When I was young and eager to compete in academic competitions, I read about other countries rather voraciously, including Russia. The one thing that stuck in my mind about Russian was that they would eat pancakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Not only that, but they would have crazy toppings like sour cream and caviar! I wanted to try these bliny, as they were called in my book, with all the fixings.
Who knew that I would be at a Russian Orthodox seminary, helping out a protodeacon prepare (indeed) all the fixings for a feast of rich pancakes?
Fr Victor, veteran protodeacon, long-time Jordanvillian, and teacher of Old Testament and Russian Literature, usually prepared bliny at the monastery every year before the beginning of Great Lent. However, last year he decided he was retiring, so someone else made them (they were okay). A few of us lucky ones got to eat the golden concoctions at his house.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with Russian cuisine, the week before the beginning of Great Lent (which this year is tomorrow) we do not eat meat, but are allowed to eat fish and dairy products. Hence we call this week Maslenitsa, or “Butter Week.” This corresponds to the Western Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day, except that we Orthodox have an entire week to ease into the season of repentance.
This year, my classmate, who has some power of influence, thought it good to remind Fr Victor of bliny-time. It did not take much convincing, however, and Fr Victor quietly told us that he would be making them on Friday, but to “not tell people, or else everyone will show up!”
The same classmate got me (somewhat reluctantly) to help out on Friday with the bliny. It turned out that Fr Victor had already made them that morning (getting up at 4 am to do so!) and that we had to mainly concern ourselves with putting together the major toppings.
He took out bags of fish that he had preserved himself. We put on plates his homemade gravlax and cured herring, as well as some smoked Nova salmon. My classmate filled little cups with salmon roe, so that everyone would have the chance to eat some caviar.
Little pockets of golden goodness.
Being from Hawaii, I’m used to fish eggs (and I really like ikura, a.k.a. salmon roe, with my sushi). I was pretty happy. Finally, we got out the main course, which was heating up in the oven.
“I finally got a great recipe,” Fr Victor said. “They’re not too thick, and they have lots of goodies in them.” He had us wait until after the prayer for us to take out the food, lest there be any premature food-gathering. But when we finally took out the bliny, there was much (silent, because this is a monastic trapeza) rejoicing.
After passing out the food, I finally sat down to have some bliny. It was very, very rich and buttery, and the toppings were top-notch.
After all that delicious bliny, there’s only one thing to do…I went that night to Pete and Kate’s house, for even more bliny!
Postscript: Thus ends the pre-Lenten portion of this blog. I will pick up posting after the First Week of Lent. I will be spending it in Hawaii, because I am flying there for the funeral of my late grandfather. Please forgive me, a sinner.