Cooks Food History

Food at Fort Ross – Food was abundant at Settlement Ross. Below is a list of foods known to have been either grown by Ross residents, introduced to the settler’s diet by the Alaska Native or Pomo cultures, or brought to the colony through trade. All but the foods known to the Pomo people were, of course, introduced to the region’s ecology. Seeds and plants were brought from all over the world. Radishes, for example, came from China. The Spanish introduced the peppers grown at the settlement from South America. The list is not intended to be a complete inventory, and research is ongoing.


Fruits Grown at Fort Ross

  • Peaches
  • apples
  • Pears
  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • Quince
  • Plums
  • Grapes
  • Melons, such as casabas, watermelons, and cantaloupes

Vegetables Grown at Fort Ross –

  • Winter squashes
  • Pumpkins
  • Cabbage fresh and as sauerkraut
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Radishes
  • Horseradish
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Mints

Grains Grown at Fort Ross –

  • Millet
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat (kasha)

Flowers Grown at Fort Ross –

  • Roses
  • Calendula
  • Honey from beehives in the orchard
  • Wild Mushrooms

Livestock –

  • Chicken for meat, feathers, or eggs
  • Cattle for meat, milk, cheese, butter
  • Pig for meat and hides
  • Goat for meat and hides

Wild Animals –

  • Deer for meat, hides, and horns
  • Elk and Bear for meat and hides
  • Quail for meat and feathers
  • Fish, both ocean and freshwater

Kashia Influence –

  • Purslane
  • Miner’s lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Wild onion
  • Bay laurel
  • Acorns and hazelnuts
  • Wild grains, roots of cattail, shellfish, dill, fennel, wild carrot
  • Blackberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries

Alaska Native Influence –

  • Sea Lion meat and skins
  • Seagull eggs and feathers
  • Seal meat, oil and intestines

Trade with Spanish, European, Chinese, or Merchant ships –

  • Rye, cornmeal, oats, rice
  • Sugar
  • Sage, pepper, rosemary, ginger, dill, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, molasses, and poppy seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Beans
  • Cranberries
  • Tea and coffee
  • Cranberry juice or other locally grown fruit juices
  • Russian Kvass (a yeasted fruit drink)

Meal Time at Colony Ross – As with many cultures, the kitchen is the favorite or central spot of the home. Russia is not different. It is where families gather for meals, friends get together to chat over a cup of tea and welcomed guests feel the warmth of Russian hospitality.

Depending on where you are from, Russians refer to the three meals of the day differently. To most Americans, these are breakfast, lunch, and dinner or supper. Russians start the day with breakfast or “zavtrak.” It is a hearty meal. A Russian breakfast will include a protein such as eggs, sausage, cold cuts, and cheese. This is accompanied by bread and butter with tea or coffee.  Hot cereals are particularly popular with mothers. Yes, Russian children get their first shot of energy from a hot bowl of oatmeal, just as most of us did! Cold, boxed cereal was introduced to Russia in the early 1990’s and is, generally speaking, found only in specialty stores.

Historically, Russians didn’t have a meal like our lunch. In fact, this was a generally not understood term until the 1990’s. The second meal of the Russian day is taken around 1 o’clock p.m. and is called “obyed” or dinner. This is the main meal of the day. Appetizers, or “zakuski,” highlight this meal. One can easily make the mistake of making a meal out of a selection from such delights as caviar, pickles, smoked fish and various combinations of vegetables. Soup is a part of dinner along with the main course of meat or fish. The main dish is usually accompanied by a starchy food: potatoes, rice, or noodles and vegetables: fresh or marinated. Finally there is dessert! Last course might be cake, stewed fruit or vegetables.

The evening meal is served around 7:00 p.m. or later. It is supper or uzhin. It is similar to dinner but without the soup and often, dessert. One notable exception is, in the agricultural regions, field workers take their soup with supper and not with dinner.

Children and the elderly enjoyed a mid-afternoon nap followed by a snack. Everyone, young and old, enjoyed a nice cup of tea. It is the most common beverage.  Orange juice was not a breakfast staple in Russia. Water and soft drinks may be served with dinner or supper. Coffee and tea are offered at the end of these two meals. Of course, festive occasions and celebrations mean the presence of wine, vodka or cognac!

Traditional Russian cuisine is a delight to see and to eat. Popular and best-known dishes include caviar, served with beet soup, borscht, pancakes, blini, and beef stroganoff. What do you do if you have unexpected company?  Serve up a spread of blini, caviar, herring, sour cream, jams, and a bit of vodka!


Tea – Tea was introduced to Russia in 1640.  Russian ambassadors from the Mongol camps brought with them packets of tea. It was instantly praised for its medicinal powers and ability to refresh and purify the blood. By the beginning of the 18th century tea had become the national drink and asking one to partake in tea was a traditional sign of hospitality.  A samovar was essential to the brewing of tea and they began appearing at this time in a great variety of shapes and sizes. The traditional spherical, cylindrical and tapered samovars began to be made in great quantities so that by the end of the 19th century production was around 1/2 million per year. The samovar creates its own coziness at the table and the participants generally declare the tea is usually tastier.


Tea from the Samovar – A Russian Tea Party begins when the hostess fills the samovar with cold water and puts burning coal in the draft chimney. She boils the water and carries the samovar to the table. To make the tea she rinses a porcelain or ceramic (never metal) teapot with some boiling water. She fills the teapot with loose tea (using 1 tbsp of tea for every 3 cups of water) and pours boiling water until three quarters full. After letting it steep for 5-6 minutes, she tops the essence off with some more boiling water.
Tea from a samovar is a mixed drink: strong tea from the pot, diluted to taste with hot water from the spigot. Serve with sugar cubes and a slice of fresh lemon.


A little Bit About Beets – What contains vitamins A and C and potassium, has been used as a bone salve, a sinus remedy, rouge, a cure for toothache, and the base for a really tasty soup? Why, the humble beet, of course. Named for its resemblance to the Greek letter beta, the beet is a relative of leafy spinach.

There are three groups of beets: root beets, leaf beets, and the uncultivated sea beet. The leaf beet was the first to be domesticated, its name, chard, was derived from the Latin cardus, or thistle. Leaf chard was eaten 2000 years ago by the Greeks and Romans but the root of this early beet was unimpressive and used chiefly as a medicine. In the second or third century, Italian farmers developed larger roots and beets began appearing at mealtimes throughout Europe. During the Middle Ages, in the first of several historical collaborations between the two countries, German farmers improved on the “Roman beet” developing the rosy, round root we enjoy today.

Beets have been used and prepared in a wide variety of ways throughout culinary and non-culinary history. Sixteenth century sinus sufferers were advised to inhale beet juice to “purge the head.” It was recommended that cooks of the same period wipe their beets with fresh dung before cooking them. One assumes that the beets were then peeled prior to consumption; and one is glad that twentieth century cooks use a common vegetable brush. Young women in the nineteenth century used beet juice as rouge, but that is the extent of the practical use for beet dye. Although it will redden the cheeks, fingers, and Easter egg shells, beet dyed fabric will fade upon washing.

So beets can’t be used to make dye, but they can be prepared in many dishes to die for. Russian borscht, a hearty beet soup, is a fine example. Many people enjoy beets pickled, although some beetophiles feel that pickling obscures the beet’s distinct sweetness. If a small beet is added to apples being cooked for sauce, the resultant product will be a pretty rose pink.


A Little Bit About Potatoes – Potatoes were first domesticated in the Peruvian Andes about 6000 years ago where they were a staple of the Incan diet. The Spanish discovered potatoes while searching for gold and took as many as 80 varieties back to Spain. These plants so intrigued the French and Italians that soon they could be found growing throughout Southern Europe.  People refused to eat potatoes, though, because they were thought to resemble the hands of lepers and it was feared that they carried diseases. The first potatoes in Europe were grown as novelty.

Despite a bitter-tasting introduction into England where the tubers were discarded and the leaves eaten, the English took to eating potatoes. They were especially welcome in famine-plagued Ireland where it was discovered that a family of six could, with relatively little labor, live for a year on the potatoes produced on only an acre and a half of land.

Still, throughout most of Europe the potato was snubbed as livestock or slave food.  In the late 1600s, after a disastrous crop failure, Emperor Frederik Wilhelm ordered all peasants to plant potatoes as famine relief or lose their noses and ears. At first disliked, the potato soon became part of the Prussian diet.

King of France Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, in an apparent effort to appease the masses, embraced the potato to the extent of adorning their hair and clothing with potato flowers. The potato soon became a popular French vegetable.

The potato has become a staple throughout the world. In 1845 when black rot attacked Ireland’s potato crop 1.5 million Irish citizens died and another million immigrated to the United States.

Today most of the controversy around the potato has dissipated leaving us only to argue about whether or not the spuds are healthy. They are indeed healthy! They are loaded with many vitamins and minerals. A potato plucked fresh from the ground and steamed or baked to perfection needs no butter – it’s delicious plain. Honest!


A Little Bit About Tomatoes – In 1591 when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, Europeans had their first contact with the tomato. A native of Western South America the tomato was widely grown from Peru to Mexico. The Spanish found the plants, with their gangly vines, ugly but the curious red fruit was interesting enough to be carried back to Europe. Since it is a member of the deadly nightshade family it was thought to be poisonous and planted only as an ornamental.

Within a few years taste overcame fear and tomatoes became a popular addition to the cuisine of old Spain. Portugal, Morocco and Italy followed the Spanish lead but England and France viewed the tomato as attractive on the outside, like a peach, but deadly on the inside. This view is how the tomato came to be called the “Wolf Peach” in England.

The English brought their tomato fear with them to colonial America. It was common for doctors and ministers to speak out against the tomato. All of this changed on September 26, 1820, when on the courthouse steps in Salem, New Jersey, Robert Johnson ate a tomato in public. Quite a crowd gathered but Mr. Johnson failed to die. Soon seed companies began to offer the “love apple” and by 1860 commercial harvesting of tomatoes had begun.