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Faces of Russia

THE AUSPICIOUS EIGHT

Eight is the number of ingredients one must have handy to prepare a raditional old Karelian and Vepsian pie called a kalitka.

National cuisines have been shaped for centuries, passing their lore from generation to generation. Due to inevitable contacts with other tribes, one nation’s cuisine tends to become enriched with new nuances of flavour or new cooking methods. For instance, Russian blinis1 have been transformed into pancakes of a smaller size stuffed with cereal cooked in milk in Karelia, and now Karelians consider them a traditional dish. On the other hand, old Karelian kalitkas are known not only in Karelia and the rest of Russia’s northwest, but also in the northeast and the territories which lie beyond the Ural Mountains, where they go by the name of "shangi". And yet, it is in Karelia that kalitkas have the status of a national dish, as well as in neighbouring Finland, where they are known as nothing less than "Karelian pies" (karjalan piiras in Finnish).

But man cannot live on words alone, so we would like the share the kalitka recipe with you.

Karelian women used to say: "Kalittoa – kyzyy kaheksoa", which means "A kalitka requires an eight", meaning that to prepare the pies, eight ingredients are needed. They are flour, water, sour clotted milk, salt, milk, butter, sour cream and a stuffing (potatoes, cooked cereals or porridge).

To make the dough, pour one glass of sour clotted milk (or sour cream diluted with milk) into a large bowl, add some water, salt to taste and mix well. Then add flour (preferably rye flour) and knead the thick dough. Next, transfer the mixture from the bowl onto a board and keep kneading till the dough no longer sticks to your fingers or the board. Let it rest for a while, then roll it into a long, sausage-like ‘cord’. Cut it into small pieces and shape them into small balls. These balls are to be rolled into flat cakes, each 7 to 8 cm in diameter. Sprinkle them with flour and stack them on top of each other to prevent the dough from drying out.

From the stack, take the flat cakes one by one and roll them into even thinner cakes, 1 to 1.5 mm thin and 30 to 35 cm in diameter. Stach these very thin flat cakes up, sprinkling each one with flour once again.

Now stuff the flat cakes (usually with millet cooked in milk or mashed potatoes). Pinch together the edges of the dough leaving the stuffing exposed. Bake the kalitkas in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Take them out and smear them with butter.

In the past, a guest who would happen to visit the house while the mistress of the household was smearing butter over freshly-baked kalitkas would have to say: "Kaunehet keat voitajalla", which means "Beautiful are the hands of a butter-smearing woman". The mistress would reply: "Tule, ota voitajasta", meaning "Come and get a smeared one".

Kalitkas were traditionally baked on Sundays and during festive occasions. They were eaten with fish soup and other soups, as well as with coffee, which in Karelia was drunk slightly salted.

1 Pancakes of a large diameter, thinner than French crepes. 
Source: Nikolskaya . F. Karelian and Finnish Cuisine. Petrozavodsk, Karelia, 1997
 

 

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Dr Ann Tan

 

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