October 17, 2021

Canning Worth Its Salt

Canning Worth Its Salt
Delicious. Photographs by Haley Bader

Canning is a lush business, a preparation of the tastiest treats for the coldest months. In Russia, where the winters are even colder, it is also a dear tradition practiced in both city and countryside. The season for canning is so beloved that in some places it is celebrated like a holiday.

Ready for their can-e-o!

Featuring both fruits and vegetables, preserved assortments include pickled cabbage, tomatoes, mushrooms, jam, and apples – and in the Far East of Russia, ferns! Another favorite is cucumbers pickled in water and salt. There are relishes, syrups, winter salads, and you might even find that, instead of a brine or a compote, a Russian canner will pour vodka over fresh or fermented fruit for a lovely infusion.

While you will find preserves in jars of all sizes, canners in Russia often use large glass jars, which can hold from one to three liters. They must be sterilized in boiled water for ten minutes before being filled with delicious delights.

Rather than screw-on lids, which sometimes require treatment in a hot bath to seal, these large jars are closed with a metal disk that is crimped against their edges with a handheld tool common in former Soviet countries. It is possible to close the jars without boiling them after they have been filled, but it is now thought to be safer to do so to avoid the growth of bacteria like botulism.

Once the goods have been prepared and jars properly sealed, they are customarily stored in a basement or cellar, although of course this is more difficult in apartment buildings. Russians living in apartments will sometimes use common spaces to store their preserves.

Here are three simple recipes – pickled tomatoes, plum compote, and a mulberry-infused vodka – that you may well find in a Russian pantry. The catch: canned fruits and vegetables are always best when they are freshly picked from a large and welcoming garden! If you don’t have your own, or a Russian friend to spoil you with gifts from his dacha, you can always make do with what you find at the supermarket.


Pickled Tomatoes

These tomatoes are a particularly succulent treat. They are pickled whole with the skin intact. If the tomato’s skin hasn’t split (oak leaves help prevent this!) when you lift the juicy packages from a well-aged brine, it is only proper to nip it with your front teeth to suck out the innards. This technique also prevents unflattering tomato pants.


3.5 pounds washed medium-sized tomatoes
4 cloves sliced garlic
1 bunch dill
1 bunch parsley
4 bay leaves
3 oak leaves
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
6 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Optional: two tablespoons vinegar
Two 1.5 Liter jars

  1. After sterilizing the jars, place the tomatoes, garlic, dill, parsley, bay leaves, and oak leaves inside, making sure the tomatoes are surrounded with the greens. Fill the jars with boiling water.
  2. Pour the boiled water back out of the jars (you have just measured the exact amount you need to make the brine) into a large pot. Add the peppercorns, salt, and sugar, and boil for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour the brine into the jars once more, which should cover the tomatoes completely. If the tomatoes are still not covered, add more boiling water until there is only about a half-inch of free space at the top of the jar.
  4. Seal the jars, turn them upside down, and let them sit for three days. The jars may then be moved and stored for winter use but should be left for at least two weeks to marinate before consuming. Once the pickled tomatoes are opened, they must be refrigerated.


Plum Compote

Any fruit compote is a dream, and it's wildly easy to prepare. All you need is fresh fruit, some sugar, and boiling water. Apples, cherries, pears, plums, apricots, berries of all sorts, the preparation is also good for fruit that is overripe. You can even pick them off the ground; just make sure you’ve checked them for a little insect protein first!


10 cups of water
2.5 pounds of plums
1 cup of sugar

  1. Wash the plums, pick off any remaining stems, and remove the pits. (Removing the pits is optional if you like it rustic, but you might not want to give any guests a toothache.) Don’t forget to investigate little holes!
  2. Add the plums and water to a large pot. Bring to a boil.
  3. Turn the temperature to low, add the sugar, and stir until it is dissolved. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Let the drink cool completely and sit for two hours for the plums to marinate. You are ready to serve, though some prefer compote chilled.

Compote is easily stored in the refrigerator for short periods if you want to consume it fresh, but you can also can it to put away in the pantry for a later day. You can strain the plums from the drink before serving, but it is also a delightful treat to finish the fruit at the end.


Vodka “Infused” with Mulberries and Blackberry Leaves

We might argue about whether this is canning, but I say if it’s in a jar, it counts.

If you pack your jar with berries for this recipe, you are guaranteed a liqueur with a very fruity feel even if your vodka might be a little cheap. The focus is on the fruit! While you might not really be able to call it an infusion, this silky and more viscous beverage is a rich accompaniment for a good dessert. I wouldn’t discourage you from sipping on it, either.

The infusion requires three stages to prepare: the first is a brief fermentation of the fruit, and then the jar is filled with vodka.


One large jar with an airtight lid (1.5 liters recommended)
Enough mulberries to fill the jar to the top (alternatively, you can use blackberries)
2-4 cups sugar (tastes may vary!)
A few handfuls of blackberry leaves (you can also use grape leaves or the leaves from cherry trees)
Enough vodka to fill the jar about halfway

Stage 1:
  1. Sterilize your jar, and then pack it about one-third of the way with mulberries. Add 1/3 of the sugar and shake the jar. Repeat twice until the jar is full. The berries and sugar should fill it until just below the mouth of the jar.
  2. Pack the top of the jar with one or two handfuls of blackberry leaves, which will act as a “seal” and also infuse the mixture with extra flavor. Then close the jar with an airtight lid.   
  3. Place the jar in a cool, dark place – for instance, your bedroom cabinet – and leave it to sit for 2 or 3 weeks.
Stage 2:
  1. Check the jar after two weeks to see how the fermentation process is progressing. The berries will break down partially into liquid, and they will settle into the jar as they ferment.
  2. After two or three weeks, take the jar out of its resting place and fill it to the top with vodka. Return it to the cool and dark and leave the mixture to sit for at least two days and up to a week. The longer it sits, the more flavor will result.
Stage 3:
  1. After letting the mixture sit, strain out the berries and leaves; you can keep liqueur in recycled bottles or mason jars. Your drink is ready to serve!

You Might Also Like

Seasonal Eating
  • July 01, 2018

Seasonal Eating

Long before seasonal eating, kombucha, kimchi and other such things became a fad in the US, they were popular and well known in Russia. For the recipe we feature sour cherry vareniki (mmm!).
Flirting Over Cabbage
  • July 01, 2017

Flirting Over Cabbage

In which we consider the less than humble cabbage and its history in village life, and offer a quick sauerkraut recipe.
The Secret of Little Bites
  • March 01, 2013

The Secret of Little Bites

Zakuski have a well-deserved position of honor in the realm of Russian cuisine. In this issue we look at a tasty appetizer with connections to the Pacific: Canapes of Smoked Salmon.
Instinct for Preservation
  • July 01, 2014

Instinct for Preservation

On the Russian art of food preservation, and a refreshing summer recipe for melon preserves.
Oksana and Her
  • December 17, 2020

Oksana and Her "Jewish" Zakuska

In which we meet Oksana, Russian millennial and cook. She shares childhood memories of a surprisingly abundant 90s, and her favorite snack: the "Jewish" zakuska.
A Can-ny Campaign Strategy
  • September 01, 2021

A Can-ny Campaign Strategy

“Lids are very relevant seasonal paraphernalia for many. Everyone accepted the gifts, even adherents of other political views.” – Local news from gorbatka.ru, on United Russia’s election campaign strategy.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

At the Circus

At the Circus

This wonderful novella by Alexander Kuprin tells the story of the wrestler Arbuzov and his battle against a renowned American wrestler. Rich in detail and characterization, At the Circus brims with excitement and life. You can smell the sawdust in the big top, see the vivid and colorful characters, sense the tension build as Arbuzov readies to face off against the American.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567