Saturday, March 16, 2019

Salt and Time - Alissa Timoshkina

My drain issues may not yet be resolved but I'm trying to not let it get to me, it is after all a small problem to have compared to some of the things that are happening in the world. I really need to concentrate and finish some of the books I'm reading too - I seem to have slipped back into the bad habit of starting 4 different things at once and not finishing any of them.

I had Waterstones vouchers to spend (happy making in itself) when I bought Salt & Time last week. I think more than anything else it's the title that attracted me to this book, 'Salt & Time' conjures so many images and associations both from the kitchen and beyond, that it was irresistible.

Alissa Timoshkina is specifically from Siberia, and explains that like many Siberians that means a mixed heritage, in her case including Jewish Ukrainian and the Russian Far East with the unifying experience of living under the soviet regime.

It was a British Library exhibition that bought home to me the vast scale of Russia and the Soviet Union, or at least some approximation of it. I find the idea of Siberia as a melting pot of culinary traditions easier to comprehend (food influences from Ukraine, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Mongolia and Korea) even if Korea came as a surprise, because I did at least know something of the history of exile and resettlement - but does anything bring that into sharper focus than food?

Even if I can't taste the food (mostly because my cooking decisions are currently informed by how little washing up they will create) at least I can think about the flavours, and textures of Timoshkina's food. And also how it is specifically Timoshkina's food as well.

She notes in her introduction that she particularly wanted to celebrate Russian food outside of its conventional visual codes (no matryoshka shaped pepper grinders or colourful wooden spoons here) and that actually feels quite profound. This is food that honours a number of traditions and has a strong sense of place, but it's also food that has been adapted to suit a generation that has different resources and expectations. It's Russian heritage is central to everything, but much like Anja Dunk's 'Strudel, Noodles, and Dumplings' it's not totally bound by that heritage.

Something else that Timoshkina does that's interesting, because this dorsnt always happen, is include ingredients it's not going to be easy to source. I'm a little bit obsessed about finding some Bird Cherry  flour which it seems is very specific to Siberia (literally a flour ground from dried bird cherries, the flavour sounds incredible), unfortunately neither of the suggested suppliers seem currently able to oblige (is bird cherry flour a seasonal thing?) and despite a bit of searching online I haven't found anywhere else selling in the uk.

Once upon a time I'd have found that frustrating, but I've come to a point that I'd rather the recipe  was included even if I'm unlikely to ever be able to make it, because at least I can know about it, imagine it, and enjoy the thought of it. To leave it out because the ingredients are hard to find cuts of even the joy of imagining.

It's a lovely book, and when I have a properly working kitchen to get back to making food in I'll be back to say more about it.


  1. An interesting point about Bird Cherry flour; lots of Bird Cherry trees are grown in my area and, I suspect, all over the UK.

    I don't know how the flour would be milled since the cherry stones (miniscule) are poisonous to humans even though the flesh is edible but bitter.

    1. It seems to be very specific to Siberia, and sounds very hard to make. I hope I manage to find some one day because it sounds like an amazing ingredient. I wonder if it's possible to rub the dried flesh off of the stones? It's not something I fancy trying to make myself.