The Story of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich
How vendace led to the emergence of environmentalists in Russia
Russian tsar Alexei Mikhailovich the Quietest, the second of the Romanov Dynasty, was a hearty eater and a genuine gourmet. His cooks would work tirelessly, preparing a hundred of dishes on ordinary days and two hundred on holidays. There was one impediment, however: as many as 182 days a year were supposed to be fasting days in Orthodox Russia. Fish would be served on fasting days – sturgeon, salmon, pike, halibut, smoked, salted or boiled. Fish with sour cream topping, fish with porridge, fish with mushrooms. Court painters handled Alexey Mikhailovich's imperfections no worse than Photoshop. But one imperfection remained, which can still be seen on the 400-year-old portraits of the tsar – his belly. It worried him.

Dieting was unheard of in Old Rus'. One day the tsar noticed that after eating vendace, no matter how much, he felt lighter in his body and stronger.
One more discovery was that vendace gave mental clarity. The tsar was a highly educated, intelligent man, who wrote poetry and had a passion for theater. The health beneficial properties of vendace turned it into his favourite fish!
Thus, vendace, which became popularly called 'royal herring', became a frequent meal on the royal table and a must on holidays and receptions.

One day, tsar Alexey Mikhailovich began to notice a reduction in the weight and size of the vendace on his dish.

"What have you done to my fish, you mangy dogs?" the tsar was angry with his cooks.

The cooks shook their heads and said it wasn't their fault. Highly appreciated by all people, vendace began to be caught with seines and trap nets everywhere in Russia. No wonder why its population had decreased so rapidly. It couldn't be helped.

The tsar, however, did not want to put up with the deficit. He issued a decree prohibiting to catch vendace longer than 30 centimeters so as to replenish the population naturally. This did not seem enough to the tsar. The prohibition had to be tight enough. He introduced death penalty for poaching for vendace with nets. Special officials were sent to monitor implementation of the orders. The "royal herring" had thus led to the emergence in Old Rus' of the first environmentalists.
And who knows, tsar Alexei Mikhailovich the Quietest might have lived longer than 31 years, had the population of vendace restored in his time.
His son, Peter the Great, gave up many of the traditions maintained by his father by choosing to follow European ways. The old Kremlin menu lost all of its habitual dishes except... vendace. This gourmet food turned out irreplaceable.

Four hundred years later, scientists explained why vendace was found to boost mental activity. It contains a five-fold daily dose of omega-3 acids.

To date, there's only a handful of lakes and rivers that are inhabited by vendace. Among them is the lake of Lekshmozero in Kenozero National Park. Young vendace are caught in September and mature ones, with full grown caviar, in October. There's a local fishing secret and the local recipes for salting, smoking, frying and canning of vendace.

Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich tasted vendace cooked in a variety of ways. What he didn't try, however, is slow-simmered vendace, cooked in the oven in milk. It's up to you to judge if the tsar would have liked it. Be sure to try slow-simmered vendace when you are in Kenozero National Park.