Food and Drink of Eastern Europe:

Primarily Poland and Rus

An overview by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

Disclaimer: This class and this handout, being based entirely on English-language secondary or tertiary sources, is an overview for persona purposes and an introductory point for further research. It does not, nor is it currently intended to, meet the research standards of exemplary SCA cooks. The reader should be aware that the use of secondary materials and translations introduces a risk of misinterpretation, and that I am primarily a researcher rather than an expert at medieval cooking and recipe redaction. It is my hope that someone may build on this research to pursue a more accurate re-creation of Slavic cuisine in the future; for the moment, I hope it will be helpful to those interested in Slavic and East European foodways.


Very little survives in terms of written recipe-books from Poland and Rus: a few recipes (added after 1600) in the Domostroi, a few pages surviving from a 16th c. Polish translation of a German cookbook, mentions in untranslated Polish herbals from the 1500s and 1600s, and Polish-style recipes from foreign sources. (Some Hungarian recipes may have survived, and German cookbooks also mention Hungarian-style recipes.) What we do know is mostly through menus, inventories, narrative accounts and archaelogical data; there is a tendency to rely on extrapolations from modern ethnography.

General Influences

Poland had Hungarian, German and Italian influences; Rus had Byzantine, Mongol and possibly Viking. The nature of the agricultural states, and religious restrictions from both churches, probably also had an influence on the development of the respective cuisines.

Religious fasting/food restrictions. The difference in food regulations between the Roman and Byzantine churches causes significant differences between West Slavic (Polish, Bohemian, etc.) and East Slavic (Rus, Ruthenian, etc.) foodways. Poland strictly followed the fasting rules of the Church of Rome (meatless Wednesdays and Fridays, Lenten fast); Russians and Kievans followed the Byzantine Church, which were even stricter (certain meats, and meat slaughtered in certain ways, were forbidden). Certain kinds of food-- strangled animals, 'vermin' like beaver and squirrel--were eaten less due to Orthodox regulations but not always avoided entirely.

From the Domostroi, chapter 51:

'As everyday food, servants recieve rye bread, cabbage soup, and thin kasha with ham. Sometimes they may have thick kasha with lard.. . . On Sundays and holy days servants sometimes get turnovers (piroszhki), jellies, pancakes, or other, similar food. At supper they eat cabbage soup and milk or kasha.
On fast days the servants have cabbage soup with thin kasha, sometimes with broth, peas, or turnip soup. At supper on these days, you may offer cabbage soup, cabbage, oatmeal, pickles, or fish and vegetable soup. On Sundays and holy days, for dinner, give them various kinds of pies, barley-pease porridge, barley groats, or kasha mixed with herring (or whatever elseGod sends). For supper, serve cabbage, pickles, fish and vegetable soup, and oatmeal.
The serving women, maids, children, other kinfolk, and dependents should get the same food, but with the addition of leftovers from the master's and guest's tables. As for the better class of merchants, the master should seat these at his own table.
The mistress honors seamstresses and embroiderers as the master does merchants: she feeds them at her own table and sends them food from her own dish.
The servants' drink is second-grade beer; on Sundays and holy days, ale. Trading people always drink ale, and the master may give them any drink he wishes, or order it given. If they drink merely to quench their thirst, merchants should be served weak beer.'

Raw ingredients:



Grains and Seeds

Wheat, barley and rye were discovered at the Biskupin digs, dating back to 550-400 BC. (Knab) Rye, wheat, oats, barley and millet appear in the Gniezno digs (Polcyn)
Dembinska says that during the medieval period, wheat, rye, millet, barley, and sometimes oats were eaten. Millet was especially popular in Poland but buckwheat was only known from the 13th century onward. Rye and other grains, such as spelt, often picked green and cured in an oven (prevented ergot). Millet, and sometimes barley or wheat, made into kasza (kasha/groats- hulled and/or pounded but not ground). Wheat species included spelt, club wheat, emmer and common bread wheat. Oats were considered lower class, buckwheat and barley were introduced in late period. Rich Poles sometimes ate rice,and also ate seeds of the  grain-like manna plant (Glyceria fluitans), aka Mazovian semolina, and its relatives large manna and Lithuanian manna. Hempseeds were also used for porridge.

The Domostroi says you should have on hand rye, wheat, oats, buckwheat, oat flour, barley, malt, peas, hemp, hempseed oil, and groats. Kasha is mentioned again and again in the Domostroi, from different grains. Rye was the primary bread grain (Smith and Christian).

From Bread and Salt: "The grains grown... were winter-sown rye (the basic grain for human consumption) and spring-sown oats (for consumption by man and horse), with barley and millet of less importance for much of the area. There was relatively little wheat; its scarcity added to its status value: in 1471 in Novgorod 'the barleymen rose against the wheatmen.' From the thirteenth-forteenth centuries on, buckwheat was a minor, but gradually increasingly important, item among the grains grown. Hemp and flax seeds were also used as foodstuffs. They were used in dishes with peas, for instance, or gave oil which was either an element in various dishes or the medium in which they were cooked."

Oils & Fats

Primary cooking fat: Lard. Butter especially used on fastdays. Olive oil a luxury; Syrenniuz mentions it in mustard sauce. Oil pressed from hazelnuts was used like olive oil; also hempseed or poppyseed oil. Almond oil and milk extensively during the reign of Jadwiga.(Dembinska) Knab mentions hempseed oil also.

Butter, lard, hempseed and flaxseed oil (Smith and Christian). The Domostroi mentions buying butter. and also mentions 'milk, sour cream [?], butter, cheese, and eggs' produced at home.


Dried peas (not just the green, but differently colored heirloom varieties); young peas eaten as a luxury. Broad beans(fava beans) appear in the archaelogical record: for field beans 'horse beans' vicia faba, var. equina, or var. minor were used; var. maior was favored for garden production. Lentils eaten primarily by peasants but sometimes by the royal family. (Dembinska)
Peas were the most numerous, Lentils less so; Broad beans were reported in medieval digs in Poland, but not in Gneizno. (Polycn)

Dried Peas were most popular, followed by lentils, then broad beans, but pulses in general don't seem to have been very important in the diet.. (Smith and Christian). Domostroi suggests beans as a summer food.

Root Vegetables

Turnip was most popular; white and black radishes, skirrets, parsnips and cow parsnips (barszcz), rutabagas, and beets also heavily used. Carrots (white) also from time to time. Onions were used in cooking often; garlic not as much. (Dembinska) Parsley roots were also used in the 16th century (Knab)

Travelers wrote home about the amount of onions and garlic in Russian and Polish food. Peasants ate garlic raw with bread. Turnips the most popular root vegetable. (Smith and Christian)
Beets, radishes, turnips, carrots appear in the Domostroi; and Smith and Christian list turnips, carrots, beet root and radishes as common.

Cabbage and Greens

Cabbage eaten fresh, stored for winter eating, and young leaves (collards) eaten in the spring. (Dembinska lists caules albi(white cabbage), caules nigri (red/purple cabbage) and caules compositi (probably a primitive cauliflower). Types of kale, probably 'blue gray, very dark green, or even slate black' were grown for winter harvest. Lettuce was eaten fresh. Pot herbs such as alexanders ('black lovage'), smallage, parsley. Wild greens, such as nipplewort, sorrel and lambs-quarters were eaten by peasants and sold in the market. (Dembinska)
Dembinska says that bean greens were eaten, but several readers have pointed out that the original translation may mean beet greens, which Dembinska mentions being eaten in sauerkraut.

Cabbage, beet greens, other root vegetable greens (Domostroi) 'Cabbage... was greatly used, especially in soups, and was pickled in vast quantities' . Nettles, sorrel, goose-foot, ground elder were consumed locally. (Smith & Christian)

Cucumbers, Gourds and Melons

Seeds of modern, small-seeded cucumbers have been found in 12th century archaelogical digs in Gniezno.Cucumbers were certainly eaten in period, though Dembinska found no mention of pickling them before 1500; pickled cucumbers are mentioned in 16th century sources. (Dembinska suspected that older cucumbers might be an asian 'netted' type, unsuitable for pickling.)
'Pompions'-- probably a kind of basket gourd related to the calabash-- are listed on inventories from the reign of Wladyslaw Jagiello (Knab)
Melons were also eaten, though we don't know what kind.

Russian sources mention pickled cucumbers consistently and cucumber seeds have been found in digs going back to the 10th century. 'Cucumbers, too, were commonly pickled.' (Smith & Christian)
The Domostroi mentions cucumbers and melons, also; cooked, pickled or preserved in spiced sweet syrup (though apparently not often fresh.). Watermelons and melons are differentiated.

Honey and Sugar

Sugar was available to the Poles, and may have been used in dishes referred to as being Cyprian; but the main sweetener was honey. Records are confusing as the same word means 'mead' and 'honey'

Again, the same word means 'mead' and 'honey'; it was the primary sweetener. Use of sugar was even more limited in Rus than in Poland.


Orchard fruit was eaten almost year round (July-March): apples, pears, cherries. Records between 1506 and 1548 of peaches; peach pits were also found in archealogical digs. Raisins, and figs were known by the 14th century; oranges and lemons show up in record from the 15th. Wild strawberries appeared on royal tables; bilberries (whortleberries) in market regulations. The Teutonic Knights harvested raspberries, sloes, the European cranberry (Vaccinum vitus-idea), and rowans, but probably only for juices. (Dembinska) Rasberry bushes grew in Poland in the Early middle ages.. (Knab) Grapes may have been grown around Gneizno in the 12th century. Apple pips, pear pips, plum stones and cherry stones have also been found in Gneizno, along with evidence for blackberries, raspberries, elderberries.(Polcyn)

Apple orchards were known from the 12th century. (Smith & Christian) Pears, plums, cherries were grown at home (Domostroi, Smith & Christian) Berries included bilberries, cherries, raspberries; berry or cranberry juice (Domostroi) Quinces and pears are also mentioned in the Long version. Both Domostroi and Smith & Christian mention lemons imported already preserved in salt.


Hazelnuts, Walnuts, and of course almonds. (Dembinska) Walnuts and Hazelnuts are part of the archaelogical record (Polcyn)

Unspecified nuts collected from the wild. (Smith and Christian)


It isn't possible to determine any particular kind of mushroom from the records (they are generically referred to as 'boleta'), but mushrooms of of all types, harvested from the wild or bought from vendors were eaten dried, pickled, or cooked and eaten immediately. April mushrooms are referred to by a separate term which may mean something like morels. (Dembinska)

Pouncy says, in a note to the Domostroi translation, "Throughout, the Domostroi uses the names of two specific mushrooms instead of the general Russian word griby: gvozdi (saffron milk-caps) and ryzhiki (milk agarics). Both words are of Polish origin.


In Poland, the most esteemed meat was beef, the most well-distributed, pork, specifically fatty bacon; mutton and goat meat were rare. (Goats and sheep may have been primarily milk animals.) Veal and lamb sometimes eaten. Chicken and other poultry were also eaten, and large quantities of eggs appear on royal purchase orders. Large game, such as auroch, elk, or wisent, was generally harvested as royal presents rather than a consistent food source, but some small game, such as hare and rabbit, was eaten. Bear, especially bear paws, was considered a delicacy. (Dembinska)

The Domostroi mentions specifically 'aged half-carcases of red meat, ham, corned beef, dry cured meat', mutton, beef, and pork, and all the dishes that can be made from one ram, cow, or pig. (Veal was forbidden to Orthodox Christians.) 'Vermin' such as hare, squirrel and beaver were unclean also, but the Domostroi says that if you buy a whole beaver, not to throw away the skin, so they may have eaten beaver. The Long version of the Domostroi mentions goose, duck, swan, chicken, grouse and lark, as well as hare and beef tongue. Chicken is mentioned in statutes from the 1550s (Smith & Christian)


Because of the number of 'fish days', including Lent, a good deal of fish was eaten. Eels, cod, sturgeon and many other fish, along with the inevitable herring. 

Herring (fresh or salt), sturgeon, ruff (a kind of small perch), beluga and caviar (Domostroi) "Salmon, sturgeons and other notble fish were perhaps not available to all, but pike-perch, pike, bream, white-fish and smelts were probably common." (Smith & Christian) Salmon, sterlet, pike, perch, carp, roach, and bream are also mentioned in the Long Version of the Domostroi.


Mustard (specifically black mustard) was a favorite condiment; vinegar was used in marinades and where other cooks would use wine. Salt, pepper, cardamom, ginger, grains of paradise, juniper berries. Hops were grown and used to flavor beer. Poppy seeds were used as fillings in baked goods, and sometimes pressed for cooking oil. Saffron, cubebs, almonds, mace, ginger, cloves were part of the Polish queen's spice store. (Dembinska) The salt mines of Poland were famous.
Marcin of Urzedow  (1595) wrote that Nigella sativa (so-called 'black cumin') was used in bread ; fennel seed used in cakes and bread [in Italy?].Coriander used as a spice and sugared for comfits. He also mentioned savory and  hyssop and said that 'Horseradish, a splendid herb in Poland, is practically like pepper'. Syrenniuz (16th c.) mentioned marjoram (Knab).

'For the most part, too, spices were imported... Pepper, ginger and cloves were supplemented later by saffron and coriander' (Smith & Christian)
Russians mined and extracted salt (Smith & Christian).
The Domostroi mentions nutmeg, cloves, hops, poppy seeds, as well as serving cruets for vinegar, saltcellars, and peppermills. Ginger and saffron are in the long version.


The question of Capsicums (New World 'peppers', aka paprika).

It's unclear when New World peppers began to be grown and used in Europe, and thus in Eastern Europe. Lang and other Hungarian writers claim that the Turks brought peppers (along with maize and other New World foods) to Hungary sometime during the Turkish occupation, after 1526 and before 1800.  Some sources claim that the use of peppers in Hungary was 'ancient', but like Lang who confuses the spice long pepper (Piper longum) with the capsicums. Even if when capsicum plants were grown in botanical gardens, there's no indication whether they were cooked and/or dried to make the paprika spice. Nor have we yet found any period recipes calling for them. So, we cannot reliably say that paprika was known in Eastern Europe in period.

Terry Decker from the SCA-Cooks list says:

"There is not a lot readily available on the subject. Most food histories tend to date the arrival of capsicums in Eastern Europe to 1526, coinciding with the Ottoman conquest of most of Hungary, however the actually date of introduction could be anytime up to around 1621, when the Turks were pushed

The earliest published reference from the area can be found in Leonhard Fuchs' Primi de Stirpirum published in Basil in 1545. Fuchs was a physician and naturalist who was living in Tübingen (south of Stuttgart on the Neckar River). There are three plates on pages 425-427, 1) Capsicon rubeum & nigrum - Roter und brauner Calcutischer Pfeffer, 2) Capsicum oblongius - Langer Indianische Pfeffer, and 3) Capsicon latum - Breyter Indianische Pfeffer. Fuchs appears to have been familiar with the plants, but confused about their origins.

The fact that Fuchs very carefully and correctly pictures the capsicum plants suggests that they were available to him and that the 1526 date for the introduction of the plant into Eastern Europe may be correct.

If you are interested, Fuchs' work has been scanned and made available on the web by the Hunt Botanical Library at:

Capsicums were also reported as being grown in a monastary garden in Brno, Moravia in 1566, but I haven't found the source of the report."


Prepared Foods

"The daily menu in Poland included at least one vegetable, either as a side dish or as an ingredient in a one-pot recipe." (Dembinska) Vegetable pottages and layered composites were made with a wide variety of green leafy vegetables, though some are only recorded as greens for pottage with no identifying names! The ancestors of bigos (Polish hunter's stew) were probably layered meat dishes. Greens were cooked together, flavored with meat or pork fat and cream or egg. On fast days, broth or 'fat' (oil?)were substituted; greens were sometimes mixed with groats.

Root vegetables were roasted, stewed, and sometimes radishes were even dried and made into flour for sweets; turnips were used in the same way potatoes are now. In summer, fresh beets, melons, beans, cucumbers, carrots were eaten. Beet greens were eated cooked (and if Domostroi can be believed, also dried for later use); the roots pickled, cooked or added to other dishes. Dried peas were added to other dishes or made into strained peas. "Hemp and flax seeds... were used in dishes with peas" (Smith and Christian). German sources speak of serving raw vegetables with oil, vinegar and salt, and this probably what the Domostroi intends when it mention serving radishes to guests.

Mikolaj Reg in "Zywot czlowieka pozciwego" (1568) describes a sauerkraut method: "Having romoved the outside leaves of some nice heads of cabbage, cut them in half and fit them neatly into a vat, spreading beet chards & dill between the layers" (Dembinska) [and presumably covered in a salt and/or vinegar brine and left to ferment...] and a cucumber pickle: 'pickle cucumbers in salt, add some dill and sour cherry or oak leaves...'

Rumpolt, Ein Neue Kochbuch (1581) suggests sauerkraut was known and used in Hungary and Bohemia, as he includes it in is Banquets for Kings of Hungary and Bohemia: "... Ein saur Kraut gekocht mit einem geräucherten Speck/ vnd dürren Würsten/ vnd auch mit geräucherten Capaunen vnd Hüner" [sauerkraut cooked with smoked bacon].

Thomas Gloning said on the SCA-Cooks list (

"For Prussia, there are inventaries of the German order mentioning vats or barrels with "kompost", "kompostkol", "suercompist" etc. in the 15th century, with "sawerkrawt" in the 16th century. (Quotes from these inventories can be found in: Brunhilde Reitz: Die Kultur von 'brassica oleracea' im Spiegel der deutschen Sprache [The culture of brassica oleracea/cabbage in the mirror of the German language]. Diss. Marburg. Giessen 1964.) However, the earlier Jeroschin chronicle says that "kol", from which sauerkraut is made, was unknown to the Prussians in early days ("... gesen die brudre ezzin kol, des di Pruzin nicht inpflagin nutzin dennoch bi den tagin", roughly '(a visitor) saw that the brethren were eating cabbage, which the Prussians themselves did not eat in those early days')."

From the Domostroi: "Chop cabbage, greens, or a mixture of both very fine, then wash them well. Boil or steam them for a long time. On meat days, put in red meat, ham, or a little pork fat; add cream or egg whites and warm the mixture. During a fast, saturate the greens with a little broth, or add some fat [oil?] and steam it well. Add some groats, salt and sour cabbage soup. Cook kasha the same way; steam it well with lard, oil, or herring in a broth."

Bread, usually combining white and rye flours (the more wheat flour, the more exalted the position of the eater). Dembinska lists nine categories in Poland: 'common rye bread, black rye bread, common white bread, binavice [twice-baked, first baked, then sliced and dried], wheat or manchet rolls, bagels or ring pretzels, rogale or crescent rolls, placki or flat cakes, and tortae.  Food was served in heavy bread trenchers, and white bread rolls were served to important folk at feasts. (Wheaten manchet rolls could be bought from vendors on the streets, along with round twisted sweet 'pretzel' type rolls and other bread and pastry treats.)
Smith and Christian say that in Russia, rye was the primary bread grain and unleavened flat 'hearth' breads are undocumented, though bread and pies could be bought in the street, and horned rolls are mentioned in the Domostroi.

Leavening, in Poland, was 'thick beer', a 'sourdough'-type leavening made from beer yeast dregs-- probably beer barm, the yeast sediment from the brewing vat. (However, the Domostroi mentions storing yeast, but it's not clear how.) Flour was sifted, then mixed and kneaded in 'kneading troughs' and put to bake in moistened ovens or wrapped in vegetable leaves.
Pancakes, fritters, pies and cakes made with leavened dough in were common in  Russia. (Smith and Christian). Noodles were also made with peas.
The Domostroi says that the housewife should know 'how to sift the flour, prepare the kneading trough, mix and roll the loaves. She should know how to bake sourdough breads and sweet rolls and, when they are cooked, buns and filled pies also.'

Filled small pies (pirozhki), turnovers or 'blintzes [sic] filled with mushrooms, poppy seeds, kasha, turnips, cabbage, or whatever God sends' are mentioned in the Domostroi; filled noodle/dumplings may have been known in Russia but were a later import to Poland.

Domostroi: "When the servants bake bread, order them to set some of the dough aside, to be stuffed for pies. When they bake wheat bread, have pies made for the family from the coarse flour left in the sieve. For meat days stuff them with whichever meat is to hand. For fast days use kasha, peas, broth, turnips, mushrooms, cabbage, or whatever God provides...."

On the SCA Cooks list, Yana (Jennifer Miller) elaborated on the connection between the pies mentioned above and the usually oval or half-circle modern pirozhki:

"I only know about pirozhkis.  Yes, they are period, no, we don't have a "recipe."  But, we do know what types of fillings were used in pies, and pirozhki means "little pie."  The Domostroi (in the definitely period section) lists pie fillings . . . On page 151 and 161, "turnovers" are mentioned.  In Pouncy's footnote of the latter entry, she calls them "pirozhki."   No mention of the cooking technique, but I would guess they were probably baked, like the bigger pies, if only because they would be slightly easier to bake for an entire household instead of frying them in batches." (, email message on 1/27/01)

Another comment on Russian filled pies from Thomas Gloning on the Cook's list: "Adam Olearius, who travelled to Russia and Persia around 1635 mentions them in his travelogue:

 'Vnter andern haben sie auch eine art Gebackens/ als Pasteten/ oder vielmehr Pfankuchen/ so Pyrogen genandt werden/ seynd in grösse einer Butterwecke/ jedoch etwas länglichter/ welche sie mit klein gehacktem Fische oder Fleisch vnd Zipollen füllen/ in Butter oder zu Fasten Zeit in Oel braten/ haben einen nicht vnangenehmen Geschmack/ mit solcher Speise wil ein jeglicher seinen Gast/ wenn er jhm gütlich zu thun vermeinet/ bewirthen' (Olearius, Muscowitische vnd Persische Reyse, second ed., 1656, p. 204).

Here, he describes the preparation of the dish ("pyrogen"): they are filled with fish, meat and onions; they taste good; everybody wants to serve them to a guest, if the guest is welcome. The description looks as if this dish was something very common around 1635, so I guess one could find earlier descriptions in other travelogues. For those interested in Russian food and drink, the whole chapter "Von der Russen Haußstand/ gemeinem Leben/ Speisen vnd Vnterhalt" would deserve a closer inspection [On housekeeping, ordinary life, food and nutrition of the Russians]: Quaß, mead, "Ikari", raspberry brandy, a dish for recovery after being drunken, ...'"

Baked goods also included yeast/sourdough pancakes, cookies, Gingerbread (a specialty of Torun-- it isn't clear whether this is period gingerbread or actual ginger bread: the modern Torun recipe is an actual raised cake/cookie), and wafers. (Pancakes are specifically mentioned in the Domostroi and in Dembinska's sources.)
Sops in broth (or sops served with soup or soupy dishes) are mentioned in both the Domostroi & Dembinska.

Kasha and grain dishes
Kasha, or groats, hulled or pounded grain cooked up into gruels, porridges and/or rice-like dishes, is mentioned continously in both Polish and Russian sources. Kasha could be wheat, millet, barley, buckwheat or other grain, and as fine of cream of wheat or as coarse as pearl barley or rolled oats. Soupy 'thin Kasha' was fed to servants and others of low status; thicker, frumenty-type or rice-like dishes went to those of higher status. Kasha was generally cooked with lard (Lemnis), but meat, broth, spices and milk were also possible additions.

Flours (oat, millet, etc) were also used in soups and porridges also, as well as hemp and flax seeds. Whole grain gruels and frumenties, were also made.  Kut'ya, a frumenty or porridge, was eaten on festival occasions, and taken to church to be blessed as a meal for the dead. Eggs may normally have been served on it, as in 1499 it was forbidden to put eggs on Kut'ya as an offering.

The Italian source, Platina, gives a recipe for cooking millet. Szymon Syrennius' 1613 herbal apparently gives several variations for cooking millet, according to Dembinska: ". . . millet kasha was 'cooked in milk with butter and sugar'," "servants ate millet kasha 'cooked with water, butter, and salt'," or "hulled millet was 'cooked until fluffy and loose, then browned in butter and thus served'." (Dembinska, pgs. 109-110)

Dembinska mentions a dish eaten primarily by the poor called prazmo, described in Syrennius, made from oven-dried unripened grains of rye: "When needed, the green grains were soaked in warm water, then cooked with milk and bacon. Upper-class versons of this dish used capon stock and better quality ingredients" (p. 112).

Hempseed porridge/soup appears to have been served in monasteries, garrisons and to the poor; it's unclear whether the hempseed oil was extracted first (Dembinska, p 113-114). The Italian physician Platina also gives a recipe for hempseed porridge.

Kisel is the oldest porridge dish that we have record of, though the information we have about the recipe is scanty.

According to Yana (Jen Miller):
'From the Primary Chronicle entry for the year 997:
<To sum up the text, so's I don't have to type everything.>  The Pechenegs are laying seige to Belgorod, keeping everyone from leaving.  The Belgorodians, seeing that they will starve to death if they allow this to go on much longer, seize the opportunity to trick the Pechenegs into letting them go.  They dig two deep holes (wells) and put barrels in them.  In one, they put a honey-water mixture.  In the other, they put a flour-starch mixture.  Then they ask the Pechenegs, "why are you killing yourselves?  Can you outlast us?  If you stay for ten years, what can you do to us?  For we have nourishment from the earth."  So they invite some Pechenegs in.
"And they took them to the well where the flour-starch mixture was and they brought some up in a bucket and poured it into pans.  And when they had cooked up the kisel', they took it and went with it to the other well, and they drew up the honey-water.  And they began to eat, first the townspeople
and afterward the Pechenegs."  The Pechenegs take some of the flour-starchmix and honey water back to their Princes (apparently they wanted to cook it up themselves), the Princes are amazed, and they all "retreated from the town and went back home."'


A fermented soup similar to zur (traditional Easter fare) is mentioned in period documents. Kyssiel, a fermented barleyflour soup, is documented to 997 in Poland. In the Rus Primary  Chronicle, a tribe makes a flour soup that resembles kissel. Grain soups were also popular such as millet flour soup.
Beer soup (with or without cheese)-- Poland (Dembinska, Lemnis)
Cabbage soup (?)- thick or thin, with fish or meat broth; sometimes with kasha, was a staple of the diet. 'Sour cabbage soup' made with beer and/or fermented (Domostroi).
Curiously enough, beet soup is not documented for Poland, but a borscht-like cow parsnip soup is.

In Poland, Beef was the favored meat, in many incarnations, roasted, boiled, spit-roasted, etc.. Auroch meat (wild beef) was considered a game dish. Game, including venison and other wild game, was consumed sporadically. Pork was also also roasted, spit roasted, or fried, and in the form of fat pork/fatty bacon (salted, smoked or fresh) it appears to have been the most-consumed meat of the majority of the population. Poultry, especially chicken, made mass appearances atlarge banquets, and was generally roasted or stewed. Zrazy (sliced or rolled stewed meat) and tripe were served at the table of Wladyslaw Jagiello; tripe was also cooked and packed in brine as a reliable emergency food.

Because of the dome-shaped stoves in Russia, frying was a common way of preparing meats and fish.
Vinegar instead of wine marinades were popular. Sauerbraten, especially veal, is period for Poland. (Dembinska) The german cookbooks -- Rumpolt and Welserin-- include vinegar-marinated meat.

Sausages: included both traditional meat filled sausages, and sausages filled with kasha mixed with meat bits. Domostroi: "They stuff the entrails with kasha cooked with suet and summered (the kasha can be made from oatmeal, buckwheat, barley, or whatever is available. If these [sausages] are not eaten up in the autumn, they make a pleasant Christmas feast.. " Blood puddings and blood sausages were common in Poland but forbidden by Orthodox law in Russia (though still sometimes eaten).

From the Domostroi on cooking meat:

Some fish was eaten fresh, some salted, dried or smoked: 'serve caviar, dry cured fish (smoked or boiled), fish soup, shredded cooked fish, fish giblets... Baltic herring in barrels (pickled, in pies, in kasha or barley groats)' and 'She rolls the small [fresh fish] in flour and fries them' says the Domostroi. Fish was added to cabbage soup, cooked greens, or kasha, or made into soup with vegetables (Domostroi). Fish appeared on the table on all meatless days (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and other specified fasts). Salt herring wore thin its welcome in Lent.

Aspic: fish or meat in aspic (jelly) was a common dish. The writer of the Domostroi points out that you must keep dishes in jelly on ice or in cold storage.

Fruit, except apples and sometimes pears, is only mentioned eaten cooked in Rus; in Poland, eating fruit raw may have been more popular. The Domostroi mentions Cherries in syrup, apples and pears in kvas or syrup, cooked apple candy, berries cooked in honey and dried in layered sheets like fruit leather. Dried raisins, 'cranberries' and other fruit appeared in grain dishes and vegetable compotes.

The Domostroi says to have on hand 'bilberry wine, cherries in syrup, rasberry juice, and desserts (apples and pears in kvass and syrup, pastilles [fruit candy], doughnuts).'


The common drink in Russia appears to have been either light beer or a kind of small beer, one or two days fermented, called kvas. Fletcher (1588/9) on kvas: "Their common drink is mead; the poorer sort use water and a thin drink called kvas, which is nothing else (as we say) but water turned out of its wits with a little bran mashed with it." Modern kvas recipes call for (rye) bread and yeast or fruit and sugar, brewed for one or a few days. The Domostroi mentions apple kvas. The slightly postperiod long version gives a recipe for 'ordinary kvass':

"To brew ordinary kvass, take four parts honey and strain it until it is clear. Put it in a jar and ferment it using an ordinary soft loaf, without additional yeast. When it is done, pour it into a cask."

Low alcohol drinks in Poland included piwo macedonskie, made from toasted millet fermented 2-3 days; and Lithuanian barley beer called alus, which resembed kvas. Czemiga, a kind of hydromel made of slightly fermented honey-water, was often the basis for mead. (Dembinska)

Berry/fruit juices (rasberry, cherry, cranberry), made by boiling down the fruit, and stored for the winter, were known also, either directly consumed or used to flavor mead or wine. (Domostroi, Smith & Christian)

Beer (piwo) or ales were the most common drink in Poland, and very popular in Russia. (In Russia, families or fraternites often obtained permission to brew a beer for a holiday.) Many different grains and combinations of grains -- wheat, millet, barley, oat and rye-- were used in Polish and Russian brewing; wheat beer was preferred in Poland. The Domostroi mentionsmalt for brewing , and ale. Poles added poraj (marsh tea or Labrador tea) herb tea to their beer brews to increase the intoxicating effect.

From Food and Drink in Medieval Poland:
"... one of the better breweries in Poland was located at Nowe Miasto near Korczyn . . Medieval records are quite clear in singling out certain breweries for thei beer, and there was even a royal brewery. . . the leading breweries during the Jagellonian regins were located in Proszow, Wilsica, Bochnia (also known for its salt), Busko, and Cracow, which made a famous 'double' beer (potus marcialis) recommended for invalids. There are also well-known bereweries at Niepolomice and Wiliczka, and Zator produced a famous black beer (perhaps a type of stout). The best Silesian beer, maded a Swidnica (Schweidnitz) was also sold in Cracow. Warka beer was by far the best beer producd in Mazovia, although breweries at Sierpiec and Gostynin are also mentioned. The list of Polish beer breweries from the medieval period is huge, and these are only a few of the best known ones."

Trójniak Pomorski-- beer, flavored with honey and spices-- was known in Pomerania since the 1100's. It seems to be a mixture of beer and honey water (perhaps mead, since mead from Trojiniak is well known) with spices like cardamom, ginger, grains of paradise and juniper berries or dried raspberries.

Mead (Miód), the distinctive drink of the Poles, was less common than beer, used only on special occasions. Flavored, spiced and fruit meads were known in Russia and also to the Teutonic Knights.

Dembinska gives a recipe from a 1567 text that came from a Marcin of Gniezno in 1543: "Ten pounds of honey are cooked with forty pounds of water, and the ensuing foam skimmed off. One pound of hops is then boiled in water and placed in a sack. The sack is put into the honey and water mixture after it has cooked, along with beer yeast or bread starter. It is then allowed to ferment."

Aqua vitae (distilled spirits) reached Poland and Rus in the fifteen-hundreds (1500-1599), though it is not clear whether the spirits were distilled from a grain base (whisky or vodka) or a wine base (brandy). Vodka was known by the late 1500s in Rus and was strictly controlled by means of state-owned vodka drinkshops.

Wines were imported; In Poland the best came from Hungary, where 'Imperial Tokay' is still made. Rhenish wine was used in Northern Poland and Russia. Bilberry wine is mentioned in the Domostroi, so they probably had fruit wines. Poland had oskola, a highly alcoholic birch-sap brew.

The Domostroi mentions making hypocras, also spiced mead and wine: "He should put nutmeg in one little bag, cloves in a second, beneficial herbs in a third. He will warm these on the stove and mix them with the mead. He should mix cherry juice with warmed wine and put it in a jug, combine raspberry juice and wine in a second jug, and add wine to prepared syrup in a third" (Pouncy:155). Also, a bachelor 'adds a little honey to ordinary beer, keeping it on ice and calling it mead or March beer.'

Note: the author of the Domostroi felt that women should not drink wine, mead or beer, or drink in public ever; but these may be his personal strictures. He limits women to weak beer or kvass.

Dmitriy Shelomianin, on the Slavic Interest Group list:
"This info is from "Ocherki Ruskoy Kul'tury XIII-XV vekov", editor A.V. Arcihovsky, MGU Publishing, Moscow, 1969 -- a lovely book if you read the 
language . . .
It says that a drink made of honey was the main drink of the period in question (XIII-XV, remember). It quotes a lot of mentions of drinking it from period sources.  (I have a question about this, btw.. not being a brewer, I do not know what mead is -- is it exclusively honey-based? Because 
Russian word for honey is "miod" or "meod" which sounds awfully close. I gather from Misha's post that it is, but wanted to check on the "exclusively" part)
Beer was second in importance.  The author points out the use of malt in the brewing process.  He also mentions wine -- imported only, none made in the country. It was imported a lot, however, because it was used often in church ceremonies, liturgy in particular.
He specifically points out that there are absolutely no mentions of vodka or a similar drinks until the 16th century.
(Caveat -- somebody on the Russian reconstructor's board mentioned that vodka is first mentioned in 1386, when foreign merchants brought it to Lihtuania. She says that it was used for pharmaceutical purposes for hundreds of years, into the 16th centurm, though, and quotes a request to bring vodkas from the tsar's pharmacy written in the 16th century).
Kvas is also mentioned in a 14th century manuscript.  Out of curiosity, why do you rule out kvas? I love it.. National remedy for hangovers, by the way. 
Kvas, and pickles ....
So -- sorry, no exotics here. No mentions of herbal beers either. What is melomel? How s it made? There is not mention of anything made of berries in my book, but it is not an exhaustive study of the matter. . . "


Generally, in Russia (and probably in parts of Lithuania and Ruthenia) men and women ate separately. In Poland, the distinction was not as hard and fast-- royalty often ate together, and queen's retinues included men who ate with them; but even in peasant Poland the men and women ate in separate sittings.
Basic food (kasha, bread, soup) was served to the lower orders; more food was added as you went up the social ladder, but the important addition was what was passed down from the king's, lord's or master's table.
The two main meals were the prandium (eaten between 9 and 10 a.m) and coena (eaten between 5 and 7 p.m.), and they were generally similar. (The Domostroi says that 'men and women should not breakfast unless they are ill; eat and drink at appropriate times', echoing the advice of Western moralists of the time.) Wednesdays and Fridays, and Lent, were meatless days, but special feast days were, well, feasts. Fish and meat were not generally served at the same meal in Poland, possibly in order to avoid repetition due to the strict observance of meatless days. 

Sources used for this class:

The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the time of Ivan the Terrible. Edited and Translated by Carolyn Johnston Pouncy. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994). This is one of the few primary sources available, a manual on running a household written by an anonymous cleric for his son. This translation includes both pre- and post-1600 sections of the manuscript. Some of the translations, especially for food, err on the side of modern understandability rather than accuracy. Chapters from the 'Long Version' are from between 1600 and 1650.

Food and Drink in Medieval Poland: Rediscovering a Cuisine of the Past. Maria Dembinska, rev. and adapted by William Woys Weaver. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999). This is an excellent overview of Polish foodways between 1350 and 1500, but it has several faults, including the nationalist bias and the fact that the included recipes are re-creations, not redactions. Furthermore, it is an adaptation of a translation of Ms. Dembinska's book, originally published in 1963 as Kosumpcja Zywonsiowa w Polsce Sredniowiecznej (Food consumption in Medieval Poland). Using a translation by Magdalena Thomas, Weaver edited and adapted the text, and included a number of recipes that he and Dembinska had worked on re-creating from mentions in records and known recipes from non-Slavic sources. Unfortunately, many of the notes and charts were removed and the notes for the recipes do not give sufficient source data.

Bread and Salt: A social and economic history of food and drink in Russia. R.E.F. Smith and David Christian. (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1984). Only about three chapters in this cover the time period before 1600 (and up to 1650). But there is an excellent discussion of Russian food, of drinking practices, and of the salt extraction industry.

"Archaeobotanical Evidence for Food Plants in the Poland of the Piasts (10th-13th Centuries AD)", M. Polcyn. Biological Journal of Scotland, vol 46, no 4, p 533-537. This gives a list of the foodstuffs found in archaelogical digs in Gniezno.

"Baked Turnip Pudding: An Exercise in Russian Cookery," Ilyana Barsova, in Slovo: The Slavic Interest Group Newsletter, Vol VI, Iss 2:

Riddervold, Astri, and Andreas Ropeid. Food Conservation: Ethnological Studies : 7th International Conference on Ethnological Food Research: Papers. Prospect, 1988. A number of articles of interest related to Eastern European food.

Food  in Russian History and Culture. Edited by Musya Glants and Joyce Toomre. Indiana University Press, 1997. Two articles of interest: "Stovelore in Russian Folklife" by Tempest, and "Food in the Rus' Primary Chronicle" by Lunt.

Lempiäinen, Terttu. "Medieval plant remains from the fortress of Käkisalmi, Karelia (Russia)." Fennoscandia archaeologica 12 (1995): 83-94. 

Old Polish Traditions: in the Kitchen and at the Table. Maria Lemnis and Henryk Vitry. Hippocrene, 1996. This popular work includes a good bit of food history, but the recipes are all modern and some of the dating in the history is questionable. I would not consider it a reliable source for pre-1650 material except where sources are specifically referenced.

Polish Customs, Traditions, and Folklore. Sophie Hodorowicz Knab. (NY: Hippocrene, 1994). Though primarily folklorish, includes insights to ethnography and also references to medieval custom.

Polish Herbs, Flowers, and Folk Medicine. Sophie Hodorowicz Knab. (NY: Hippocrene, 1995). Though primarily postperiod & sometimes spotty on the dating, includes herb references not found elsewhere. Especially useful for the names of period herbals. Ms. Knab has a blog on her website: 

Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Regional cuisines of Medieval Europe: a book of essays. Routledge, 2013.

A Russian Herbal: Traditional Remedies for Health and Healing. Igor Vilevich Zevin, with Nathaniel Altman and Lilia Vasilevna Zevin. Healing Arts, 1997. Primarily modern with occasional medieval references.

Laszlovszky, József. Tender Meat Under the Saddle: Customs of Eating, Drinking, and Hospitality Among Conquering Hungarians and Nomadic Peoples. Krems, Österreich: Medium Aevum Quotidianum, 1998.

Olearius, Adam and Samuel H Baron. The Travels of Olearius in Seventeenth-Century Russia. Stanford University Press 1967.

George Lang's Cuisine of Hungary.  George Lang. (New York, Random House, 1994). Lang is regrettably vague about spices but includes an interesting sidelight about the possible cultivation of paprika (capiscum or hot pepper) before 1600, as well as some recipes supposedly period.

"Four Banquets of the Kings of Hungary and Bohemia" from Max Rumpolt's Ein New Kochbuch, translated by M. Grasse: Archived copy by the Wayback Machine at Internet Archive:     Gwencat's Rumpolt translations can be found archived at

Struzková, D. and M. Beranová, "The medicinal and culinary use of the cabbage, onion, garlic and leek in the Bohemian Region during the 15th and 16th centuries". Translated copy of in-press manuscript supplied to this author in 2000. Does not appear to have been published anywhwere.

Internet references:
Yana's "Medieval Food and Drink" page in the Slavic Knowledge/Slavianskoe Znan'stvo Project: (no longer available online) and
The Russia Food messages in Stefan's Florilegium:

Copyright 2000, Jennifer Heise, Last updated September 16, 2022

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