Garden Diary - May 2020

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Beyond the North Wind
Russia in Recipes and Lore, a book review

Sunday, 31 May 2020

What comes to mind when we talk about ethnic food and recipes. Chinese, of course. Mexican is popular. German, French, Italian. But Russian food rarely comes to the front of the queue. There were a few Ashkenazi-Jewish dishes that my mother would make when I was a little girl which would qualify as Russian. Sometimes she made blini, thin little pancakes. Kasha (which really means porridge) was prepared as kasha varnishke, buckwheat and farfalle, bow tie pasta. And borscht, beet soup, served cold in summer or hot in winter. So when I came across

image copyright Stefan Wettainen, provided courtesy Ten Speed Press
Beyond the North Wind, Russia in Recipes and Lore by Darra Goldstein

it caught my attention. As I always do, I e-mailed the publisher's publicity department to request a review copy. And here is where covid-19 has complicated yet another facet of my life. Everyone is working from home, their warehouse is understaffed, and rather than a physical copy of the book I have a PDF digital review copy with Property of Ten Speed Press in large letters diagonally across every page. This review is thus based on the electronic version. Should I receive an actual book at some future time I will of course revise and update this review.

Beyond the North Wind is more than just a cookbook filled with recipes, which of course it contains. History, both recent and not so current provide a foundation. Mention of renown Russian authors. There are stories from the author's multiple travels to Russia over the years. So it also may be read as a travelogue. There's a concentration of such material up front, with snippets and conversations incorporated in the recipes. And as I read along I find myself discovering points of correspondence: Vladimir Nabakov in Speak Memory, writing of his mother hodit' po gribi, looking for mushrooms. No doubt they are different kinds of mushrooms but I too, go foraging for mushrooms. There are recipes for marinated mushrooms, kasha with mushrooms either dried or sauteed, potatoes and mushrooms baked in a pot, and more.

Feast days. There are recipes for fish, a few for chicken and duck, a couple for beef and pork, one for venison. And fast days, which in pre-Soviet times could add up to 180 days. A number of recipes for what today would be presented as vegetarian dishes: numerous salads, soups, and more. Beets and cabbage, two easily stored vegetables, feature prominently. Buckwheat is an annual, grows on poor soil, and provides a high quality protein. No wonder there is a diversity of recipes for this useful pseudo-cereal.

As an aside - think about the Russian climate with a relatively short growing season and a long dark winter. Recipes for pickles - 3-day salted cabbage, ready much sooner than lacto-fermented saurkraut. Cucumber pickles from half-sour dill to sweet and sour to a 20-minute version with salt, dill, garlic, and vodka. Vodkas flavored with pepper, or horseradish or birch buds. A dandelion flower syrup. Berries from blueberries to cranberries, currants, raspberries and sea buckthorn. Dairy features prominently. Farmer's cheese, make your own and then use it in pancakes. Varenets, baked cultured milk. You really need to read the recipe to understand what it is.

image copyright Stefan Wettainen, provided courtesy Ten Speed Press
Blini drenched with butter for maslenitsa,
the Butter Week before the Great Lent.

The recipes are both traditional and with the author's contemporary adaptations. They read well but I have not tried any - the Property of Ten Speed Press overlays the ones I was most interested in. Of course this will not be an issue should you, dear reader, purchase a copy. Pictures throughout, of food, of dachas and their gardens, of smiling people holding platters of food. How the images will appear in the book depends on the quality of the paper they are printed on - glossy coated stock gives the best results. Beyond the North Wind reads quite well and offers a look at a cuisine and its background that is rarely explored.

Beyond the North Wind, Russia in Recipes and Lore
by Darra Goldstein
published by Ten Speed Press, California and New York
Hard cover, color images throughout, $37.50, 2020
ISBN 978-0-399-58040-6

A PDF digital review copy of this book was provided by the publisher

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