Friday, 14 December 2012

Kutia - Ukrainian Wheat Berry and Poppy Seed Pudding

Ukrainian Christmas Eve Supper, Святя Вечеря,  is a feast beyond one's imagination.  Layers and layers of history, from times of antiquity give meaning to each and every aspect of the meal. Imagine preparing meals in times long past.  Imagine drawing water, harvesting each nutritious morcel from nature, waiting, the pace and rhythms of life.  Imagine the "shadows of forgotten ancestors" as they return for the feast!

Kutia  кутя is a very primitive dish.  Essentially boiled wheat, sweetened with honey and dressed with poppy seeds - it has acquired a mystical symbolism. The creamy, milky, earthy liquor of the boiled wheat is the juice of earth's fertility.  Each grain lives to maturity, is sacrificed and consumed to provide life anew.  Honey-bee spun sunshine,  jelled nectar of the flowers is sweetness, love of life, promise and fulfillment.  And the alluring, almond scent of sweet creamy ground poppy seeds hints of dreamy sleep, deep dark and mysterious repose, the door to eternity.  

The intimate, rich and embracing flavor of this prehistoric pudding is a mystical veil of tradition that hovers between today and the ancient past - how many generations?  One part physical nature, one part sweet spiritual joy, and one part dark night - kutia symbolizes a lifetime!

Kutia  кутя is traditionally the first course in the Ukrainian Christmas Eve meal Святя Вечеря after a fast of 40 days.  Even in pre-history before Christianity, there was a Winter Feast that featured Kutia.  Even then, fasting was a proper way of preparing oneself for a feast - reserving the most important foods to share the magical moment of feasting together as a family!  Even then, a variant called kolyvo коливо without the bitter-black poppy seeds was served at funeral gatherings - but sweeter, joyfully anticipating the life-after.

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