It looks like lock down might be extended in Leicester, but not Leicestershire, which is not happy news from my point of view. Most of my dearest are outside the city limits, and last night I was sorely tempted to pack a suitcase and flee. Calmer reflection convinced me that I'm probably better off at home albeit alone. Suggestions that English visitors might have to quarantine for two weeks if they go to Scotland was even less encouraging. At this point I'd rather hear some hard no's instead of all the vague maybes that keep getting my hopes up.
Lock down at home does have it's upsides though, and one of them has been a run of really good cookbooks, the latest of which for me is Olia Hercules' 'Summer Kitchens'. This is another book I've looked forward to for a while, and which like Gill Meller's 'Root Stem Leaf Flower' has immediately far surpassed my expectations.
It's a collection of 'recipes and reminiscences' from every corner of Ukraine. I could stand to learn a lot more about Ukraine (I've actually looked at a map this evening, something which always makes me feel old, it's changed a lot since I sat in a classroom with a map on the wall*). The recipes look great and there's probably actually more of them that I'll use from this book than from either 'Mamushka' or 'Kaukasis', the photography is wonderful too. It really celebrates the people, food, and places the book talks about and is perfect for a bit of arm chair travelling.
It's the reminiscences part of the book that makes it really special though. Every recipe comes with context, and there are essays on a number of subjects - a discussion of traditional Ukrainian ovens (pich) including some of the superstitions around them has been a particular favourite so far, but I've got more to read. There's even a section of recollections that people had sent to Hercules which caught me unawares. I ended up so over emotional that I had to go and make a cup of tea and then a honey cake to get a grip on myself again. It's not a sad section, but an equally beautiful and generous addition to a book that is already both those things in spades.
The cake was 'Lyuba's honey and berry teacake'. I made it because I was seeing my mother and sister so a big slab of cake felt justified and it is wonderful. It uses lard instead of butter which is something I'm not yet used to baking with, and tastes even better in the couple of days after baking. It's not a sweet cake but the honey makes it rich enough to be filling, and it is indeed very good with an aromatic or herbal tea. I might share the recipe here sometime, but for now I'd say instead to buy this book.
Whilst life is still carrying on at a slower pace it's full of things you might want to eat, and it's a joy to read too. That's a great combination at any time, but I particularly appreciate it right now. It's not every cookery writer who gets better from book to book (though there are plenty who do) but Hercules is doing just that. There's a confidence and style about this one which I'm find particularly beguiling and reminds me of everything I love about Claudia Roden's writing. It really is a wonderful book.
*Our primary school was old enough to have a map with a good quarter of the world still shaded in red still hanging around, also outside toilets when I first started - which were freezing in winter, and spidery all year round. The old map was a curiosity in a sort of store room behind where we had art lessons, not one we were taught from.