It’s a holiday in Russia today apparently, the Day of Unity, celebrated with food and drink. Any excuse for a drink – in this case the traditional Russian ‘sbiten’ which is a herbal honey drink I’d read about in Dostoevsky, traditionally sold by street vendors who carried it on their backs in big copper vessels.
I’m told sbiten is a cure for melancholy (perhaps Dostoevsky didn’t get that memo) so in today’s windswept chill I boiled me up some sbiten. Half a teaspoon of dried mint left to stew for an hour in two glasses of boiling water. Then I added honey (6tsp) and lemon oil (2 tsp – probably too much) and a couple of pinches of nutmeg.
Variations of the drink use wine instead of water, add vodka, or a range of herbs and spices (ginger, cloves, chilli, tarragon, sage, St John’s wort) and even jam. Just reading those ingredients gives me a little glow. This is perfect winter comfort drinking that will go well with the fireworks tomorrow.
Elizabeth Gowing is the author of Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo