Russia has always relied on apples for sustenance and delicious treats. One that was particularly popular among 19th-century aristocrats was pastila, a dessert that may remind you of marshmallow, meringue, or divinity, made from apples. And like those fluffy sweets, it once required lots of elbow grease, as Russian food expert Darra Goldstein explains.
In the days before electricity, making pastila was painful labor. Without a mechanical mixer, beating cooked apples into fluff had to be done by hand. One “particularly exquisite” 19th-century variety, says Goldstein, had to be beaten for an agonizing 48 straight hours. “So in Russia, you had serfs and they were in the kitchen and they were whipping the pastila,” notes Goldstein. “So it wasn’t any effort on the part of the people who would be enjoying it.”
Cue the Russian Revolution. Under the restrictions and scarcities of the Soviet Union, pastila slowly faded away. “It wasn’t part of the necessary food groups,” says Goldstein. “It was hard enough for them to get basic foods to market, which they didn’t succeed in doing either.” Many of Russia’s traditional, unusual, or unique foods met the same fate. But recently, there has been a massive upswing of interest in recovering ancestral Russian recipes. A decade ago, my friend Stas took notice that the interest in restoring Russian foodways became mainstream. To him, it was especially poignant. “We always grew up thinking that a lot of our culture had been just completely obliterated,” he says. “Then there’s this wave of people unearthing really old recipes such as Belyov pastila. And so everybody’s like, holy shit, this is what this thing is supposed to look like.”
The rise of electrical appliances has made pastille accessible again. And if you want to try it out yourself, you can get a recipe for pastila at Atlas Obscura along with the history of the dish.
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