February 24, 2003
Once upon a time, there was the Honey Museum on the territory of the Kolomenskoye Museum and Nature Preserve (see the website: www.museum.ru/kolomen), which I found accidentally during one of my walks around Kolomenskoye. I thought that it couldn’t be such a museum in this ecclesiastical area. But later I learned that in old Russia, there were two patron saints of beekeeping, Zosima and Savaty. Among cherry and pear trees, I found an apiary with old-fashioned beehives arranged among beds of medical plants (bees can gather the pollen from about 47 flowers and herbs to produce high-quality honey). The beehive "buzzes," as the swarm of bees is working strenuously to support their queen. A beekeeper will show you the honey boxes with honeycombs if you ask.
"And I was there, honey and beer drank, but these dripped from my mouth but didn’t get to my mouth"--this is the famous end to nearly every fairy tale in Russia. It's because a honey feast was popular for Russian fairy tales and for life as a whole. Most famous were and are the honey-based drinks such as medovukha and hot beverage known as sbiten, which were served in a large carved cups called bratinas.
It's not complete without wooden spoons: "The spoon is most welcome at dinner," says an old Russian proverb. The wooden spoon (usually made of linden or birch) was used in daily life by Russian peasants till nearly the end of the 19th century. It was the dearest pocket companion and often had whimsical carving. Now Khokhloma continues the tradition of spoon carving; the patterns include flower, grass, and butterfly motifs in red, black, and green with nearly golden colors.
Don’t miss the tasting room next to the Beekeeper’s House (open 10am to 5.45pm, closed on Monday; territory open 9am to 10pm; Prosp. Andropova; phone 112-8174). The tasting room offers honey from all over Russia, such as linden and buckwheat, raspberry and chestnut, but the best is often made from herbs. You can drink cold or hot tea from the big mugs made of birch bark here, and eat honey with a freshly salted cucumber. Honey cakes, gingerbreads, and pancakes are also available.
A small shop is here, too, where honey of many varieties is packaged as souvenirs. For example, a Gzhel bottle with honey is presented as a traditional nested doll; I think it’s a much better gift than a bottle of vodka. Honey in combs can also be bought here; the wax is the best material to preserve the aroma (subtle or sharp) of the flower nectar.
Honey is the most health-giving product because it’s rich with natural glucose and easily assimilated. It's extremely precious to me because it’s the smell and taste of my childhood in the apple garden of my darling grandparents.
From journal Moscow for a week!