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In the previous article Ihor Netudykhatkin described the dishes served at a banquet in honour of Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch, which took place in Bohuslav, a strategic township on the outskirts of Kyiv; the article also discussed Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s obsession with coffee; and described austere feasts of the Ukrainian Cossacks. The new article focuses on the convent banquets, famous Kyiv desserts, and some of the most popular beverages of the 17th century.


Following his meeting with Bohdan Khmelnytsky at his military camp, Patriarch Macarius travelled to Kyiv. On Monday, the 26th of May the Syrian delegation was invited to a celebratory banquet held at the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves. 


Portrait of Joseph Trizna, Abbot of the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves. 19th century


This is how Paul of Aleppo, the Patriarch’s son and his secretary has described the event:

“Afterwards they took us to the banqueting-room, in the admirable apartments of the President [Joseph Trizna, Abbot of the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves]; where they set before us, first, sweets and confections; that is confection of sweet green walnuts entire in their shells, and confection of cherries and other fruits, with many sweet herbs which we never saw in our own country; bread kneaded with honey and the said herbs; and spirits.”  


The starters included spiced desserts and alcoholic beverages, which nowadays would seem undoubtedly odd. Paul of Aleppo refers to confectionaries which most probably include fruits and nuts cooked in honey. Similar recipes have featured in the private writings by Petro Mohyla (1633-1647), the Kyiv Metropolitan Archbishop.


“Petro Mohyla on Mount Helicon”: a woodcut from the book “Ευχαριστηριόν, or Gratitude” (1632), Kyiv


He describes a wonderous story of four hunters who met hermit Hryhory Mezhyhirsky, who lived in the wilderness in the Orel Forest overlooking the River Orel, a Dniper tributary in the Poltava region. The hunters accidentally stumbled upon the hermit’s shack in the woods, and inside his dwelling they saw “a table laden with pears cooked in honey, a small earthen stove with dried pears inside, and a small pot with boiled fruit syrup”.

It seems like back in the 17th century the popularity of fruit cooked in honey spread well beyond the church elite. Historian Mykola Zakrevsky (1805-1871) theorised that in the Kyiv city jams became a signature dish as early as the 14th century. Although the historical evidence is scant, there are some reports to indicate that in 1386 the Kyiv jams were exported to Krakow to celebrate the marriage of Władysław II Jagiełło, the Grand Duke of Lithuania and Polish Queen Jadwiga. However, Kyiv became truly known for its jams in the mid-1700s. 


Portrait of the Polish Queen Jadwiga by Marcello Bacciarelli (1768-1771)


Paul of Aleppo notes that the Kyiv jams enjoyed by the Syrian delegation were highly spiced. Adding spices to fruit and berry desserts was a popular fashion not just in Ukraine but in Western Europe as a whole. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, a German scholar of cultural studies describes in his book one of the European recipes for cooking fruit, which was made popular in the 16th and 17th centuries:

“Strawberries and cherries are soaked in wine and then boiled; next pepper, cinnamon, and vinegar are added.”  


Together with sweets the starters enjoyed by the Syrians explorers also included “bread kneaded with honey and […] herbs”. Perhaps this is the 17th century description of a spice cake. Reportedly spice cakes became popular in the Kyivan Rus as early as the 9th century. The cakes were made with rye flour, honey, and berry juice – the proportion of honey was over 50%. Back in the day these cakes were called honey bread. In the 16th-17th centuries the term spice cake was more in usage because honey was being replaced by spices, making them the recipe’s main ingredient.


St. Spyridon and St. Nicodemus, the Prosphora-bakers of the Kyiv Caves. Engraving from the Kyiv Cave Monastery “Patericon” (1678)


It may seem odd that at the start of the meal the Syrian delegation was offered spirits, or alcoholic beverages. Reportedly, in the 17th century spirits were used to treat ailments. In 1657 Evliya Çelebi (1611-1682), a Turkish explorer in his description of the Lviv apothecary shops has made a note of “a great number” of medications containing alcohol. Naturally, Çelebi, a practicing Muslim, was critical of using alcohol as medicine.

But let’s go back to the dinner party. After a course of appetisers, the Syrian delegation to the Kyiv Cave Monastery was served the main course:

“After they had removed these, they laid the table with various kinds of Lent-meat, drest with saffron and sweet herbs; and plants of fritters of oil-paste called Zangal [a type of flat bread which originates in the East] and Catriyabis (Dry Drops) [dried mushrooms] and so forth.
Their manner of serving the dishes was, to place a certain number on the table, and after a short time to remove to bring others and so to continue till their supply was exhausted; according to the practice of the Turks; and not as is the custom in Moldavia and Wallachia, where they leave them one upon another, to the end of the repast. Each kind of meat was brought and placed before our Lord the Patriarch first, until he had eaten a little of it; then they passed it down the table, and to the other tables; and finally removed it.
Such is the order of their banquets; and all the table furniture, whether dishes or plates or spoons, which they set before us in this place, or elsewhere in this country, was all of silver.”


The dinner party at the convent included table servants bringing in dishes with food which made it different from a Cossack banquet. The monastery employed their own contingent of scullery servants who tended to the table. The food was served on silver plates, which made the dinner special. It was important to follow a strict order of serving the dishes, which reflected the guests’ hierarchy. 

At his first banquet at the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves Patriarch Macarius was served fresh fruit and berries for dessert:

“After the meats were disposed of, they presented a dessert of fruits of various kinds; such as, the royal cherry, both sweet and acid; grapes; a sort of sweet fox’s grape, looking like a red coral, with sweet golden berries; and another sort resembling green sour grapes, the name of which is Akrist [gooseberry], etc.”  

The abundance of fruit at the table is not at all surprising, the visit was carried out in summer and greater Kyiv was known for its vast orchards. Paul of Aleppo also notes in his diaries various beverages served by the monks:

“For drink they first presented mead; then beer; then an excellent red wine, from their own grapes.”  


Mead is an alcoholic beverage which is known since the time of Kyivan Rus. In 945 Princess Olga sent this message to the Drevlians:

“…prepare great quantities of mead in the city where you killed my husband, that I may weep over his grave and hold a funeral feast for him.”  


In the chronicles mead is used as a ritual drink.

Sketch to painting by Vasily Surikov “Princess Olga meets the body of Prince Igor”. 1915. (Detail)


The ancient mead was cooked by mixing two thirds of honey with one third of fresh juice from raspberries, cranberries, and cherries. The recipe was made without adding any water. The mead was left to ferment for decades inside barrels which were buried under ground. The final product was called “laid down honey”. The technology was too complex and time consuming and soon it was replaced by a different recipe. In the late 1500s mead was made with honey by adding water and hops, making it “diluted honey”. This is how recipe for “diluted honey” was born. In his poem “Roxolania” (1584) Sebastian Klonowic exclaims “Italy has its wine”, “the land of Rus its nectar.”

Earth proffers wine from the rich moisture of the earth,
Jove himself in heaven distils our mead.
Bacchus is the author of the vineyard, Jupiter of honey.
For if wine is born of the earth, then is mead born of heaven,
None can deny it to be a dew celestial.


Paul of Aleppo also mentions beer which was served during the meal. The first written records about beer brewing also date back to Kyivan Rus. Nikifor, the Kyiv Metropolitan Archbishop has written in his epistle to Volodymyr II Monomakh (1113-1125), the Grand Prince of Kyiv about the importance of fasting and abstaining from beer and wine during Lent. 


Painting by Andrey Ryabushkin “Banqueting bogatries at the court of Prince Volodymyr”. 1888 (Detail)


In Ukraine beer consumption increased during the rule of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, which was only natural. According to the French historian Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) in the 17th century Rzeczpospolita was part of the beer area: 

“The North was the land of beer and drinks made from fermented grain.”  


This beer area started in Scandinavia and European Russia, continued over large parts of Germany and Eastern Europe, covered the British Isles and expanded into the central European plains and the territory of the Low Countries.

So, it may seem odd that Paul of Aleppo along with beer also mentions “an excellent red wine, from their own grapes” which was served by the monks of the Caves at the banqueting table. 


Grapevine on an engraved illustration to “The Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard” from “The Teaching Gospel” (1637)


However, vineyards have flourished in and around Kyiv since long ago, and the evidence is in print: grapevines grace the panorama and plan of the Far Caves Monastery in Kyiv as can be seen from an illustrations to Athanasius Kalnofoysky’s “Teraturgima” (1638).


Vineyards on the plan of the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves from Athanasius Kalnofoysky’s “Teraturgima” (1638). (Detail)


Naturally, Ukrainian territories which at the time were part of the Rzeczpospolita, and later were reorganised to form the Cossack Hetmanate also enjoyed imported wine from Europe. The local legislation governing tax collecting in the Volyn Voivodship in 1618 established the following import duties on a quart of imported wine: French and Moravian wine was taxed 6 Polish groszy, Spanish wine from the Canaries - 6 Polish groszy, aged Hungarian wine – 9 Polish groszy, and Malvasia wine from the Mediterranean – 10 Polish groszy. Seems like the Kyiv monks could have their pick, but they purposefully chose to serve the local wine and not just because it was the easiest option. It’s more likely they wanted to treat the Syrian delegation to the best product the Land of the Cossacks could offer. 

Such was the story of the first of three banquets at the Monastery of the Caves organised to welcome the Syrian diplomatic mission. Read about the other two banquets in our next article, which also tells a story of spices, sauces, and the influence of Polish cuisine. 




1. Portrait of Joseph Trizna, Abbot of the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves. Oil on canvas. 19th century. National Kyiv Cave Monastery Cultural and Historical Preserve
2. “Petro Mohyla on Mount Helicon”, woodcut from “Ευχαριστηριόν, or Gratitude” (Kyiv, 1632). Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine
3. Portrait of the Polish Queen Jadwiga by Marcello Bacciarelli (1768-1771). Collection of the Royal Castle in Warsaw (Poland)
4. St. Spyridon and St. Nicodemus, the Prosphora-bakers of the Kyiv Caves. Engraving from the Cave Monastery “Patericon”  (Kyiv, 1678). Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine
5. Sketch to painting by Vasily Surikov “Princess Olga meets the body of Prince Igor”. 1915. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg (Russian Federation)
6. Painting by Andrey Ryabushkin “Banqueting bogatries at the court of Prince Volodymyr”. 1888. The State Museum and Preserve “Rostovsky Kremlin”. Rostov (Russian Federation)
7. Illustration to “The Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard” from “The Teaching Gospel” (Kyiv, 1637). Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine
8. Plan of the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves. Illustration from Athanasius Kalnofoysky’s “Teraturgima” (Kyiv 1638). Detail, Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine