Monday, January 1, 2018

Kvass!





Fair warning: the following has a satirical bent.

I like to cook, but my tastes aren't exactly...worldly.

When I'm hungry, I want to eat. Pizza or a burger usually do the job just fine. Whether or not something is "artisan" or has a vegetable ingredient imported (by free trade of course) from the Himalayas is never a consideration.

Sometimes though...I get wild.

It all started when I had to get chestnuts for the holidays. The only place to find such nuts in my area, that I know of anyway, is a nearby fresh market. It's an establishment renowned for its fresh produce, quality dairy and deli delicacies, and good prices on it all.

I just call it "the place with the weird shit."

Behold...




What exactly is that? Nothing the good lord intended for America. That's for sure.




Look at that. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of my favorite films. Getting one of those pods will not end well. Trust me.





This chick had a tree limb in her cart. A tree limb.

Each aisle carried the strong odor of damp earth and plant life. I scanned it all and muttered "What do you do with all this?" in sotto voce.

"What do you do with carrots and radishes?" a woman responded to me, much to my surprise.

A fair point, but I don't like when public randoms speak to me, so I smirked. made a fast push with my right leg, and rolled off with my cart.

And that's when I saw it.




(Yes, that's a cameo by a honey bear. He just happened to be on the kitchen counter at the time.)

It was an amber fluid captured in a plastic bottle, looking identical in form and shape to a soft drink in a two liter. Only in this case, I could read nothing on the label, save for one phrase in English: "PRODUCT OF UKRAINE." It was sitting out in the open so I knew it couldn't be alcoholic. More to the point, it was on sale for 99 cents a bottle. No booze is going for that low and if it does...be careful. Very careful.

Anyway I had to know what it was and at 99 cents, I figured I wasn't risking much. Besides, the label had a monk guy on it and word that resembled "monastery." Couldn't be that evil, right?




So poured a glass when I got home. That's when I started to wonder just what I'd done. The scent, the color, it was all reminiscent of beer, yet...not. Just not.





A gave it a sniff, much as I would with wine. It's bouquet? Hoppy. Malty. A hint of fruit. I wasn't sure if it should be served cold, but I added ice anyway. If a drink is not meant to be served hot, then I want it cold. If a beverage is meant to be hot, it typically does not come in a plastic two liter. That was my logic anyway.

Before you ask about me the picture, yes. It's been cold in the Great Lakes region. Below zero, actually.




Only one way to find out anything more about this, what I'd started calling "kvas." Bottoms up. I was willing to take the risk on behalf of the rest of you, of course. Yes, even as I was analyzing this fluid, I anticipated a blog post. So no matter what it did to my taste buds, or my intestines for that matter, I felt I owed it to you, my dear readers, to find out what this beverage was like and to persuade you of its merits...or warn you of it's threat. Drawing it to my lips, I faced my instauration with this foreign fluid from a strange land with a stout heart and proud defiance. For I have tasted the Italian soft drink known as "Beverly" (subject for another post) and lived. How bad could this be?

OH GOD, IT'S TERRIBLE.

I coughed. I swallowed hard, choking it down. Expectorating would not only have been an admission of defeat, but just plain gross as well. It tasted rather as it smelled: a beer with a hint of fruit and none of the booze. Which leads me to ask, "why bother?"

A Google of the label...yes, I know I could have done that first, but really where is the fun in that?...yielded the following information:

"Kvass [the sources I've found have an extra "s" at the end of the word as opposed to what's on the label.] is a traditional Slavic fermented beverage commonly made from rye bread,[1] known in many Eastern European countries and especially in Ukraine and Russia as black bread."

So it's like drinking bread.

In Latvia, the stuff is sold on the street, as seen in this picture from Wikipedia dated 1977:





Kinda looks like drinking out of a cement mixer.

While Wikipedia is not the greatest of sources, I couldn't help but be enthralled by the "Cultural references" subheading of the kvass entry. Apparently, all of the "big three" Russian writers mention the beverage in their works. Dostoyevsky has "monastery kvass" in a dinner scene in The Brothers Kazamarov, which so far is the only other "monastery" connection I've found. Chekov has a character ask for kvass in The Cherry Orchard. Tolstoy makes reference to kvass in his masterpiece, Anna Karenina numerous times, and in War and Peace, the soldiers of Napoleon's army find kvass in Moscow and call the drink "pig's lemonade."

Great. Now I feel like a snobby French occupier.

Debbie tried the kvass and said while it's not exactly a "I want to guzzle this on a hot day" beverage, it might pair nicely with a Germanic meal. You know, one of those "two meats and three starches" repasts? Intrigued, I decided to do just that.

For Christmas Eve, I grilled brats and heated potato pancakes, potato dumplings, cheese blintzes, and sauerkraut. I toyed with making sauerbraten too, but there just weren't enough hours in the day. I served it all with the kvass.

It worked. The meaty, starchy food complimented the kvass just fine. I stand corrected and carry my shame as the ugly American.

The problem is that, as I pointed out, kvass isn't all that great on its own and I seldom make such meals. Therefore, the kvass now sits in my garage. No doubt frozen solid by now.

Kvass-sicles. Hmmm. I'll let you know. 



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