternatively, we must try to compare cases of using magic in love and verbal descriptions of love feelings for each concrete period and specific culture to prove that we can talk about the transformation and the evolution of love spells (although very slowly and primarily in the external sphere, in ‘the clothes of love’). I prefer the second way.

    In eighteenth-century Russian magic texts a person who has fallen in love can find not only a description of their extreme feelings but a hope that magic would either help to overcome this ‘sinful passion’ or to make the object of their passion share a love. It also helped to comprehend why one’s affection so influenced human life and behavior.

    There are cases in which an individual was sure that love magic was definitely the origin of an otherwise inexplicable passion: one example that I like very much comes from 1740, when a peasant named Vasiliy Gerasimov at last understood why his daughter lived with a church sexton Maxim Dyakonov: he found Maxim’s love spells. By 1740, Vasiliy’s daughter had already had two babies with Maxim, but only a sheet of paper with the text of a love spell explained everything…

    'The Sorcerer at the Wedding' V. M. Maksimov (1875) (WikiCommons)
    ‘The Sorcerer at the Wedding’
    V. M. Maksimov (1875)

    It is also notable that very often love itself was considered to be an illness and was cured the same way: not only by a witch or a sorcerer, but by an ordinary healer. It was also thought that love spells might cause diseases in a human body (there are some court cases mentioning that a woman under the effect of love magic ‘swelled up’ and suffered from physical pain and only counter-magic rituals could help her).  In a lot of situations when a woman became a klikusha (a kind of witch), the community was convinced that somebody (a man of course!) had wanted to bewitch the woman, making her unable to resist passion and evil intentions.

    Magic was always suspected when feelings were out of control. For example, when in 1737 a servant-maid named Ustinya Grigorieva fell in love with a soldier, she considered her ‘great pangs’ of melancholy to be magical in origin. In her testimony during the trial she described her actions.  She reported that she had thought: ‘this soldier or somebody else has bewitched her?’  and so she went to the sorcerer Masey who read a spell over wine, put an unknown root into it and gave the wine to Ustinya to drink – and… she became free of her love pangs and the feeling of love itself.

    Condemned by the Orthodox Church, passion and erotic love in traditional Russian culture were considered for a very long time to be sinful, demonic, and therefore connected with magic. But in eighteenth-century Russia, magic provided a way for people to comprehend the origins of passion, and its influence on human behavior, as well as the means to control that behaviour.

    This post is the sixth and final in this month’s series of posts on Russian recipes. Previous posts have introduced early modern Russia, told us how to feed our servants, how to get over hangovers, how to heal foreigners, and how to cook in the Urals.

    A Modern Culinary Manuscript from Russia’s Ural Mountains

    By Aleksandra Ippolitova

    Everyday literacy and literate folklore from the twentieth century has for a long time been on the periphery of scholarly interest. One of the most widespread genres of everyday literacy is the culinary manuscript collection, but even this genre has attracted almost no attention thus far.

    Sverdlovsk Oblast, where Verkhnee Dubrovo is located (Wiki Commons)
    Sverdlovsk Oblast, where Verkhnee Dubrovo is located
    (Wiki Commons)

    In the late 1990s, I came across one such text in the home of a woman named Valentina Petrovna Ovchinnikova, who lives in the town of Verkhnee Dubrovo, some 35 km east of Ekaterinburg. The text was put together by Ovchinnikova’s mother, Maria Semenova Morozova, during the early twentieth century, in the years before the Russian Revolution of 1917, and gives a fascinating insight into the collection of culinary recipes in the modern period.

    A Gift to Young Housewives  (
    A Gift to Young Housewives

    Many of the recipes in Morozova’s collection were copied from A Gift to Young Housewives [Podarok molodym khoziakam] by E. I. Molokhovets, a hugely popular printed recipe book in pre-Revolutionary Russia, with around 300,000 copies being printed between 1861 and 1917. The collection is not just a copy of the Molokhovets text, but also includes a number of recipes Morozova added herself. These additional recipes give us an insight into Morozova’s culinary interests: the majority of the additional recipes are for feast-day dishes, not everyday staples. It is also interesting that many of them seem unusual for village life: who would expect that biscuits would be a common dish in a village in the Urals?

    Other aspects of the text give more of a local flavour: several recipes are named after people, very likely the people from whom Morozova had recieved the recipe. One such recipe is Admirer’s Cake [tort Bakhterki], from a local dialect word meaning “dear one” or “admirer.” Such dialect words are not used in the Molokhovets text, and are unlikely to be found in any printed work. Was this the nick-name of one of Morozova’s friends? Other recipes more obviously come from Morozova’s friends and family, like Tat’iana Ivanova’s Spicecakes and Dunia’s Lazy Cake. This use of social networks to acquire culinary recipes seems to have been common, as discussed by Alun Withey.

    Morozova's Recipe Book (Aleksandra Ippolitova)
    Morozova’s Recipe Book
    (Aleksandra Ippolitova)

    Interestingly, some of these recipes are very specific about when they should be made. The recipe for Petia’s Braga states:

    “On Friday evening stew the hops, on Saturday morning boil half a pail of water, then add to the water 5 funt of sugar and 1 funt of yeast. Pour in the hops, and add a pail of cold water, 1/2 funt of cherries and 1/2 funt of honey. Put it on the stove, fasten it tightly closed, and on Sunday morning take it off the stove and it will be ready to drink in a week.”

    Recipe for 'Petia's Braga' (Aleksandra Ippolitova)
    Recipe for ‘Petia’s Braga’
    (Aleksandra Ippolitova)

    The Morozova text thus brings together traditions often seen as separate: printed works available across the country are put next to locally-collected recipes written in a dialect, big-city dishes appear in village life. Works such as that of Morozova help remind us of the importance of modern manuscripts: far from being a textual-historical dead-end, they were (and are) a central part of people’s everyday lives.

    Translation by Clare Griffin.

    This post is the fifth in this month’s series of posts on Russian recipes. Previous posts have introduced early modern Russia, told us how to feed our servants, how to get over hangovers, and how to heal foreigners.