In our conversations in Ukraine, we've discovered that most Ukrainian cooks don't use recipes when cooking traditional Ukrainian dishes. Some now go to the Internet to try new things--Chinese or Italian, for instance, but most home cooks learned at the kitchen table with their mother or grandmother.
So imagine my surprise when my friend Gwen Spicer gave me a Ukrainian cookbook, called, simply, Ukrainian Cuisine, published in 1975 in English, in the Soviet Union (in Kyiv) that features all sorts of recipes and as well, provides a picture of a particular time and place, as presented in a form that perhaps doesn't always represent reality (just think about how few of our American meals actually resemble those in cookbooks or magazines).
In the introduction, the authors (H.I. Georgievsky, M.E. Melman, E.A. Shadura, and A. S. Shemjakinsky) write,
The consumer can now buy a wider variety of nutritious foodstuffs. Farming and the food industry supplies the market with greater quantities of better and more wholesome food than ever before. Canned products and processed foods help the housewife reduce the time needed to cook tasty family meals.
The cookbook, like all instruction books, is prescriptive. "To cook tasty meals you must follow the recipe and keep to the cooking time indicated." And referencing Pavlov, they advise that "to arouse the appetite and ensure that meals are thoroughly enjoyed, the important thing is eating at regular hours," to establish a proper reflex and healthy appetite. They recommend simple foods, without frills, quoting the Ukrainian folk proverb, "Eat simply and you'll live to a hundred."
But what are the recipes? Borscht gets its own chapter, with 24 different variations. I'm particularly intrigued by the regional variations. There is are recipes for borscht from Poltava, from Kiev, from Volyn, from Chernihiv, Galicia, Lvov, and Crimea as well as Krivy Rog cold borscht. There are recipes for varenyky with liver and salt pork; heart and lungs; cottage cheese; potato, potato and mushrooms; beans and mushrooms; and of course sweet varenyky with cherries, plums, or poppy seeds.
The home canning chapter is extensive. Detailed recipes provide information on pickling cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplants, spiced greens watermelons, beets, cabbage and more. You can learn how to marinate mushrooms, "Place the mushrooms in rows caps down or pierce with wooden matches which are then inserted into a special staff. Another way to dry mushrooms is to string them up on thread or thin cord and hang them up to dry."
There's lots of cooking hints including:
- Cook pearl-barley before adding it to the soups if you want to avoid that blueish tinge.
- It is easier to clean slipper fish if you coat your fingers with salt.
- Corn on the cob should be boiled without removing the husk and silk. Salt just before it is done.
- To stop milk from brimming over, rub the edge of the saucepan with butter
And some tips for setting and serving Continental style.
- Bread, cut neatly in accurate slices weighing 50-100 grams is placed on the table, on a plate or special bread basket.
- Soft caviar is served in caviar bowls wtih ice in the metal bottom.
- Soft boiled eggs are served in special egg cups.
- A special knife is used for Dutch cheese.
- Main course dishes are set on the table in oval or round bowls.
The book is a fascinating combination of familiar and unfamiliar recipes with these sort of aspirational instructions. I look forward to trying the recipes and to learning more about what role these type of books might have had for post-World War II cooks in Ukraine.
Note: The lovely illustrations are by O.I. Miklovda and the book was published by Technika Publishers, vul. Pushkina 28, Kyiv.