Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chatting and Chewing in Kyiv

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.

The Bulgakov Museum maintains an interesting blog and Linda has written more about the Bulgakov Museum at the Uncataloged Museum.


  1. Reading this made me really get why you wanted to do this project. What other topic could people from different cultures and languages discuss that would give us the opportunity to learn so much about our respective cultures? Wish I had been there. And then of course, there is the food...

  2. Thanks Barb--Sarah got the evening just right. It was such a warm, open, interesting evening, and just the right start to our tour. Food is a great topic--we all eat, after all! And almost as good as eating is talking about eating. Thanks for commenting!

  3. > The Bulgakov Museum maintains an interesting blog

    'po ruski', too! why am i not surprised...