Even Honoré de Balzac knew 77 recipes for baking of Ukrainian bread
Half a thousand examples of Ukrainian ritual bread were brought to Ivan Honchar Museum in Kiev from a hundred villages situated in the 18 of the Ukraine’s regions. Bread of different kinds – from magnificent wedding round loafs to small pasties and cakes – occupied long tables and benches in five exhibition halls of the Museum and filled the rooms with sweet odor of bakery. With this unique exhibition called “I’m baking, baking tasty bread” the Museum staff and the exhibition visitors honored those who died during the famine of the 1932-33.
«When introducing the activity, I didn’t think we would get such a treasure – these are the words of Petro Honchar, the director of Ivan Honchar Museum. He and his colleagues from the Museum spent about a week traveling around Ukraine’s regions and collecting baked bread.
— We thought that people would bake bread and we would be able to dedicate it to the activity – go get some involvement of the entire Ukrainian nation. But wherever we went people baked it with great love, sacrifice and joy because they were glad to be addressed as grain-growers and bakers.
“During the 1932-33 harvesting the grain did not mean only food: it was the spiritual component of the Ukrainian culture meaning all our strength and it has not been lost even until the present. The Museum, being a center of the Ukrainian culture, collects the available Ukrainian heritage: achievements in clothes, rituals, painting and drawing, ceramics. And when we received all these breads we thought that it made our main achievement because the entire life moves around land and bread we are growing.”— by this the Museum director summarizes his idea.
Petro Honchar, the director of Ivan Honchar Museum.
“The exhibition’s idea was not only to commemorate people who starved to death during the Ukrainian Holodomor; it also was to pay homage to these people by showing though bread wellness of Ukraine which was completely destroyed during 1932-33”— said Myroslava Vertyuk, the exhibition head. “We are showing the spiritual section of culture connected with bread though ritual activities and fests. We purposely united the project devoted to bread with the “Millstone” exhibition where we presented baking traditions through folklore and rituals in different artistic ways. To underline the depth of the idea, both the exhibition and the performance are built using the contrasts between the tradition’s beauty and depth and grief. Because of some organizational issues we do not have bread from Donetsk, Mykolaiv, Kherson regions and from the Crimea. Nevertheless, we have abundance from Podillya, Uman and Zaporizhzhya regions. But it’s not the number that is important for the Museum; it’s the ancient traditional nature of the collected loafs. For example, people of Shershentsy in Odessa region baked ten kinds of only funeral commemoration bread only.”
Bread was a component part of each important event, holiday and each ordinary day of people’s lives. Rye grains were put into cradles of new-born children; people went to ask in marriage with special bread; newly wed couples were blessed with bread; bread accompanied people in their final journeys… Even in the times of the technical progress it is difficult to imagine a wedding without wedding bread and wedding “cones”; the Easter – without Easter cakes and cheesecakes; the first Savior day – without poppy seed shortcakes; Andrew’s day – without a “Calyta” – a hard sweet kind of doughnut. People knew at the time and even at present they remember several hundreds names of bread kinds which differed in different regions.
Corovay, dyven, kalach, pyrih, lezhen, kryzh, perepiyets, shyshka, paska, baba, knysh, korzh, perepichka, korochyn, kalyta, zhayvoronok, mandryk, balabushka, rozshchybanets, mazuryk, kalenyk – these make only the beginning of the list of ritual breads exhibited in the Ivan Honchar Museum. More modern kinds of bread are shown in one of the halls; two of the rest house traditional original ones.
Halyna Oliynuk, a senior research assistant of Ivan Honchar Museum:
“In that very hall we can see huge round wedding breads, in particular from Ivano-Frankivsk region, one of which has the wedding bread shape from below but on top it is decorated with blue and red sweet colors. That means that life is going on and people add their own vision to ancient things. The same applies to the dough sculpture you see in another hall – the one with a river, an embroidered rushnyk, a guelder-rose, mountains and a Ukrainian couple standing on top of everything as they usually do on American cakes. But all of this is implemented in the Ukrainian traditional style and the fact is pleasing.
The exhibits in the next halls are more old-fashioned. There, you can see huge loafs from the central Ukraine, Zhitomyr and Vinnitsya regions occupying nearly half a table each. One would not be able to put such bread in a modern oven: large ovens are required for this. All ceremonial sign semantics is present in the decoration of breads: swastikas, corn ears, oak leaves and periwinkle-grape leave shapes. All this beauty reveals the magnificence of simple; it means everything that different masters have always been trying to decorate bread with and every of them in an original way.”
Olya Nalyvayko, a master of bakery has baked 17 breads for the exhibition.
“I love to bake. Each woman’s hand can feel dough deeply. When I start to make a simplest loaf I may suddenly want to end with a Corovay – a round wedding bread. And this bread is very difficult to bake because I want to make all the correspondent roses, cones and other decorations. I beg people not to bake those French-American loafs but to bake simple Ukrainian loafs instead. Corovay serves as a kind of an indicator: the baker makes some decoration, puts it into the oven and its appearance after it is baked should show whether the couple would be happy”.
For Ukrainians, bread is not only a material thing. It is an object of worship, a sacramental dish for Gods and it even has divinity and divine strength of its own. That is why the main law of the bread exhibition is its sacral character, connection with the Heaven, with the ancient mythological and religious thinking of people long gone. These are symbols representing ancient myths, pre-Christian religion – tells us Volodymyr Rak, an artist-restorer and a senior research assistant of Ivan Honchar Museum. — Have you ever thought why we greet people with bread-and-salt? It is a tradition meaning that the hosts connect the visitors coming to our land with the Gods of the country. Each guest should have a bite of this bread for the Gods to recognize and protect him”.
Vadym Mitsyk, an investigator of Ukrainian breads, who has helped the Museum staff to copy a series of ancient bread kinds, is sure that Ukrainians “demonstrate high universal outlook in their artistic bakery”.
“Grain growing in Ukraine has been known for 9 thousand years, starting from mesolite; but it reached its fullest flower during Trypillya civilization. In the Trypillya art, everything was created in a circle. And Ukrainians used to do everything in a kind of a saint circle, too: starting from koloboks (spherical loafs) and ending with the wedding
bread – meaning from simple to the most difficult. When 5 thousand years back our ancestors went to India from the Dnipro banks, they brought there „vedy roga“, meaning the highest knowledge. And there, they have a “svakh” concept, the highest heaven; and Hindu do not know what it is. But we know that our wedding ceremonies are guided by svakhas and svats; and after svakhas – usually wonderful bakers – have prepared and decorated the wedding bread they are presented by baked “cones” having ancient swastika signs — the signs of unstoppable movement of our Universe. So, our bread is directly connected with the Earth and the Heaven. In Trypillya a wheat grain holds both spheres: of the Earth and of the Sky; and in Ukraine a simple word “kolosok” (a diminutive name for the wheat or rye ear) is composed of the words “kolo” (a circle) and “sok” meaning vivifying strength of the earth.”
Examples of bread loafs
Svitlana Tvorun, a bread investigator, a candidate of historical sciences, head of the common humanitarian sciences faculty in Vinnitsya economy institute (Vinnytsya):
“In 1848 when staying in Ukraine, Honoré de Balzac wrote the following in his letter to Mz Shyrkovycheva: “When you visit Ukraine, this Heaven-on-Earth, where I have already noticed 77 ways of baking bread…” I thought I had collected a lot; but when I looked at the number of bread kinds brought from Ukraine I understood that my knowledge is just an iceberg head and there’s no end to this”.
Halyna Oliynyk, a senior research assistant of Ivan Honchar Museum:
Each holiday used to have its special bread. If it was definitely Easter cake for Easter, there could be mandryks for Petrivka (fast before the Peter and Paul’s day). For the Savior day people used to bake “Savior croissants”, and there was “new bread” for Elijah day…
Calaches (small loafs, usually round or padlock shaped)
The most traditional shapes of bread loafs in Ukraine have always been calaches. They could be round with an opening in the centers as they bake them in Zolochiv or Zhydachiv regions; or oblong or diamond-shaped. Calaches were baked for holidays; people used to go to weddings with them; in Verkhovyna district people used to hang calaches over the churches. In Chernivtsy region groomssmen used to dance around the bride with a calach three rounds until she gave her consent for marriage and later this calach was torn in halves in front of the newly weds. So, calaches were used in different kinds of ceremonies.
“Cones” are names of little buns or decorations on the wedding breads, steamed calaches or other wedding breads usually baked from rich yeast dough. In some villages a large number of cones are baked for weddings so that this number would be sufficient to present to all the guests, children and people coming to the wedding without invitations.
In the middle of fasts, a so-called “seredpostya”, on Wednesdays, people used to bake seregohrestny (Middle Wednesday) bread. In some regions people baked as many loafs as many children in the family had; in other regions people baked just two loafs: one was for the family head and the second one was buried as sacrifice for the land before the ploughing.
Baranchyk (a little lamb)
Godparents usually come to the wedding with this kind of baranchyk. At the Galicia the custom is to bake such baranchyks exclusively before the Good Friday, i.e. on Maundy Thursday. Yet, there are villages in which baranchyks are baked for Christmas as God’s lambs. So it’s clear that the same shapes were had different characters and were used for different purposes in different regions.
Pobigushchyi calach (running, visiting)
When inviting people for weddings such calaches are given out and left on the table of each visited house; in some villages people carry a calach around on a red band, put it on the table of each visited house, then take it back and in this way walk around the entire village. In the end this calach is broken in two over the groom’s head.
Young people went to collect periwinkle for the wedding wreath with the same calach: it was placed on the ground and through its opening the leaves were cut. Also, young couples took this calach with them when they went to register their marriage. But in the end they did not eat the calach: it was hung on the wall to protect the young family. “In different villages we saw houses with hanging calaches 20-30 years old – tells us Svitlana Tvorun, a bread investigator. Usually they hang under icons in old ladies’ houses, as, for example, in Stina village, in Tomashpyl district of Vinnytsya region. An old lady complained about her daughter who lived in a city and did not want to hang her calach on the wall so her mother did it for her.”
Knysh — “ a loaf with a loafy”, or “a loaf with a soul”. People obligatorily baked this kind of bread for Christmas, for the Whitsunday, and in some regions for commemoration days.
Pirih-rid (a family pie) – is also called “relatives” in some villages. These pies usually used to be baked for holidays. Actually, they are composed of many small pies put together in one. Before baking, small pies are laid in a large round pan and when the dough rises, these small pies make a single pie symbolizing close family relations, a large friendly family. In some villages, guests should break off small pies from this large single one and eat them with other dishes; in other villages the hostess gives these pies to the relatives before they leave when the holiday is over and adds some more for the members of the families who had to stay at home for them “not to avoid the family”.
Mazyryks — are cookies for children
Calach with edges is made for Christmas; later it is hung in the corner under the icons. Such calaches were fed to cows when they calved.
Bread exhibition in Ivan Honchar Museum is open till the 8th December. Afterwards the loafs will be conserved using modern conservation methods and they will be kept in the Museum fund.
Yuri Melnytchuk, deputy head of Ivan Honchar museum:
There is a bread museum in Talne village, Cherkasy region; one more in Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky. But we need to create a bread museum on the national scale in order to represent this component of the culture for it not to vanish because this art is interesting not only for the Ukrainians but for the other nations of the world.
Memories of people who survived famine
Hanna Hnativna Tarasenko (Ustimenko), born in 1925. Chernihiv region (from the book “Ukrainian Holocaust 1932—1933: Testimony of those who have survived”):
“Everyone was hiding grain in all possible places: some used to bury it in the ground right in the family plot of land; but one needed to use small pots for that for the grain not to get eaten up by vermin; some people took grain to the woods and forests and left it in tree hollows and bushes; there were people who made holes in the house walls and hid pots with grain there. But people were not able to hide much so the amount was not sufficient...».
Pelaheya Omelyanivna Syrotenko, born in 1914. Chernihiv region (from the book “Ukrainian Holocaust 1932—1933: Testimony of those who have survived”):
«At the time people ate sap from the trees; acacia blossoms, rotten potatoes which were left in storages; teenagers ate birds’ eggs of different birds, bugs, small animals and when grain was ripening they used to hide in the field and suck the sweet white from the grain ears. Punishment for this was severe. If someone was caught he risked to be beaten to death”…
Kateryna Oleksandrivna Shaliy, Goncharivka, Lityn district ot Vinnitsya region:
“Even if someone happened to have a handful of grain there were specially appointed people who took it away. If we chanced to collect some grain ears we would press and mill them and keep the flour for the Easter. And it was a real holiday when we baked! At present I can bake bread or pies and it’s always like a holiday”.
Recipes (taken from Svitlana Tvorun’s book called “Ukrainian ritual breads, composed on Podillya examples)
0.5 kg of yeast dissolve in a glass of warm sour milk; add a little sugar and flour and leave it to rise. Sift dry warm flour so that it would take some air in. For the bread not to crack, special addition is prepared: boil 1 liter of milk and add a little flour, quickly stirring it in the process until the substance gets rather thick. Add this substance to the dissolved yeast; add 6 bowls of flour, stir everything well and leave for 2-3 hours in a warm place to rise. Afterwards, add shortening: 2 packets of margarine, 1 packet of butter (packets about 200g each) 40 eggs (20 of them – only yolks), 2 liters of sugar, a small glass of vodka or cognac; vanilla to the liking. Stir the dough well (till it sweats your guts out), dipping your fists in high quality vegetable oil now and then.
For 300g of cottage cheese take 1 egg, one packet of margarine, one glass of flour, baking soda, salt and sugar to your taste. Stir the dough well, make small round balls and bake them.
Shortcake with poppy seed made for the Savior day
For two glasses of flower take 1 egg, 1 tablespoonful of fat; half teaspoonful of baking soda, salt to your taste, then stir the dough. Flatten the dough until it is about half a centimeter thick, make shallow cuts on the surface, stick them with a fork and bake the shortcake in an oven. When ready shortcakes cool down, they are usually broken along the cuts into small squares. Then they are put in a bowl which is later filled with grinded poppy seed and honey or sugar. (Half a cup of poppy seed, the same amount of honey or sugar and one cup of water).
Kateryna Kachur, “Rukotvory”
Photographs by Bohdan Poshyvaylo, Olya Troyan, Yuri Melnitchuk, Kateryna Kachur
— Svitlana Tvorun «Ukrainian ritual breads, composed on Podillya examples». — Vinnytsya: Knyga-Vega, 2006.
— Ukrainian Holocaust 1932—1933: Testimony of those who have survived: in 3 vol. Edited by Y. Mytsyk. Kyiv, Publishinghouse “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” 2003.