Saturday, February 26, 2011

Perfect for Pancakes: Celebrating Maslenitsa

Malenitsa is the Orthodox Christian version of Mardi Gras--the celebration before Lent begins--but its origins are far more ancient as a Slavic festival celebrating the beginning of spring.  And just as, for Catholics,  Shrove Tuesday is often celebrated with pancakes,  pancakes are a central part of Maslenitsa celebrations as well.   It's known, variously, as Butter Week, Pancake Week, or Cheese Week.  But why pancakes?  It's said that their round, sunny face resembles the sun,  an infrequent sight this time of year.

With a little googling,  I found (via one of the places in the center of Kyiv to get pancakes.  At this stand in Shevchenko Park,  there are almost always lines of people awaiting their pancakes,  hot, fresh and rolled with jam, spiced apples, mushrooms,  or other fillings.   These pancakes,  also called blini, are more like crepes, and not like the big fluffy American pancakes.  Here's a link to a recipe for Grandma's Famous Blini's from Alexandria at Just a Pinch recipe club.
The week of Maslenitsa culiminates in Forgiveness Sunday.  Traditionally, villages would build a huge man of straw, a symbol of winter,  in a bonfire and burn away,  this symbol of winter,  apologizing to each other for the sins of the last year.  At Pyrohiv, the outdoor museum outside Kyiv,  the bonfire is still an annual event, drawing visitors out from the city and we hope, chasing the winter away!

Top image:  from Lugansk Food and bottom image of Pyrohiv from FlyUA Journal.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Now, We Raise a Glass...

As Pickle Project followers likely already know, our Kickstarter fundraising effort ended last week in success! In fact, I am delighted to report that we actually surpassed our goal! We have been overwhelmed and inspired by all of the support and encouragement that poured in. The Project’s backers come from around this great Pickle Planet. (And, yes, I believe I will use this phrase moving forward.) So, we have good cause to celebrate, giving rise to occasion for discussion of the wonderful tradition of toasting in Ukraine, a topic also discussed briefly in a previous post on infused vodkas. A centerpiece of any gathering, toasts are both formulaic and expressive, delivered in sequence, with high flourish and sentimentality. Although there is not consensus among my experiences or advisors as to the exact order of the toasts (this may reflect region, occasion and generation), a classic series is as follows.
First, a toast for health! на здоров'я! This phrase is used not only for drinking but also as a form of “you're welcome” when sitting down to a meal. According to a recent World Bank Health and Demography study on Ukraine, consistent with global trends, the country’s population is increasingly facing chronic disease, including obesity and hypertension. The rates of these diseases appear to vary both by region in Ukraine and socioeconomic background. This suggests that development, food system and diet patterns may vary dramatically across the country.

The second toast is for friends. Many of the posts that appear on the blog are inspired by experiences shared with friends, informed by consultation with friends or written by friends of the Pickle Project. We are grateful for the amazing network of friends and colleagues that contribute to this effort in one way or another! The Pickle Project is lucky to include among its friends students, members of the US Peace Corps community, Fulbright Scholars, restaurateurs, farmers, home cooks, archivists, museum directors, artists, sauerkraut enthusiasts and many more.
The third toast is always for love and women. For this toast, all men rise to their feet, glasses in hand, while another man extols the virtues of the female and/or romance. It is generally acknowledged, the more flowery and sentimental, the better. “Love is...” “A beautiful woman...” “My dear wife...” You get the idea. As Linda discussed in a recent post, most of the Pickle Project’s Kickstarter backers are women. And, gender is an interesting factor relative to food. Although it continues to be noted, as Charlotte Druckman did her winter 2010 Gastronomica article “Why are there no great women chefs?,” that the elite food world remains a male-dominated field, women are strongly connected to food cultivation, preparation and preservation, in both North America and Europe. We hope to dig deeper into issues of food and gender in future fieldwork and posts.

And, the fourth toast is for success. The Pickle Project’s Kickstarter triumph is a testament to resonance and importance of food, culture and sustainability in Ukraine and around the world. Linda has blogged observations, in two posts, about our experiences with Kickstarter and how it can be used to support creative projects at the Uncataloged Museum. A third post on Kickstarter lessons learned is forthcoming.
The final toast of the evening is typically given by the host, as the guests are preparing to depart. на коня or lietrally “on the horse,” is a friendly parting salutation, one last drink, as you ride away. I have heard that is both a Cossak and Hutsul tradition.

With that, we raise our glasses.. To health! To friendships, new and old! To loving what you do! And, to our success! We did it together! Будьмо!

Special thanks to Zhanna Tsemenko, Olga Collin, Irina Fursman and Nataliya Styamets for their thoughts on food and gratitude this week. And the images from top to bottom: a birthday toast, photo by Christi Anne Hofland; painting at the Museum of Modern Art, Kyiv; singing group in Opishne, and painting by Maria Primchenko,