Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mamushka - Olia Hercules

I wonder if there's a word, maybe a long German one, for the specific pleasure of finding a new cookbook that particularly inspires you? Doing so is certainly something that makes me extremely happy for, oh so many reasons. 

One of them is covered by this quote from the introduction "...when the conflict in Ukraine erupted, prompting me into frantically documenting the recipes that I was so scared I might suddenly lose. This is the stuff of my childhood, a life that I want to share with you in order to dispel myths about my home country and its surrounding areas, and to give the messy geo-political mosaic a human face." The book does successfully do this, food and the sharing of recipes does this. What, after all, could be more human or inviting, how better to conjure up the spirit of a place than through food and ingredients? 

Whenever, if ever, I've thought about Ukraine beyond it being a name in the news or a place on the map the image conjured has been something grimly soviet (such as you might expect from a child of the 70's bought up with Cold War propaganda about how grim the Eastern block was). It looks like the truth is infinitely more colourful. 

I've had this book for about 3 weeks now, during which time I've been thoroughly enjoying browsing through it, what I haven't yet done is cook from it. I know - poor organisation, but by this time next week I'll be away on holiday and I really can't contain my enthusiasm for another month or so until I get to properly experiment. One of the postponed pleasures will be sourcing a few appropriate ingredients from whatever Polish or international supermarkets prove most accommodating in my immediate vicinity (they're generally pretty good so I'm optimistic about horseradish leaves, the right kind of pickled gherkins, kefir, smetana and so on). 

After that there's a list of things to try but the thing I take a real joy in is beginning to understand the flavours that both define a place and tie it to its neighbours. I'm curious about the pickles; under explored in my kitchen, surprised by all the noodles which I would never have associated with this part of the world. Delighted by the recipes culled from soviet era cookbooks (nutty noodle meringues - who knew?) and charmed by the provenance of recipes with memories of childhood and family life attached. It's a world of food that's intriguingly new to me but one that feels appropriate for the multi cultural city I live in, I'm really looking forward to playing with this book. 

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