Do not drink a tub of beer but drink a cup of sbiten! – sbiten street vendors used to shout to attract buyers in Old Russian towns.
Sbiten is a traditional Russian folk drink made of honey, overseas spices, and fragrant curative herbs. Commonly used plants are ginger, pepper, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, tutsan, sage, all-heal, and other herbs rich in taste and healing properties.
Sbiten was especially popular in winter time or in dank and cold weather and was very helpful against catching a cold or some other infirmity. It was also well-known for curing melancholy. Hot tropical spices and hot sweetness of sbiten inspire vivacity and festive joy. Since herbs used for sbiten were widespread, the drink was affordable to anyone. Sometimes sbiten could be based on treacle instead of honey. Sbiten was traditionally served with spice-cakes, pies and cookies.
This ancient drink originated very long ago – over a thousand years back. Recipe of this wonderful drink is recorded in Domostroy (16th century) and other early written works.
Those foreigners, who visited Russia during the reign of Peter I, were delighted with the tasty Russian drink and called it “Russian mulled wine”. This comparison was obviously due to the fact that visiting Dutch and English captains and navigators got acquainted with this drink in taverns or pubs, where it was prepared with wine.
In olden time sbiten was prepared both with wine and without it. Wine sbiten was mostly served in taverns with more or less well-to-do customers. Street vendors, however, made wine-free sbiten. In winter they carried it on their backs in huge copper vessels in the shape of samovars enveloped in warm cloth.
For a long time nonalcoholic sbiten was used by Russian people instead of tea and coffee; it was drunk several times a day, obligatorily in the morning. By the way, tea that for some reason forced out sbiten yields to it in respect of its nutritious properties.
What is more popular in Russia today: tea or sbiten? It is a rhetorical question: naturally, the answer is tea! Many people don't even know what sbiten is like. It is interesting to note, however, that teapots came to be used in Russia long before tea itself appeared in this country: teapots were used for serving sbiten.
For several centuries sbiten was much more popular than tea and only in the late 19th century tea practically ousted sbiten from among the drinks most widely used in Russia. It is not clear why it happened so - after all these drinks don't replace one another: they have different tastes and aromas, and different effects on the human body and mind.
Recent years have seen the interest in sbiten reviving in this country. Sbiten has appeared in the menu of many restaurants, and become available in some stalls and shops. Its industrial production has been launched in some places.
RECIPES OF SBITEN
Simple Herbal Sbiten
Take dried herbs, such as mint, tutsan, currant leaves, raspberry leaves, tarragon, sage or some other (½ tspf of each) and infuse 2 glasses of boiling water and let it brew for about an hour. Then filter it and add honey and lemon to taste. Can be served both hot and cold.
Pour one liter of spring or filtered water into a pan and bring it to boiling. Add half a glass sugar, five table spoons of honey and your favourite spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, one bay leaf, two cardamoms) and some dry herbs. Boil and then let it brew. When the drink is ready, filter it and serve in a clay jug. It is also preferable to drink sbiten from clay cups.
Stavropol Alcoholic Sbiten
Mix a glass of honey with a glass of water, add a little piece of vanilla, a pinch of ground cinnamon and dried peel of one lemon. Boil the mixture, remove from the oven and add half a liter of vodka. Serve sbiten very hot in warmed up wine-glasses.