This is about a real-food issue that goes unreported because it's neither sold or bought, but it's the thread of the daily life for many people in this country.
I know that many people will find the title of this story provocative and unfounded, given the widespread idea that Russia is heavily polluted as a result of years of careless industrial and military neglect, but I think that Russia is indeed the ignored land of organic food.
I don’t know what foreign media correspondents are doing in Moscow, but I’m not sure that they spend much time in the Russian backcountry, otherwise there would be more reporting on this subject, instead of the well-selling pollution stories. I suspect that the news people assigned in France mostly find their stories and their coverage angle sipping a coffee at a terrace in Paris, reading Le Monde and Liberation, and I'm afraid that's about the rule everywhere else.
I understand that Russia is a huge country, not always easy to travel through, but you don't need to be the best investigative journalist to just meet Russian people in the deep provinces and see how they live.
What I can say from my repeated visits in this country is that in addition to being a very big country, Russia has huge expanses of wilderness, most of it being in pristine condition. The Russians often wander through the nearest forest to pick pick berries, mushrooms or fish, and they consume what the generous nature offers them. They also routinely grow vegetables in their garden, and this often without using chemicals. Even the city people to some extent have kept cultivating a tiny garden in the suburb, all of them love this real food, and they don't do it only for economic reasons but because the Russian people remain deeply almost religiously connected to nature and purity.
All of this self-grown food represents a huge part of what the Russians consume, and as it isn't bought in a shop or manufactured in an industrial farm, this is totally off the radar of analysts...
Due to the food shortage along the soviet years, Russians and Soviet citizens at large had to take care of their own supplies, tending gardens at that effect. City dwellers were given small gardens in the suburbs, sometimes very far from the cities, and you could see them on weekends commuting with buses and trains with big bags to and from their private lot (even today, these regrouped private garden-lots are much used by city people and not only by retirees). The Russian and ex-Soviet citizens have learnt the traditionnal way to preserve the food naturally so that they could count on it through winter. There were no chemicals available for the ordinary citizen in the soviet times, be it pesticides, weedkillers or preservatives, so only natural ways were used for these home-prepared food.
Since the fall of the socialist regime, the tradition of canning home-grown vegetables and fruits has survived and you’ll find vegetables, mushroom or fruit cans even in homes of the middle class whose revenues have noticeably improved these recent years. On an other side, as many people, especially in the countryside, have modest revenues, they’ve not yet been targetted by the chemical industry specialized in gardening. Even though there's a Russian heavy weight in the sector and also an international giant known for its bestseller weedkiller which opened a branch here (beware, Russian gardeners, keep your garden chemical free...). It’s quite uncummon for villagers to get rid of beetles by hand, picking them one by one from the plant before burning or drowning them.
Here is the recipe for the two sorts of fermented cabbage prepared here (a green and a white) :
Take off the green leaves and put the white, inside-part on the side. You'll get two different cabbage preparations, they'll go through the same preparation but will have different uses.
Chop the cabbage with carrots and a bit of salt that you add from time to time. You need about 2 to 4 carrots and 100 grams of salt for 5 kg of cabbage. Don't add water : the salt with make the cabbage yield lots of good juice. Put the whole thing in jars, making sure that the cabbage is fully immerged in the salty juice. Keep the jars in a warm place (inside a house) without lids for 3 days so that the light fermentation takes place, then put te lids on and put the jars in a cold room for the winter months.
The white cabbage is eaten as snacks or mixed with salads while the green is used for the traditional Russian soup, usually boiled in the Russian brick ovens.
Yes, even the cooking of this Russian soup is so beautifully natural : here is a video (on the left) showing the age-old brick stove that you find in every old house in the russian villages : It's a big square block of bricks with two furnaces, one for the stove and one for the iron-cast plates where you'll cook with your saucepans. Sometimes several rooms wrap the stove so it can bring heat to the main room, to the kitchen and to the bedroom. Speaking of bed, when it's really cold outside, you can climb on the stove (in the back) as there's a specially-designed site at the top for a mattress....
The fire that you can see in the first part will heat the oven, after which (when it's hot) you can dispose of the embers and place your soup in a clay pot or cook a bread.
Look at this, doesn't it look simple and solid ? Now, I'd have liked to see how they build these traditional brick stoves, I'm sure they'll make one themselves as soon as this house is finished. I happen to love wood cookstoves and stoves in general, and I think I would have the patience to learn this construction technique.
Here is a page about Russian sophisticated wooden homes inspired from the traditional technique, but simple isbas have more charm than these fancy houses.
The one on the right has been sprayed with raw salt and spices while the other was was stored as such.
Walking in the woods looking for mushrooms is one of my favorite sports, it's as healthy as golf, and more affordable. Doing it in Russia is playing in another dimension and scale, because of the size of the forests there and of the richness of its underwoods. The only thing is, you better not looses vocal contact with your mushroom mates (hoping they know where they're going, which I wasn't always sure) because you could end up walking days without finding any inhabited spot.
Now, there are mostly two ways to keep and store these mushrooms for later consumption, and here is a photo story of the recipes used by Russians.