The Bliny, a Pancake of Great Mystification

pancakes1I was slumbering in my chair when she entered the darkened room lit only by the sullen embers in the fireplace. She had come to comb my hair, it was one of her eccentricities. She would wet down my head with a damp towel to knead it at length, like bread dough. And then, she would slice a part in my hair with a comb, as though with a knife, dividing my hair the way one divides a loaf of bread. When the combing was finished we would kiss. While I rose to stir the fire she said to me, “By morning your hair will rise like dough ready for the oven . . . ”
My happiest moment came when she said, “I’m going to prepare a cup of hot, strong tea for you so you can sit and meditate, think, or write a thoughtful letter.” I replied, “What happy idea, but please, not Earl Grey which in England, as everyone knows, is consumed only by little old ladies during afternoon tea, and which the English tea lover scorns as a perfumed, old-maidenish drink.” I suggested, “A bliny with sour cream and caviar would be an intriguing idea. (By the way, “bliny” is the correct plural form of “blin” in Russian culture.) It is, after all, Malenitsa week.”thinker
Maslenitsa in the Russian Orthodox tradition is the week that precedes the 40 days of the Great Lent, when no meat, fish, dairy or eggs are allowed. It’s the time when people traditionally make bliny – large crêpe-like pancakes (except that bliny are leavened, thus are thicker that crêpes) that are slathered with generous amounts of butter. Maslenitsa falls on the end of winter, so it is also the time to celebrate the coming spring, to say goodbye to the cold days. Both the idea of feasts and the public celebration makes the festival similar to Mardi Gras.
Her face expressed her bewilderment as each intellectual challenge or unanswerable question arose in her mind. She said, “A bliny is a difficult pancake, a very compound crux. It is one of the most compressed and intricate pancakes I have ever known of.”girl
The bliny has pre-Christian origins, and was connected to the agrarian calendar, customs and ceremonies of the ancient Slavs, in whose animistic beliefs the Russian bliny is a ritual food. They are eaten on calendar holidays and at family ceremonies to influence nature and human beings. The ritual use of the bliny has, with its fertility magic, partly survived in the Christian period.
”But what a supreme pancake the bliny is,” I said. “if you will agree that it is a fantastical pancake I will agree that it is a conundrum of great mystification, and a phenomenon of the first rarity.”


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