Casting a greedy eye over pies

MT correspondents visit culinary capital of Belarus: the agro-town of Motol, in Polesie

MT correspondents visit culinary capital of Belarus: the agro-town of Motol, in Polesie


During the Soviet era, the village of Motol, in the Ivanovo District of the Brest Region, was known informally as the ‘sheepskin coat’ capital of the USSR; residents were known for sewing good sheepskin coats and jackets. Today, Motol is known better as a culinary capital. Anticipating surprising discoveries, our correspondents went to the native land of the country’s ‘tastiest’ festival: Motol Delicacies. Here, you can sample delicious bread and the tastiest sausages, as well as learning the secrets of the round wedding loaf tradition: one of the latest historical and cultural heritage treasures of Belarus.



Motol is considered to be an agro-town, although local residents are more likely to run their own business than be involved in farming. Among the 4,000 residents there are 67 entrepreneurs and nearly 40 shops. Many have Jewish ethnicity, which may explain their business acumen.

Our journalists spent the day in Motol and could not but notice the entrepreneurial atmosphere. On asking Nikolay Stasevich, the head of Motol baking company Aniks Sania, if his staff might pose for a photo he tells us, “Only if you promise that it will be published in the newspaper!”

The town opened its own Museum of Bread this winter, filled with ancient utensils and tools (including ploughs and millstones) and various unusual hand-made articles. There is even a house made from toasted bread and various artworks featuring baked goods delight the eyes. Poetry and prose extolling the virtues of the humble loaf adorn the display.

Mr. Stasevich explains that he is keen to make the exhibition more interactive, to involve visitors in the process of baking bread, with insight into Motol recipes. He tells us, “Visitors can grind flour themselves, as we have our own mill. Then, they can sift flour, to make dough. Moreover, I’ve built the ‘Motol Venice’ agro-estate on the bank of the Yaselda River. We intend to open a ‘School of Motol cuisine’ there.”

Manager Olesya Shikolai takes us on a tour, describing how bread rolls were made from an ear of wheat in olden times and how they are made today. She demonstrates the threshing of grain, using a thrashel, and a straw ‘shyyan’ (a special woven container).


Man cannot live by bread alone but there’s no doubt that bread is central to any gathering or celebration. The local round wedding loaf tradition has recently become one of Belarus’ intangible historical and cultural treasures, being held as a sacred ritual.

Young people may not always appreciate what is interesting to history and folklore enthusiasts, or what was once valued by the senior generation. As Olga Kulbeda, the Director of Motol’s Museum of Folk Life and National Creativity, notes, last year, 30 weddings took place yet only three or four requested a traditional ‘round loaf’. For many years, the happiness of the newly weds was thought to depend largely on the baking of this special loaf. Only women with children, who were happily married, respected, and skilful in housekeeping were permitted to have a hand in making the loaf. There was even a parade for the bread, with each stage of its making accompanied by ceremonial songs, prayers and blessings.

Elderly resident Nina Kulbeda recalls that a traditional wedding would require a whole week of preparations and celebration: on Thursday and Friday, dishes were cooked, and the dough for the round loaf was baked on Saturday, with the wedding on Sunday. On Monday, the round loaf was divided, while Tuesday and Wednesday saw people taking ‘bread cones’ for visiting the mother of the bride and then relatives of the groom. She baked a round loaf just recently, for the wedding of her grandson, in February.

The recipe for a round loaf is simple, involving flour, milk, butter, sugar, yeast, eggs, sunflower oil, vanillin, vodka and salt. Set aside some dough for decorating and cones. The round loaf symbolises the sun, while its braided decoration is the interlacing of two families. The ‘cones’ represent the branches of apple, pear or plum trees, made in dough and baked in a stove, then fastened with a red ribbon. Keep the ribbon after the wedding, as it’s thought to have healing properties.

Asking if we might view the ceremony, we’re told that we’d need to attend a wedding in July to do so, since road loaves aren’t made often. However, the process has been captured on video. It’s most likely that we’ll return in early August, for the international Motol Delicacies Culinary Festival. On the weekend between the end of harvest and Dormition Fast, Motol becomes a fabulous food-court, with more than 1,700 homesteads offering home cuisine to visitors.


The Chairman of Motol Rural Executive Committee, Sergey Pilipovich, asserts, “There are so many visitors from around the world; the population of the village almost doubles! We have to accommodate everyone, so we’ve opened the Hotel Fest and are developing our agro-estates. They can’t cope with our large numbers of visitors, although we’ve always done our best to offer beds in our own homes. Entrepreneurs help with the festival and we become host to several ‘sausage kings’ (state owned and private). There are so many traditions associated with sausages. Motol dwellers especially honour the founder of the first sausage shop, Stepan Minyuk, who launched a range of sausages 80 years ago.”

Nina Kulbeda prepared a whole tub of kholodnik (cold vegetable soup) for the last Motol Delicacies. Refreshing in the hot weather, it sold well, as did her tasty liver and blutwurst sausages, fried eggs with crackling and onions, salceson, goose jelly and traditional ‘zurek’ soup. Her namesake, Yelena Kulbeda, sold salty milk mushrooms and fried pike.

So many Vitebsk Region dishes are potato based, I notice, greedily consuming another fragrant suet dumpling filled with meat. Motol residents just smile in response, telling me that potatoes are a cheap way to fill the belly. In fact, they consider themselves prosperous compared to some who live in the north and point out that it’s far harder to raise a pig than to grow a potato plant.

Yelena Kulbeda recollects that, before they had refrigerators, they would salt or tin meat and never threw out waste food, always finding a way to make it edible. She notes, “The only thing that we did not use was blood; we had many Jews and, for them, blood is the soul.”

Waste food can become extremely tasty when prepared well: the proof was in a plate of hot ‘shurpa’ with liver, so rich that the spoon didn’t sink! The tastiest ‘shurpa’ is from freshly-killed pig. A feature of Motol cuisine is to add coriander and dill to meat and sausages. However, an even more important ingredient is the boundless hospitality of Polesie residents.


МТ’S REFERENCE:


Motol, located on the bank of the River Yaselda, is one of the largest villages in Belarus, with a population of more than 4,000. It is the centre of Pоlesie agro-eco-tourism, and was home to the first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. In 2012, it celebrated its 590th anniversary.

The village has two comprehensive secondary schools and an art academy, as well as several museums. The Motol Museum of National Creativity boasts 27,506 exhibits, including a windmill. There is also a Museum of Archaeology, called Our Roots.

Transfiguration Church, constructed in 1877, plays a great role in the Orthodox life of Motol residents. Meanwhile, Agro-Motol JSC is the biggest generator of income for the settlement, breeding Limousin cattle for meat.

By Dmitry Ampilov
Заметили ошибку? Пожалуйста, выделите её и нажмите Ctrl+Enter
Автор фото: Сергей ЛОЗЮК
Версия для печати
Заполните форму или Авторизуйтесь
 
*
 
 
 
*
 
Написать сообщение …Загрузить файлы?
Новости
Все новости