Friday, May 18, 2012

Kvas Documentation

Boiarynia Katrusha the Skomorokh
Kvas is known to be a very weak style of beer or mead that has been common in Eastern Europe for fifty centuries and can be compared to other forms of fermented grain beverage such as beer brewed with barley and rice wines. Due to a very low alcohol content (0.05-1.44%), kvas is considered a non-alcoholic beverage which explains why women are not allowed to get drunk but are instructed to drink a kvas each day, in public and at home, according to the Domostroi. As the drink is sometimes made with actual rye bread, it often contains unfiltered yeast and is a good source of energy.  

The first mention of kvas was in 989, in old Russian chronicles, where the Duke of Moscow turned his national Christian. As it was stated: “To distribute food, mead, and kvas to the people.” It is speculated, as honey was first brought into Russia not long before, that this was about the first time that kvas was made. Even with this mention, though, there are no recorded recipes until the Domostroi. It is possible that each group of people had their own recipes. Some were from straight grain and some were from bread. Records that have been found are much better for mead and vodka than they are with kvas, possibly because the amount of alcohol made it so it wasn't recorded for taxation purposes.

Many people argue that kvas couldn't possibly have been made using bread as the grain since most all beers used some form of malted grain. Because of this, it couldn't possibly have been a common drink in Kievan Rus as it is toted to have been. With this argument, many have to remember that there were many different types of kvas and kvas recipes out there, some using bread and some using actual raw grain. One recipe actually specifies to use as much grain and honey as your family could afford. As bread was a very important and near ritualistic food item, if it went stale it made sense to use what there was left in this manner. All the vitamins and nutrients were sucked into the actual drink itself which is why it was thought to be something women should drink as well as filled the belly if one didn't have much to eat. Certainly peasants would use their bread in this manner, mashing it fully into the kvas to get all the nutrients instead of wasting a single drop. Peasants, also, having only so much land they might not have the space to grow grain just for making kvas with. Being able to have your grain as a dual purpose, both bread and later into kvas, made much more sense. 
The Domostroi is a book that was written in the 16th century as a guide for nobles in how to properly run a household. It gives instructions for everything from rules and recipes to how to be an obedient wife and raise good children. Within the Domostroi, I have taken out a few passages that hopefully will help enlighten people a little further on this drink in particular and it's uses. Being a book from the 16th century, one has to remember that the first mention of kvas was in 989, so much has probably changed in that time. As I have a later period persona, this information is a little more pertinent to myself.   
In chapter 29: Similarly, she (the wife) should know how they (the servants) make beer, mead, vodka, weak beer, kvass, vinegar, and sour cabbage - every liquid normally used in cooking and breadmaking.   
Here we see that, although the actual brewery was only for the husband to work, the wife had to know how each thing was made since even kvas was used in the makings for breads, soups, stocks, and many other things. This shows kvas to be a very multi-purpose drink that plausibly starts with unfinished stale bread.   
In chapter 36: A women should drink either weak beer or kvass, both at home and in public.   
Alcohol was forbidden for women to drink, especially to the point of drunkenness. But kvas was seen not only as a hearty meal, but also non-alcoholic and was welcome for women to drink. This chapter continues stating that good Christian's are only to eat two meals a day, as more than that is gluttony. Drinking a glass of kvas in the morning when you are not allowed a meal was certain to fill you well for the day until supper.   
In chapter 54: (titled How to Preserve Food in the Cellar and the Icehouse) There you should also store cucumbers, pickled and fresh cabbage, turnips, other vegetables. . . apple kvass, bilberry juice, Rhenish wine, vodka, mead, fermented and unfermented beer, and ale.   
Kvas came in many different flavors. Sometimes mint or berries would be added or the water would be replaced with berry juice. This, of course, would all depend on the season and the wealth of who was making the kvas.   
In chapter 65: 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.   
A recipe in the Domostroi. This differs in the recipe I used as I added the bread to water and then strained away the bread so I could add the sweetener and more yeast. This particular recipe, although lacking in description as to how long, whether you need to warm the honey, or how exactly the soft loaf is used to ferment the honey, is still one of the few recipes for kvas that has been written down. Here are a few other recipes that I could find:  
"To make it one puts a pailful of water into an earthen vessel, into which one shakes two pounds of barley meal (or rye), half a pound of salt, and some honey, more or less according to the wealth of the family. This is placed in the evening in the oven with a moderate fire and stirred. In the morning, it is left for a time to settle, the clear liquid is poured off, and it is ready to drink in a few days." 
 --The Russian Peasant page 80 
 “With eight quarts water take 1 1/2 lb. malt, 1 lb. rye flour, 1 1/2 lb. sugar, 1/8 of a lb. mint leaves, half pepper pod, and half cake of yeast. Mix the malt and flour with boiling water and make a thick dough. Put into barely warm oven, and leave for the night. Next day dilute dough with eight quarts boiling water and pour into a wooden tub. Let stand for 12 hours, then pass through a cloth. Pour one quart into an enamel saucepan, put on fire, add 1 1/2 lb. sugar, and an infusion made with the mint leaves (resembling weak tea). Boil once, then take off fire, cool until just warm, and add the yeast previously diluted with one cup of this same warm liquid. Let stand in warm place until it begins to ferment; then pour it into the rest of the kvass in the wooden tub, and let stand until bubbles appear. Prepare clean bottles, putting one malaga raisin into each; pour in the kvass, cork the bottles, tie the corks with string to the necks of the bottles, and keep in a warm place for a day or two. Then put in a cold cellar.” ---R.C.B. A Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy

The recipe I used:

Stale light rye bread, cubed – 1lb
Water – 3 quarts
Active dry yeast – 2 ½ teaspoons
Water, lukewarm - ¼ cup
Sugar – 1 cup
Raisins – 2 tablespoons

First we dried out the already stale rye. Normally most all recipes call for the very dark black type of rye, but as I actually want to sample this and I'm not a fan of heavy ryes, I decided to go with the lighter type. Once it was dry, we boiled 3 quarts of water in our stock pot and crumbled the bread into the water. At that point, it was set aside, lightly covered with a towel in a cool dark area to rest overnight. 
When I woke the next morning, I started step two. All the bread needed to be strained out of the liquid and lightly pressed to get as much out as possible. The recipe mentions I should have 2.5 quarts of liquid in the end, but they also said to gently press the bread or else there would be to much sediment and the kvas would remain cloudy. I seemed not to get enough liquid out of the bread when I was straining it from the kvas as I have much less than that by at least ¾ quart. After straining, I took a pinch of sugar and the warm water and mixed it with the yeast and let it proof. After about 10 minutes, I added the proofed yeast as well as the rest of the sugar (most recipes call for honey, but with how things have been lately for the bees, sugar was much cheaper and since most of this recipe is base on the wealth of the household, it seemed appropriate). Everything was mixed together in the big pot and, once again, covered with a towel and allowed to sit.

As a side note here, that I thought humorous, the area that I let the kvas sit each time that was dark and cool was an area at the very center of my house: my fireplace. In Russia, most all homes also centered around the fireplace/oven area but never would they have allowed the fire to go out, as it was the woman's job to make certain that happened. A little bit ironic that I fermented my kvas in the exact area they would not have put theirs due to it being far from cool and dark.

The last real step, at this point, I did that evening. I strained the kvas once more and put all of it into a bottle to ferment with a handful of raisins. I was surprised, when straining the kvas, how much it had already carbonated in just 12 hours. Once fermenting was over, in about 4-5 days, there were two options to take. One was to carefully pour off the clear liquid into individual bottles and place it in the fridge without disturbing the yeast sediment. The other was to not worry about the sediment since it was sometimes kept because it added extra nutrients. I decided the later seemed more correct, so although I tried to be careful and not stir up the sediment, I wasn't specific of making sure that only the clear kvas managed to get into the bottles.

A huge thank you to my husband, Christopher of Anglespur, for helping me out with this one and giving me at least a base knowledge of brewing to help me along.