With great love, the Russian author Ivan Sergeyevich Shmelev wrote about Orthodox traditions in his prose, focusing on traditional festive foods. A description of the dishes served at the Christmas table appears in his story "Summer of the Lord." One of them was uzvar, a drink made from prunes, pears, and dried peaches and placed under the icons as a gift to Christ.
A traditional accompaniment to uzvar is kutia (made of wheat and dried fruit), as well as kvass, mead, and sbiten (a low-alcohol beverage made from honey). Uzvar is a drink or, more accurately, a dessert with a consistency similar to jelly. Grain starters (wheat or oatmeal) are the most common thickeners. On special occasions, wine, fruit, or berry potions are added. A variant of Uzvar is used in meat dishes as a sauce. Onions, cabbage, and other vegetables, along with vinegar and honey, are its typical ingredients. Recipes with herbs and honey have traditionally been used as remedies for colds and indigestion.
Uzvar and other common Christmas drinks from around the world
Some popular festive drinks share common ingredients with Uzvar, like spices, dried fruit and fruit juice. However, unlike Uzvar, many drinks also include cream, milk, eggs, and even strong alcohol, such as in egg nog. Hot wine (known as "glogg" or "mulled wine" in Europe) is a widely served drink at Christmastime. Many recipes exist, differing in the number and amount of spices. In warmer countries, cold fruit and vegetable cocktails are made with local alcohol and flower petals.
Uzvar in modern Russian fare
Uzvar is still known in this part of the world, but alternative drinks and desserts have nearly displaced it. Most people nowadays do not even recognise its name, let alone know how to cook it. However, Uzvar, along with Kutia and Sochivo, have been a constant presence on church tables to this day. Uzvar is traditionally prepared just before Christmas, on the eve of other church holidays, and during Lent. The commendable taste and health-promoting properties of Uzvar may well lead to its return to modern cooking, just as many other traditional Russian dishes have done. Uzvar is nutritious, rich in vitamins, and healthy. Here are some simple recipes for cooking uzvar.
You can make Uzvar from dry or fresh apples. You will need 500 grammes of fresh apples for every 3 litres of water. Wash the apples thoroughly, cut them into thin slices, and remove the core. Chop up the apple slices and pour boiling water over them. Add spices (mint, cinnamon, cloves, etc.), cover with a lid, and leave for 4-5 hours. Your apple Uzvar is ready.
You will need 400-500 g of mixed dried fruits (apricots, raisins, figs, dried oranges, apples, and pears), half a cup of sugar, a tablespoon of starch or oat flour, and a litre of water. Wash the dried fruits thoroughly to remove the dirt, and pick out the apples and pears. Put the apples and pears in a pot, add water and sugar, and cook for 20 minutes. Put the remaining ingredients (raisins, dried apricots, prunes, figs, dried cherries, etc.), and cook for another 5 minutes. Dilute the starch (or flour) in cold water, add it to the stewed fruit, and bring it to a boil. Add spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise, etc.) according to taste. Wait for your Uzvar to cool. Serve chilled.
Rosehip, or wild rose, is rich in vitamin C, which helps build immunity and treat colds. To make rosehip uzvar, you will need 40–50 dried rosehips, a litre of water, two tablespoons of honey and half a cup of sugar. Wash the dried rosehips thoroughly and put them in boiling water. Stew for 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and let brew under a closed lid for about half an hour. After that, add honey and sugar. You may fully substitute sugar with honey if you wish. To preserve the useful properties of the honey, wait for the Uzvar to cool before adding it.