Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Original Russian Tea Recipe

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Holiday season is again upon us, and many folks – particularly Southerners – are familiar with a tasty warm beverage known as “Russian Tea.”

Exactly how and where the recipe developed, and how it came by that name is somewhat unclear, but “the font of all knowledge” – and I sarcastically refer to Wikipedia – cites an article entitled “Russian Tea is Favorite Recipe in the South” by Cecily Brownstone in the November 27, 1976 issue of Kentucky New Era newspaper in Hopkinsville.

Interestingly, the story which is perhaps the newspaper’s most renown is the August 1955 Kelly-Hopkinsville Alien Encounter, which may also be known as “Kelly Green Men Case,” or the “Hopkinsville Goblins Case.” It’s a precursor of sorts to a “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” type story in which five adults and seven children reported to Hopkinsville Police that “little men with big heads and long arms,” presumably alien creatures, were attacking their farm house, and that they’d held them off with gunfire “for nearly four hours.” It all started around 7PM when one of the men went out of the house to get a bucket of water, and lasted until 0330 – that’s 3:30AM.

Who knows? Maybe they’d had too much Russian Tea. Anyway, I don’t think you’ll be doing any hallucinating, or discharging any firearms after drinking this, so it’s pretty tame stuff… unless you start adding Kentucky Bourbon or other liquor to it.

Anyway…

Spiced Tea infusion recipe in Joy of Cooking, p40

Spiced Tea infusion recipe in Joy of Cooking, p40

However, as seen in the image herein, the venerable cookbook entitled Joy of Cooking, first published in 1931, and authored by Irma S. Rombauer and Mario Rombauer Becker in the 1975 edition, has a Spiced Tea infusion recipe which, in addition to sweetened tea, adds orange and lemon juice, with cloves and cinnamon, which is the essence of “Russian Tea.”

Recently, in conversation with a long-time friend, I mentioned that I’d made a batch of Russian Tea.

“Russian Tea? What’s that?,” he exclaimed.

It was perfect timing, of course, and I simply couldn’t resist, so with more than a tinge of sarcasm I replied, “Yes, with the recent news that Russians have meddled in our General Election to favor Donald Trump and get him elected, I thought it would be entirely appropriate to make a beverage in honor of their diligent efforts.”

“Oh… you mean instant tea with Tang in it,” he said.

Quickly, I said, “No, no, no! That is a truly wretched mess. I mean GENUINE Russian Tea, made with STRONG tea – strong, because like coffee, you can always make it weaker, but you can’t make it stronger – with coriander – too many folks don’t use it, and it has a lovely citrusy sweetness – along with allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, orange/pineapple juice, sugar, and honey.”

Of course, as can be seen above in the record of my conversation above, my version of spiced, or “Russian Tea” significantly expounds upon the venerable recipe found in Joy of Cooking.

Not being a fan of “instant” anything in the kitchen, I much rather prefer to make my own everything… well, almost everything, and in most cases, consider recipes to be broad guidelines for the creation of dishes. So forgive me if the recipe which follows herein isn’t exactly like any other recipe you may see in the abundance of recipes dispersed throughout the Internet, and published in cookbooks. Honestly, for the most part, recipes are broad guidelines, because some will add more of a certain ingredient, or use less of another, while altogether substituting one item for another ingredient. Some will say use organic ingredients, etc., but how you make it is how you make it yours. If “organic” grown-in-the-shade and never picked by child or slave labor is your thing, then by all means, go for it!

Of course, I’m being somewhat facetious, because I don’t knowingly buy anything made with child or slave labor. Except maybe cell phones. But that’s a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax, and I’ll leave that for now.

Anyway…

Here goes!

I used a small-sized big ol’ pot (TRANSLATION: A four-part stock pot with full-size inset strainer, steaming basket & glass lid which holds about 2 gallons.) to boil water. I just didn’t use the strainer or steaming basket.

I boiled the crap out of the water, not because it needed it – I have the state-sponsored, tax-paid luxury of potable water from interior plumbing where I reside – and just let it boil because I let it boil. No particular reason. So some of the water evaporated. No big deal.

Then, I took the pot off the boil, and used about 5 big-sized (aka “Family Size”) tea bags, tied ’em in a knot (because they had a string attached to them, and it made me happy to do it) and let ’em steep for a while. How long is a while? Until I thought they were good and ready, or until I was good and ready. Probably the latter.

While they were steeping – ever wonder why it’s called “steeping?” Why not “shallowing,” or “tipping”? I’ve heard of cow tipping, and poor tipping, but not tea tipping. That’s tippling.

Anyway…

While the tea was doing it’s thing, I took another much smaller sauce pan (about a 2quart size) and set out to make a simple syrup-type solution into which I would put the spices. For those who don’t know – and, it’s okay to not know, just don’t stay that way – a simple syrup solution is a small amount of water into which a large amount of sugar is dissolved. Again, how large depends upon the one making it. In my case, it was a two quart pan filled about half way.

I added 1 cup of sugar – I don’t like sickeningly sweet things, so I used less than some would call for – and added ingredients until I felt happy. Oh yes… I used a pinch (approx 1/4t) of coarse Kosher salt, because just a wee bit of salt does make things taste sweeter.

So, how much of the ingredients made me happy?
I’d guesstimate about the following amounts:

allspice 2T
cardamom 1T
cinnamon 1T
ground cloves 1T
nutmeg 1T
frozen concentrated pineapple orange juice, 12oz can
honey 4T (those are “heaping” Tablespoons)

Oh yeah… a capital “T” means Tablespoon, whereas a lower case “t” means teaspoon. When will America finally and totally move to the metric system? Did you know that America is the ONLY nation in the entire world that does NOT use the metric system exclusively for all measurements? Seriously. Why is that, eh?

Anyway, once the sugar was dissolved, I added the spices. I added the frozen concentrated POJ a bit later. Not for any special reason. Hey… this is not rocket science, nor is it molecular chemistry. And it sure as Hell ain’t Walter White’s blue crystal meth recipe. It’s just cooking, and there’s really no mystery to it. At least not to this.

So, as the flavoring/sweetener mixture was doing it’s thing, I removed and strained the tea bags (that’s just my habit), and then put them into my little makeshift compost bucket outside. Then, I went back inside, and poured the flavoring/sweetener mixture into the big pot.

It turned out just right.

See how letting some of that water evaporate was helpful? Helps rid impurities in the water, which – interestingly enough – also helps keep away “little men with big heads and long arms.”

I sampled it, and thought it was FANTASTIC!

I’ll drink it tomorrow.

Why tomorrow?

By that time, the ingredients will have had ample opportunity to meld and fully make their own unique character.

Maybe I won’t see aliens.

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