I’ve been cleaning out my room in the ancestral home, sorting through old clothes and bad books, school reports and chemistry notes, rock collections and hardware odds and ends to determine what’s worth storing and what can make the trip to the great green Goodwill in the sky. In the process, I’ve realized that I’ve made quite the habit of collecting old cookbooks – complete with yellowed pages, ripped binding, and strange drawings.
And yet, I love to think of all the hands that have held a cookbook before it gets to me. I love the way old recipes reflect the culture in which they were written as much as the taste of the times. Since I’d just been to St. Petersburg, I paused during my cleaning frenzy before the spine of a book covered with torn paper, Cooking the Russian Way by Musia Soper and straight out of 1961. The book opened stiffly, its browned pages smelling like a dusty library.
Inside, I found the kinds of hearty meals to see you through a cold Russian winter, where rich broths, sour cream, potatoes, cream sauces, butter, and fried onions abounded. These aren’t the kinds of recipes that are featured in your newest food magazine, but the basics handed down from mother to daughter for generations. They’re written for housewives who already know how to cook and who are feeding a family of four. The ingredient list rarely tops ten items and more often runs something like that in this recipe for “Potatoes Stuffed with Meat”: Potatoes, tomatoes, butter, egg, minced meat, sour cream, flour, chopped dill, salt, and pepper.
The book is filled with fascinating recipes, like that for “Moscow Rassolink,” a salted cucumber soup made with ox kidneys, sorrel, soup vegetables, and sour cream. Or “Egg And Wine Sauce” made with eggs, white wine, lemon juice, and castor sugar. » Continue reading this post…