March 01, 2001

A Duck for Winter's End

The rowan tree (more familiar to us as the European Mountain Ash) is one of the most beloved of Russian trees—perhaps second only to our ubiquitous birches. It has an important place in Russian folk tradition: if the rowan berries are scarlet in the fall, then you should expect hard winter frosts.   

The rowan tree also figures prominently in Russian poetry, with romantic connotations. Our beloved poet Sergei Yesenin began a famous love poem with the words, “Shto stoish, kachayas, tonkaya ryabina?” (Why are you standing there shaking, you thin rowan tree?) And Marina Tsvetaeva, writing of the loneliness of exile, recalled the rowan tree with special nostalgia in her poem “Toska po rodine! Davno.” A favorite Russian folk song (“Ryabina, ryabinushka”) is dedicated to the rowan tree, and, more recently, in the 1970s, the folk-rock group “Pesnyary” (Singers) sang the popular tune: “Vizhu alye kisti ryabin” (“I see the scarlet brushes of the rowan trees”). 

The scarlet rowanberry also has a treasured place in Russian cuisine and culture (as does the duck—see our Dec/Jan 1999 issue).  Celery has not been so fortunate, however, even though some food historians tell us that Catherine the Great fed this “invigorating” vegetable to her “favorites.”

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