Monday, December 7, 2009

Daily Bread

Bread is of seminal importance in Ukraine. Hearty and wholesome, it has been a staple, sustaining the Ukrainian people through years of transition. The “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, the fertile soils of the Dnieper basin remain famous for wheat production. Indeed, bread and wheat also serve as important symbols of Ukrainian identity, wealth and strength. Fronds of wheat are common decorations during holidays and gifts of good luck. Elaborate celebratory loaves are baked for weddings and other special occasions.

And, yet bread is a ubiquitous part of life in Ukraine, an accompaniment at every meal. In the shops, discriminating customers, press their thumbs into loaves, scrutinizing crusts before finally settling. There are several common varieties of bread in Ukraine but a traditional favorite is black bread, or чорний хліб. Chocolate in color and made of buckwheat and rye, this bread is very dense and has a tangy, sweet flavor. With a crust often caked in caraway or coriander, honey or soft, fresh cheese make wonderful compliments.. Add a warm bowl of borscht, and you have a serious meal.

For a lovely discussion of bread and Russia, see Andrew Whitley’s 2001 “My Life, My Loaves” in Gastronomica.

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