Not by Meat Alone: Vegetarian Menu of the Ancient Baikal
© Photo: Key To Baikal
September, 30

Not by Meat Alone: Vegetarian Menu of the Ancient Baikal

We wrote a lot about the fact that Evenki cuisine is based on meat-eating culture. Despite this, vegetables, berries and herbs were definitely a huge part of the diet of ancient inhabitants of Lake Baikal. At the same time, they were completely puzzled by yeast bread, because they baked their bread only with the use of vegetable flour...

October 1 is considered the World Vegetarian Day that kicks start of the so-called “Vegetarian Awareness Month” ending with the World Vegan Day on November 1. Bread Day is celebrated on October 16.

We will not discuss whether vegetarianism and the use of bakery products are very useful or not. But it is really interesting to look at the experience of previous generations, especially those who have originally lived in harmony with nature. Therefore, the holidays in October are a good excuse to get acquainted with the interesting features of food culture of the indigenous peoples of the Baikal region - Evenks (Tunguses).

Vegan Diet of Baikal Peoples

Cooking has a concept of “seasonal products”. Of course, the Evenks had no idea about such subtleties, actively consumed various plant food generously provided by the Baikal taiga in spring and summer. They stocked up some of the products, tried to use some natural food all year round. Besides, we still have something to learn from them today, trying to reproduce their “forest” recipes when traveling in the wild.

Evenks knew the useful properties of plants very well.

They chewed the fragrant larch needles, added the inner layer of the chock into the fish broth, realizing that larch needles contain a lot of vitamin C and help to live without scurvy.

They also consumed hogweed - a widespread tall grass with a hollow stem: it was a pleasure to eat its juicy and smelling insides after peeling the outer shell.

They liked spring shoots of pine and its delicious buds rich in vitamins A, D, K, P, E, B2, C.

In spring they also collected birch sap containing up to two percent of sugar, salts of potassium and calcium. The juice was quite multipurpose: they drank it fresh added boiled sap to tea.

Picking herbs for infusion a real taiga art. For this purpose they dried leaves of lingonberries, currants, briar root, young leaves of osier bed, willow... Shelf fungus – “chaga” – also came in handy.

Pine nuts supplied Evenks with healthy fat, starch, protein, organic acids, mineral salts, vitamins... The first soft “milky” nuts were eaten whole, with the shell. Evenks loved to bake them in ash, then grate them, pour with boiling water and use that “porridge” as a perfect dietary supplement.

They looked for wild leek on the river banks and collected whole bags of this plant, dried it, pulverized it manually, and poured the powder into birch baskets. Wild garlic combining the properties of onions and garlic was also popular.

Wild berries - strawberries, raspberries, red currants, cranberries, lingonberries were eaten fresh and raw, Evenks preferred to wash them down with tea. Mashed blueberry with deer milk was considered a treat.

They stocked up only dried bird cherries for the winter - the powder-flour made of the berries was used to make flat cakes.

If There Is Flour and a Sieve, the Family Will Be Satisfied

It is hardly possible to agree that Evenks first learned to know about flour as a result of communication with Russian explorers - Cossacks and settlers. We should at the same time clarify that by “flour” we mean not only ground cereals, but also rhizomes of plants. The case is that since the time immemorial Tunguses used such words as “burduk” and “talgan”. Ethnographers claim that the “burduk” means flour from grains and rhizomes, and “talgan” is coarse flour from roasted and ground grains.

However, grain flour was not initially used in the usual way - they made a soup of it or roasted it with fat. They also baked unleavened cakes – “kolobo” - in ash.

Moreover, the grain was originally replaced by tawny day lily. Of course, they used not flowers, but the bulbs containing a lot of starch. There was one subtlety. They could only eat bulbs of yellow color, because white ones were considered poisonous. The bulbs were dried and ground into flour and used to bake cakes or simply boiled and eaten.

The only thing unknown to Evenks before the arrival of the Russians was yeast bread in its modern sense. There is even a legend that when Evenks defeated the first detachment of Russians, they did not really like Russian round bread. Trying to taste it, they immediately spit the pieces of bread back. They tried to feed the dogs with that bread. But the animals smelled the bread and stepped aside. Then hunters thought that if even dogs avoided eating bread, then people had to definitely avoid it too. So, the Evenks used the round buns left after the death of the Cossacks as targets for archery. They threw the buns down the hill and shot at rolling targets.

Even when they learned how to cook bread, they baked it only for one day. Experts write that a greater amount could be baked exclusively for hunters leaving home for several days without a woman. “If they went hunting with a woman, they took flour, so that the woman could bake fresh bread everyday on the camping sites.”

A Recipe of Evenki-style Flat Cakes

 To bake it, you will need a fading bonfire, on top of all other ingredients.

Pour salt, soda, flour into cool water, then knead the dough thoroughly. The consistency of the dough should be stiff, like that for noodles.

Flatten the dough into a cake, pierce it with a fork or a knife edge, pour some flour on its surface to keep it dry.

Put the warm ash flat into a round shape, slightly patting it with your hand. Put the dough on the ashes, cover it with a layer of warm ash and put some coals on top. Finally, put the cake edgeways and prop it up with a stick, bake it near the fire until it is ready and a crispy brown crust appears.

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