One of the things everyone recommends when you say you are about to visit Kolomna in Russia is a look around the Kolomna Pastila Factory Museum. Which does not initially seem like and incentive to get on a train and travel for two hours out of Moscow.
But then you find out that pastila is a type of sweet.
Pastila is, in fact, the same sort of sweet as a (Rowntrees) fruit pastille. Name a bit of a give away there. Except pastila is a lot softer, a bit more gourmet, with more variation in the different types. And originally at least, a lot less mass produced.
In French, they call it Pate de Fruit. Immediately makes it sound even more enticing, non?
Essentially, for those who have never considered how their fruit pastilles are made, to get pastila you concoct a fruit puree and then allow it to turn into something jellylike.
Apples are involved, partly because Kolomna seems to have been particularly abundant in apple orchards, and partly because they are a good source of the setting agent pectin. But other berries and soft fruits can be used too. Mama particularly likes the blackcurrant flavoured ones.
But then the makers of Kolomna pastila started to get fancy. And not just because pastila was often made with honey in Kolomna. Honey was cheap. Sugar was not. That’s it. Honeyed pastila is tasty though.
No, classic Kolomna pastila was different from the French and English versions because the addition of eggwhites to the puree and a long drying process in the traditional Russian clay oven added a certain marshmallowy quality to the sweet. Which became beloved of the Imperial court on down.
Shame the original historical recipe got lost somewhere between the revolution upending everything, including, for some reason, the apple orchards. And the attempt to produce pastila as an fully industrial process did not go as well as hoped either. Still, they seem to have got it mostly worked out again now.
This doesn’t quite explain the popularity of the Kolomna Pastila Factory Museum, however.
Even though everyone is careful to tell you they will serve you tea and conduct a tasting session, Mama was bemused by the extreme enthusiasm she encountered from tourists and locals alike.
I mean, every cafe in Kolmna serves tea and pastila, and the museum itself has a particularly fabulous one next door to the main building. What could possibly be so gripping about a few glass cases and some explanatory placards?
But it turns out that the Kolomna Pastila Factory Museum tour is much more than an exhibit-ridden succession of rooms enhanced by fifteen minutes of a guide droning in front of each one.
No, it is an interactive, immersive experience in which the history of pastila making in Kolomna, the cooking process, and all the different types of pastila are demonstrated by costumed actors playing out various roles of 19th century cottage industry workers.
And also the factory owner and his wife.
Even the embedded advertisement for all the related products sold by the Pastila Factory Museum shop (fruit syrup, herbal tea, jam, and preserved fruit, in case you are wondering) is exuberantly done. And Baba Yaga herself has a cameo appearance.
You get to make your own pastila, from washing and coring the apples, through stirring the puree, to sticking the pastille on a hook to allow it to be dipped in syrup and hardened.
You also get to visit the cellar full of apples. The smell alone was worth the price of admission.
Mama and Papa seriously considered locking my Appleloving Big Brother in there and coming back in a few hours to see who had won. Particularly as he was having a bit of a sulk at the beginning of the tour over a clash between Mama’s desire to photograph all the very attractive Kolomna buildings, churches and houses, and his desire to go and slide around in the record amounts of snow that had fallen that weekend.
He had thoroughly cheered up by the end though.
We did both also score an apple to munch as we went round the rest of the tour of the Kolomna Pastila Museum though and I must say that every museum tour should consider this method of keeping their young visitors happy, as well as ending with a sweet tasting.
If you are dithering about which Kolomna pastila museum to choose (there are two), or whether to go to a pastila museum at all, we heartily recommend this one. One word of warning – the tours are all run in Russian. But you can find yourself a guide to translate without too much difficulty, if you are not able to nudge your children sharply at significant moments and demand key words. Like Mama. Ow.
If you cannot make it out of Moscow to Kolomna yourself, then the Kolomna Pastila Factory Museum has a shop actually in Moscow, near Smolenskaya, and is available to order goodies from online.
And if you are not planning to visit Russia at all (really???) here are two recipes Mama is planning to follow to make her own – one for the denser fruit pastille-esque stuff, which will probably be most familiar to Mama’s UK readers, and a more Russian version involving 10 hours in an oven.
The Kolomna Pastila Factory Museum website (make sure you have the right one).
Address: 4 Ulitsa Polyanskaya, Kolomna, Russia, 140415
Opening: 10am to 8pm (on a tour).
Admission: Different tour packages at different times of the year cost different prices, which start at around 400 roubles for adults and 200 roubles for kids.
Getting there: Kolomna is about a tour hour journey from Moscow by train from the Komsomolskaya station. You can drive too. Kolomna is dead south from Moscow.
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