Please don’t get mad, but this is one recipe I just have to tell you about. It is, again, about apples – Russian apples this time.
When I was studying in Moscow during my third year of college, I would frequently visit Kelly and Phil at their host family’s beautiful apartment. This apartment is in one of my favorite spots in Moscow: by the Moskva Reka, or Moscow River. The apartment was steps away from a few of the most central metro stops and home to a cautious black lab named Roma. The family’s little grandson would sometimes be over, playing on his toy truck and chattering with Kelly or Phil in squeaky, baby Russian. Foreign languages are so much cuter when they come from little kids.
The apartment was exactly what I imagined all Muscovite apartments to be: classy. The wallpaper felt old, the floors were made of a creaky wood, hundreds of Russian books lined the bookshelves, and one of Moscow’s Seven Sisters could be seen from the window in the long, narrow kitchen. And, more importantly, there was plenty of tea, bread, cheese, and homemade jam to be had – always crowded around the little kitchen table, often while playing a game of chess.
Homemade preserves are my favorite, and Russian ones are especially good. The two most memorable came from the apartment by the river, and I will forever crave them. One was made from a Siberian berry that I’m pretty sure is called the oblepikha, or Sea Buckthorn in English. The preserve had the most unusual taste, a little tart and very distinct. I loved it.
The other preserve was made from little crab apples, and always sat in a bowl on the kitchen table, just waiting to be gobbled up with tea. Luckily, Kelly got a copy of the recipe for the apple preserves so we could make it ourselves. There is only one tiny problem.
Translating recipes from quickly scribbled Russian is hard.
But, not to be outsmarted by my own major, I decided to tackle the recipe and make those preserves even if it proved to be the end of me. Sure I could phone a Russian friend and ask them to help me out, but I wanted to do it myself. So dramatic, so Russian.
For a recipe that I’m pretty sure only has two ingredients, apples and sugar, and six or seven steps (the sixth is mysteriously missing…whatever, it’s Russian), I had quite the time translating this. I’m admittedly not the best at reading handwritten Russian cursive, but with a handy little online dictionary I could type in what I thought the words were until something that made sense came up. This, of course, brought a few interesting results – mistaking “segments” for body parts, “add” for the verb meaning to fall asleep, and coming up with “shine, beam, to be resplendent” and “action, suit” for the last instructions. All that plus the seemingly random ratio of numbers in the first step (which I still don’t understand, but we’re just going to ignore that) made me more than a little nervous to try this recipe. (Edit: it’s most likely the ratio of sugar to apples, resulting in more than 1.5 liters of preserves)
I couldn’t just ignore the recipe, though. After all, if it didn’t turn out, it would at least make an entertaining blog post.
And so, dear friends, this is what I translated:
- Cut the apples into segments, cover with sugar. 1 kg : 1 kg -> 1.5 L
Let sit 3 hours.
- Heat on low heat without mixing, then when there is a lot of juice mix it all together. When it starts to boil, take it off the heat right away.
- After 5 – 10 hours bring to a boil again for 5 minutes.
- After another 5 – 10 hours, bring to a boil for 15 minutes.
- Boil for 10 minutes
(No idea what this says, but it’s presumably something to do with storing the preserves.) Edit: Carrie informed me that it says спечь пену, which means “skim the foam” that forms on top of the preserves. Thanks, Carrie!
I’ve kept you in suspense, I know. Are my varenye what I’ve been missing for almost two years now?
First things first: I don’t have the right kind of apple to make the apple preserves. The apples the Apartment by the River used looked more like this, resulting in one-bite-able apple preserves that looked almost exactly like this. I only had Granny Smith apples and a bunch of larger crab apples from Braeden’s parents’ neighbor’s tree. So, they aren’t exactly the same. But my dears, they are pretty darn close. More importantly, they are pretty damn good.
I experimented with two Granny Smith apples first, peeling and cutting them into chunks, covering them in a lot (probably 1 or so cups) of turbinado sugar, and then following the “let sit three hours – boil – rest – boil – rest – boil – rest – boil – done” technique. And, it worked! They’re really good. Sweet but still somehow tart, soft chunks of apples. Perfect for tea time and chess.
Now. I had all intentions to try the crab apples next, but, well, by the time I got around to it, they were looking pretty rough. They had already been outside when it frosted (and snowed!) and looked a little sad. Instead of using the crab apples, I used the remainder of my Granny Smiths, but changed the method a tiny bit. After investigating a recipe for Crab Apple Preserves on a popular Russian cooking site, I decided to add a little water to make the varenye more syrupy like I remembered from Russia. This syrup, by the way, is excellent added to black tea. Oh, and Russians also add jams to their tea. It is unsurprisingly really good.
Varenye iz yablok
- 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into large cubes
- 2/3 cup sugar (I found that cane sugar results in more syrup, while turbinado results in more jell. Or maybe the pectin was different in the apples?)
- 1/2 cup water
Place the apples in a medium sized bowl with the sugar, and stir to coat. Let sit for 3 hours.
Pour apples in their juices and water into a medium sized saucepan and bring just to a boil over low heat. You’ll hear the juices start sizzling, and see little bubbles rise to the surface. Take off the heat at this point (don’t let it boil), cover, and let sit for 5 – 10 hours.
Uncover, heat again on low heat, and this time boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit another 5 – 10 hours.
Again – uncover, bring to boil for 15 minutes, cover, and let sit. And one more time, cover and let sit for up to 10 hours, then boil for 10 more minutes (I added a little more water at this point), and then you’re done. Store in the refrigerator, and pull them out to have with cheese and bread and tea.
Yield – about two cups. The preserves should last quite a while because of all the sugar, but mine didn’t last that long because they were eaten.
These preserves still didn’t get as syrupy as I wanted, and a lot of the chunks also turned mushy. This, according to Matt, is because of the type of apple. He also says I could use a different apple variety and use less sugar, making the preserves more healthy and even better tasting. …what? Do something differently than how the Russians do it?! Unheard of. Absurd! But, after a little arguing, he convinced me to try it with different apples. I hope to be back soon with a report of success. Fingers crossed.
Thanks to Kelly for the lovely chess-playing picture. Как я скучаю!
And, since writing this post made me all sorts of nostalgic, here are a few pictures from Russia – just so you can glimpse it yourself. These are more pictures from the Apartment by the River, during a birthday party for Jon. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.