Monday, June 5, 2017

Our June/July Cook the Books Pick: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

Winner of three James Beard awards, a contributing editor at Travel + Leisure magazine and the author of five acclaimed cookbooks, Anya Von Bremzen grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen. Then, she and her mother fled Brezhnev-era Russia and arrived in Philadelphia. There, they missed the celebration of food that was taken for granted in America. 

"Mom and I both grew up within a triumphalist, scarlet-blazed fairy tale of socialist abundance and glorious harvests. Our experiences, though, featured no happy kitchens enveloped in an idyllic haze of vanilla, no kindly matriarchs setting golden holiday roasts on the table. Tea cakes rich in bourgeois butter? I do have such a memory ... It's of Mom reading Proust aloud in our Khrushchevian slum; me utterly bored by the Frenchman's sensory reveries but besotted with the idea of the real, edible cookie. What did it taste like, that exotic capitalist madeleine? I desperately wanted to know."

"It was my mother, my frequent coconspirator in the kitchen and my conduit to our past, who suggested the means to convey this epic disjunction, this unruly collision of collectivist myths and personal anti-myths. We would reconstruct every decade of Soviet history — from the prequel 1910s to the postscript present day — through the prism of food. Together, we'd embark on a yearlong journey unlike any other: eating and cooking our way through decade after decade of Soviet life, using her kitchen and dining room as a time machine and an incubator of memories. Memories of wartime rationing cards and grotesque shared kitchens in communal apartments. Of Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning and Stalin's table manners. Of Khrushchev's kitchen debates and Gorbachev's disastrous antialcohol policies. Of food as the focal point of our everyday lives, and — despite all the deprivations and shortages — of compulsive hospitality and poignant, improbable feasts.”

In Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing Von Bremzen tells a fascinating story of life and foods interspersed with historical references that come from within a composite, complex country going through monumental political and social changes in a relatively short period of time. 


Deadline: Monday July 31, 2017

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books, simply pick up a copy of the selections from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post an inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us in 2017. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.


Debra Eliotseats said...

I mistakenly ordered two of these books soon after you announced this would be up for July. I gave one to my sister for Christmas (b/c she went to the USSR when it was the USSR). She really enjoyed the book. I can't wait to sit down with it. Thanks, Simona!

Camilla Mann said...

I took it with me to jury duty today. One good thing about jury duty (and sitting there for 6 hours): I finished the book! And we're having Russian food for dinner. So, my post will be up soon. Thanks for picking this!

Claudia said...

Perfect timing Simona. I'm looking forward to another cooking memoir.

Simona Carini said...

Glad to read your sister enjoyed the book, Debra. I find the blending of personal and historical quite fascinating. I hope you'll enjoy it too.

So glad the book kept you company during jury duty, Camilla. I know how tedious all that waiting can be: a book is the perfect antidote :) Looking forward to read your post.

Thank you, Claudia!

Deb in Hawaii said...

I bought a copy on sale at my mecca Powell's Books when I was in Oregon last month. I'm excited to start reading it! ;-)

Simona Carini said...

Powell's Books is such a cool place! I had to give myself strict limits when I went inside. I hope you'll enjoy the book, Deb.

Simona Carini said...

I loved the book and even got von Bremzen's cookbook. Here's my contribution:

Debra Eliotseats said...

Simona---thanks for hosting. Mine is up tomorrow: ‎