Sunday, October 29, 2023

Slavic Kitchen Alchemy - Zuza Zak

I've missed writing here over the last 18 months - life has been busy, often stressful, and as I fast approach 50 there's the fun of peri menopause which is sometimes all I feel able to talk about but is also the last thing I want to talk about. 

Meanwhile, Christmas is coming, and the books are piling up so I'm thinking that a series of mini-reviews would be a good place to start, partly as homework as we gear up for peak season at work.

First up is Zuza Zak's really delightful Slavic Kitchen Alchemy. I was really delighted to be sent a copy of this and it's been a considerable solace in a difficult week. It's a fascinating mix of folklore, traditional remedies, recipes, stories, and for want of a better word a Slavic kitchen philosophy. It feels like a book I need in my life right now as well as being an intuitive next book for Zuza Zak to have written after her more traditional Polish cookbooks. 

The recipes aren't my primary interest right now - it's the fairy tales and folklore I've really been enjoying - although I think I might try the method for making beeswax furniture polish in the spring. Altogether it's a book that offers solid good company and distraction at a moment in time when my concentration is shot. I might be finding it hard to focus long enough to read an entire novel, but I can absolutely leaf through this and feel inspired by it in all sorts of ways. 

I think that's something a lot of us might be in want of this winter, and as this book is hard to classify - I'd put it with food and drink, but work classifies it as Spirituality which sort of makes sense, but it feels more practical than a lot of the Witchy books it would sit next to, and is this one appeals to me and those books don't my feeling is that it might miss it's market somewhat.

perfect for anyone who likes good food, folklore, traditional remedies, and has an interest in Slavic culture.


  1. Mini reviews are the way to go! As much as I cringe at the "Magical Recipes" portion of the title, this does sound really interesting. There's a fair amount of romanticizing about "mystical" Slavic people (aka peasants)'s not entirely a wrong stereotype (except for the peasant bit). There is still a LOT of superstition and folklore around, regardless of whether your grandmother was a crone who lived in a cottage in the middle of the forest or a lawyer in the city.

    1. There's a lot more beetroot than I personally find consistent with magic. Growing up on a small and treeless island I'm fascinated by folklore systems from forest regions. There's a few books around at the moment that fall between categories in an unhelpful way - this is one of them, but the actual book is charming - though definitely sentimental.

    2. Shhh, beets are the secret of our Slavic magic! As for forests, I read a book years ago that had a brief comment about different cultures viewing forests as either places of safety or places of danger. I wish I could remember where but it was related to folklore and fairytales somehow. I thought of that a lot recently when reading Martyn Rady's The Middle Kingdoms, a history of Central Europe. In it, he points out that no one really knows where the Slavic people came from - they just found them in the forest, no idea of if they'd been there for centuries or just arrived. And how in almost all times of crisis, the forest is where they take refuge. One of my great-uncles spent the last few months of WWII living with a resistance group in the forest to avoid transportation to a forced labour camp.