Thursday, December 29, 2011
A year ago, we were deep into our Kickstarter fundraising efforts. We still can't say enough about the support we received. From across the world--including Sweden, Japan, Ukraine, Canada and the United States--dozens of you pitched in to help make our effort to document and share Ukrainian food traditions a reality. We truly felt buoyed by all of your good wishes when we returned to Ukraine.
Bulgakov Museum, Eko Art, PIC NGO and the Centre for Cultural Management. We ate, we drank, we found ourselves in conversations that ranged from what we eat for dinner to how to support small farmers. Thanks to the Trust for Mutual Understanding and Shelburne Farms for making this possible.
Back in the US, I had the chance to share the work of the Pickle Project in five different presentations at locations ranging from a Catskills community roundtable to an American Association of Museums presentation in Texas. Lively questions always ensued.
We continue to be inspired and driven by the interests, questions and comments from our Kickstarter backers, our readers and the people we engage through the Pickle Project, in Ukraine, the US and elsewhere.
We're working on a number of different ideas--ranging from promoting further exchange, to exhibitions, to projects with young people. We'd love to find ways to bring the Pickle Project conversations to different countries, to learn and share perspectives.
We've got a long list of blog posts from our 2011 visits to keep you up on--everything from Greek food in eastern Ukraine and manti making in Crimea to making currant wine in L'viv-- and the debut of some video interviews. Stay tuned.
But about you--if you're in Ukraine, we'd love your help. We've greatly appreciated our guest bloggers and hope that more of you will consider joining in and sharing family stories, traditions, or what you've learned about village and urban foodways. In particular, Peace Corps volunteers, we'd love to hear from you.
And if you have ideas about what's next for us--let us know. Thanks to all of you for making 2011 an incredible year for the Pickle Project!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
So after four conversations, three train rides, at least 2 pounds of salo consumed and countless liters of vodka (the best was the homemade kind) what are the takeaways?
Thursday, December 15, 2011
When I was nine years old and in line at Safeway, the cashier wished my mother a very earnest Merry Christmas. We’re Jewish, Ireplied probably annoyingly, we don’t celebrate Christmas. My mom, clearly notnine and far better mannered than I, wished her the same and whisked me away. Allof this to say that I’ve rarely been scared to say who I am.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Like each of the cities we visited on our conversational tour of Ukraine, L’viv is its own place. The capital of historic Galicia, L’viv is regarded by many as the heart of Ukrainian culture, language and traditions. Crumbling and complex, the city is known for romance, poetry and intellectual enterprise.
In recent years, L’viv has also sought to distinguish itself as a gastro-destination. Long renowned for its caffeine haunts, there is now a cohort of small brewers, chocolate shops and gelato stands, cropping up around town, not to mention the batch of bizarre themed restos.
Our wonderful partner, the Centre for Cultural Management, an organisation that works to promote the cultural sector in L’viv and across Ukraine, hosted the event at the Ye Bookstore. And, so, we chatted, amongst the books, while browsing customers paused to listen or join in the dialogue.
Unsurprisingly, our discussions reflected L’viv’s unique character, charting a thoughtful progression from traditions to the future. We launched with stories about first tastes and childhood temptations. One participant remembered that, under the Soviet Regime of her youth, there were few luxury foods to be had. However there were the rare delights, including chewing gum and sodas (Pepsi NOT Coke) and, for Christmas, mandarin oranges. In my circle, we talked a great deal about Ukrainian food customs and dishes. What makes a meal Ukrainian, one asked. But, Galician food has been so influenced by Polish traditions, another commented. Is it still Ukrainian? What if you ate the same meal in Canada? (On a plane, on a train? In a box, with a fox?) We explored gender roles relative to food, who cooks and who grows, then, now, and into the future. The group of participants in the L'viv discussion was more diverse in age than in the other cities on the Community Conversation tour. Thus, the conversations were infused with an array of perspectives, reflecting the generational and cultural influences of the participants.
As talk of food often does, the discussions turned to politics and governance, and, inevitably in Ukraine, corruption. Contemplative participants offered exchanged opinions on regulations, taxes and food safety. We talked about the influence of Ukraine’s current leadership and the future of rural Ukraine. We talked about lifestyles, health and who tomorrow’s farmers will be. The lively exchange went on for a while, in that smart, meandering and, sometimes, wistful L’viv of way. And, then, we retired for beer and more of the same.
Watch a video and read peculiar news coverage about the L'viv event here.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I think it’s fair to say that I leapt at the chance to join the Pickle Project. I joined the group at the eleventh hour, about four weeks before the trip. I remember getting off of the phone with Linda and immediately starting to wonder if I had over-sold myself. I thought that there must be several candidates that they were choosing from, and I needed to justify why they should pick me to go with them. At one point in the conversation, I’m pretty sure I told her that I never get into bar fights. Because, obviously, she wouldn’t want to travel through Ukraine with someone prone to fisticuffs.
I’ve lived most of my life in Minnesota, and I’d never traveled beyond the confines of North America, but I’ve long been an armchair world traveler. I’m a food scientist by training, and I work at an artisan cheese plant here in Minnesota. I spend a lot of time thinking about issues of food production, and I spend a lot of my free time thinking and talking about cheese as well. The idea of traveling to another country to talk about food for 10 days sounded too good to be true.
Before the trip, I probably had an above-average (for an American) knowledge of Ukraine. I’d read in The Economist about the Orange Revolution and the poisoning of Yushchenko. I knew a bit about the post-WWII, Cold War and post-Cold War history of the region. I didn’t really know what life was currently like in Ukraine, but I was excited to find out.
Unsurprisingly, the scattered facts I had accumulated didn’t really give me a great insight into the psyche of Ukrainians. Nor, I suppose, did my 10 day whirlwind tour either. However, the conversations I had about food with Ukrainians were very similar to conversations that I’ve had with Minnesotans at local food events I’ve attended. Most of the people we met at our conversations were foodies and while their perspectives were different, they held opinions firmly as any foodie who I’ve ever handed a piece of blue cheese here in Minnesota.
I saw great enthusiasm for local and slow food in Ukraine. We met a dairyman in Kiev who, absent any government regulation, was forging a business dedicated to providing safe, local raw milk to consumers. He was an expert on European food safety standards and quality systems. In Odessa, we met with restaurateurs who were pioneering the Slow Food movement in Ukraine. At the end of my trip, I met an entrepreneur setting out to be a cheesemaker. His goal was to create a local cheese for Ukraine that would be his legacy and something to be enjoyed by future generations of Ukrainians.
Foodies are an enthusiastic, opinionated and sometimes cantankerous bunch, and my experience on this trip only reinforced my view. The people I met are trying hard to preserve and strengthen their connection to food production.
Monday, November 28, 2011
As far as museum experiences go, the Bulgakov Museum on a torn-up street in Kyiv surpasses nearly every expectation for a memorial to an author, even in a country with an impressively high literacy rate. The Museum is as much memory as emotion, and it was here that we had our first conversation.
Salo, at the Pickle Project Conversation at the Bulgakov Museum
Bulgakov Museum interior, courtesy of the Bulgakov Museum
Puzata Hata food line, photo by Caleb Zigas
Kyiv Pickle Project participants
Caleb talks taste
Organic milk and honey, homemade pickles, brought to share at the conversation in Kyiv.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Saturday, November 19, 2011
As Caleb mentioned in the previous post, the first in this autumn’s series of Pickle Project Community Conversations took place at the Bulgakov Museum. The museum is perched on the renowned Andriyivsky Uzviv, a steep, curvy little street that winds down a Kyivan hill. The museum observes the life and works of the beloved Ukrainian writer Mikhail Bulgakov, most famous for his novel The Master and Margarita, the subversive commentary on the oppression of the Soviet Regime.
The building itself was Bulgakov’s home for a time and the Museum uses the house’s rooms to imaginatively braid together the themes from Bulgakov’s own life with that of the Turbin family, featured in his novel The White Guard, set against the chaos of the Russian Civil War. The Bulgakov Museum is known for inventive programming that often includes food traditions, drawing on Bulgakov’s life and works. For me, the Bulgakov Museum has a warm, familiar and almost magical quality. Thus, it made a wonderful and fitting setting for the event.
The evening began with cheerful mingling and refreshments. Between refreshing sips of icy vodka, a personal favorite, and nibbles of black bread and salo, participants chatted and jotted down responses to questions posted on the walls with thick markers. These included “What is your favorite meal? and “What makes food natural?” The crowd was a lively mix that included diplomats and dairy farmers, rural development specialists, municipal managers, grandmas, college students and teenagers.
A sequence of deeper discussions ensued, sparked by mini-presentations around the food-centric themes of personal memory, entrepreneurship, science and sustainability. We told stories about our grandparents and grandchildren. We laughed about why we hate some foods and love others. We talked about what it means to make food for your children and if a person can actually “taste the love.” We explored the element of trust in our food system and what our national dishes really are. There was technical tête-à-tête, about calves’ intestines and compliance requirements among the dairy professionals in the room, and the salt-to-water ratio for good pickles between experimental American picklers (ahem..) and seasoned Ukrainian ones.
To accompany these exchanges, there were second and third courses to our feast. We enjoyed kasha with sautéed onions, golden cabbage and squashes with caramelized pork. There were home-made pickles and marinated mushrooms! Oh my! Then, we had coffee, tea and sweets.
The evening concluded with the exchanging of home canned goods, raw dairy products, hugs and kisses. Set in the Bulgakov Museum’s comfortable space, the event and dialogue offered many levels of engagement and was enriched by the openness and energy of the participants. And, we headed out into the dark Kyivan night, a bit brighter by the connections we'd made.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Friday, November 4, 2011
"Welcome to Potluck" said the chalkboard and we were thrilled to see that students had all brought food from home to share with us. EkoArt, our partner in Donetsk, works with young people, so they decided to have the conversation at a lyceum with high school and college students. We met in the French language classroom, where their enthusiastic teacher, Nikolai Routchka, had read our blog, had it projected on the board, and had even brought us a jar of preserved sea buckthorn after seeing my request for information and identification after spotting the berries in a market.
We began the evening with girls in traditional costume bearing the traditional Ukrainian welcome of bread and salt; a lovely reminder of an ancient, still important tradition. We asked students to share the details of each dish they had made--and impressively, each one did it in English, most with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation. Here's just a bit of what we ate (and thanks to Valya Sakhnenko and others for the descriptions!)
The salad is called "herring under fur coat" or short "fur coat" ("shuba" in Russian). It includes herring, pickled onions, potatoes, carrots, beets. Clean and cut the herring into small pieces. After that put chopped fresh or pickled onion. Vegetables cooked, rubbed on a grater and put by layers. You can add the grated apples and eggs. All layers except herring, covered with mayonnaise.
Daria's pickles, "This is my pepper in tomato sauce, which was pickled by my mother. In Ukraine we call this dish "lecho"."
Verguny--a fried dough.
Mlyntsi, (depending on where you're from, blini or crepes) filled with homemade cherry jam.
Homemade compote, above, and below, holubtsi, stuffed cabbage rolls.
Below, still warm plov, brought in right as we started by a student's father. Plov is traditionally made by men, and she had made it with her dad, who was Kazakh, and had, as I recall, learned to make it from Uzbek friends while living in Moscow. Ukraine is a diverse place, with many different cultures, and of course, it can be seen in the food.
We ended the evening with group photos and headed out, with bags full of sea buckthorn, cake, grapes from the teacher's arbor, bread, and more, to sustain us on our next train trip. The rain continued, but the warmth of the evening carried us home.