The Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, March 19th, 2018
Photo of Barynya dancers Olga Chpitalnaia and Simona Zhukovski from 2018 International Night performance at the Smith Middle School in Glastonbury, CT on the front page of The Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, March 19th, 2018. Photo by Steve Smith.
When organizers said last year that the fifth annual Taste of Russia would be held rain or shine, they meant it.
"Despite the pouring rains left over from Hurricane Ivan, we saw some 3,000 Russophiles at our event," said Paul Richardson,
editor of "Russian Life" magazine, organizers of the cultural festival.
"Of course, it had to be named Ivan," Richardson said about the storm's use of the popular Russian name.
But while the event may be called a "Taste of Russia," Richardson said their festival isn't a food fest like other "Taste" events held throughout the summer months.
"We do have a vendor selling authentic Russian food, but our event is focused on the broader culture," Richardson said.
Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., a full day of outdoor activities and entertainment will be offered on the Amherst Town Common with arts, crafts and food vendors under a massive circus tent. Also, on the Amherst College campus, there will be a free documentary film fest and a viewing of the college's Russian art collection.
It all kicks off Friday night with a special VIP Dinner and Vodka Tasting, sponsored by .RU Vodka, in the Grand Ballroom at the Hotel Northampton for $65, featuring Russian cuisine and a tasting of Russian vodkas.
"We sold out last year, but we're in a bigger room this year and expect to be able to accommodate all who want to attend," Richardson said.
The dinner menu will include a bevy of Russian appetizers including sour cabbage, barrel-style dill pickles, salted mushrooms, pink potato salad, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese salad with leeks and authentic Russian black bread.
"The appetizers lead into some nice vodka and borsch, followed by a main course of pozharskiye, which is chicken cutlets served with straw potatoes," Richardson said.
"And for dessert there will be blueberry ice cream served with Suvorov cookies, named after a famous Russian general," he said.
VIP diners will have an opportunity to meet Ed McMahon, longtime sidekick to Johnny Carson, who will attend the dinner and introduce his new Russian vodka, McMahon Perfect, a smooth, rye-based vodka produced in the heart of Russia.
"It will be nice to be back in my original home state of Massachusetts, where I spent many happy years growing up in Lowell," McMahon said.
Richardson said they are happy to have the added draw of McMahon for this year's special dinner and vodka tasting.
"Ed is a great storyteller, and he's not standoffish like some celebrities. He loves to chat with folks and socialize," Richardson said.
Vendors at the Amherst Town Common Saturday will sell a variety of items, including lacquer boxes, nesting dolls, rare silk scarves, fine Russian crystal and Russian books and music and other Russian-related events will be promoted, Richardson noted.
Among the Russian foods on sale at the Town Common Saturday will be stuffed tomatoes with herbs and vegetables and pickled cabbage.
"The pickled cabbage is made of fermented cabbage with carrots and cranberries," said Anastasia Terechina of Taste of Russia Specialty Foods in Waterbury, Vt.
There will also be a traditional Russian borsch, which is a hot beet, cabbage, carrots and potato soup, as well as pirozhki, a fried dough filled with meat or potatoes.
"You'll find them on every corner of every city in Russia," Terechina said of the pirozhki, which she referred to as a fast food.
And, for dessert, there will be paklava, which is similar to baklava, and honey triangles.
Free performances noon-6 p.m. on the Town Common will include live circus entertainment by Troy Wunderle, the Wholesale Klezmer Band, Russian Amherst Club, Russian Hurricanes and a preview of the festival's Saturday night concert by Barynya.
The festival's finale concert featuring Barynya, world-acclaimed musicians, singers and dancers, will be held at 8 p.m. Their program will include Russian and Cossack dancers, folk songs and virtuoso balalaika pieces, domra and garmoshka music.
The concert will be held in Buckley Recital Hall, Arms Music Center, at Amherst College. Tickets are $15.
For more information, or to order tickets to the dinner or concert, call (800) 639-4301 or visit www.tasteofrussia.org