My granddad was a firm believer that every season came with its own unique flavors, and of course, he was right. A professor of Physics, he’d start planting tomato seeds in February so that there’d be home-grown tomatoes in the summer. In the spring, he’d tap birch trees for their juice and would go fishing for smelt, but the nettle soup was his specialty. Here’s what you’ve got to try this spring.

Birch tree juice. Some countries have maple syrup, we have birch tree juice. A notch is cut into the birch bark, a metal chute is inserted and, and the tree sap - the juice - flows into a collecting can or bag. It’s a little cloudy and tastes sweet. You can drink it straight or add lemon, honey, and raisins. You can experiment too, or just get a jar from the supermarket. 

Smelt. It smells like fresh cucumbers. It’s fried to perfection. It’s unique to St. Petersburg. With the same gusto that other granddads played cards, mine got together with his friends and went fishing for smelt, much to our horror of the ice cracking underneath them. He’d come home with a bag of silvery smelt and we’d spend an evening frying it to crispy perfection. You can usually buy it from late March through April.

Stinging nettles. Not exactly anyone’s friend during the summer, the young stinging nettles just popping up after winter can be a real treat. Every spring my granddad would get armed with rubber gloves and scissors and venture into the newly green expanses around the dacha to cut the green tops of this usually pretty vicious plant. He’d get a whole bag, then blanch them with boiling water to get rid of the sting. Then he’d mince them and make them the main ingredient in our favorite spring soup “green schi” - in essence, chicken soup with carrots and nettles and topped with half of a hard-boiled egg.

Feel like broadening your horizons with other Russian favorites? Check out soups and snacks, for starters!