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Memoir Reveals True Taste of Soviet Life

Published: January 21, 2014 (Issue # 1793)



  • Borscht is just one of the many popular Russian meals mentioned in the book with a special recipe provided at the end.
    Photo: Juerg Vollmer / Wikimedia Commons

  • Von Bremen's cookbook-memoir.
    Photo: Random House

Soviet cooking? The adjective "Soviet" frequently brings to mind food lines, food monotony, and food deprivation but cooking does not readily come to mind.

Soviet homemakers who endured the lines, monotony, and deprivation did, of course, still want to cook, when and if they could. "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" recounts their efforts. It is not a cookbook, although it does contain a handful of recipes. Instead, it offers a multigenerational memoir in which the texture of daily life is rendered through memories of food present and food absent. The memories belong to the author, her mother, and her grandmother; the text thus spans virtually the entire Soviet era.

The book begins in the cramped Queens kitchen of the author's mother as they put the finishing touches on a pre-Soviet style feast. The menu is tzarist and opulent. There is, of course, the stereotypical caviar, as well as a cornucopia of home-cooked delights: kvass, lemon-infused vodka, crispy brains in brown butter, an opulent dessert containing a full pound of candied nuts and even piece de resistance a kulebiaka.

A Trip Down Soviet Culinary Lane

Just reading about making a kulebiaka made this cook tired. The dish requires a yeast-based pastry dough, wild mushrooms, fish, blinchiki, and perhaps if you can get one a sturgeon spine. It takes a long time and endless pots to make.

But by the time we get to the eating of the kulebiaka, we've detoured to its description in Tolstoy and Chekhov, relived the ersatz version that regularly constituted a Sunday treat in the author's Brezhnev-era Moscow childhood, and experienced the versions shared by White Russian emigres who befriended the author and her mother after their move to Philadelphia in 1974.

We have learned that the grandmother who is enthusiastically constructing pastry dough in Queens never baked from scratch during her Soviet years. And we know that her mother, an emancipated New Soviet woman, disdained any form of cookery: "Why should I bake," she said indignantly, "when I can be reading a book?"

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Sept. 24


AmChams Human Resources Committee meets this morning to discuss Labor Market Trends in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha. The meeting begins at 9 a.m.



Thursday, Sept. 25


Learn more about tax controls on prices at AmChams Taxation Committee Round Table Meeting this morning at 9 a.m. Vladimir I Golishevsky, Acting Head of the Transfer Pricing Department of the Federal Tax Service of Russia, will be in attendance to discuss amendments to the Russian Tax Code. Register in advance if you wish to attend by emailing all@spb.amcham.ru.


Today is the last day to check out Inventing Everyday Life. Part III: Street exhibition one of Manifestas parallel programs on at 36 Morisa Toreza Prospekt until 8 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 26


Feel yourself Spanish for a little bit at Spain Day, a celebration of all things Iberian this evening at the Derzhavin Mansion in the city center. Speak Spanish during the open classes, practice your footwork on the dance floor to the sounds of flamenco music or chow down on paella while learning more about the countrys culture.



Saturday, Sept. 27


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg welcomes Vityaz from the Moscow region this afternoon at 5 p.m. in a Western Conference showdown. Tickets are still available to the match and can be purchased on the teams website, at the arena or in their merchandise shop on Nevsky Prospekt.


Let Biblioteka restaurant on Nevsky Prospekt teach your children how to be proper gentlemen and ladies during Etiquette for Children, a class for children five to 11 years of age that promises to help them become the cream of society. The class starts at 5 p.m. and costs 600 rubles ($15.60). Call 322 2526 to reserve a spot for your child.



Sunday, Sept. 28


For something different, head to the African Pride Event being held by Nicks Walkabout Tours, who have also helped bring African tribal leaders for the celebration. Check Vkontakte for more information.



Monday, Sept. 29


Experience Baltic culture through the medium of drama during the Baltic House Theater Festival, which starts on Sept. 25 and continues through Oct. 13. Not only are some of the regions most famous dramatic works planned for production but the event acts as a creative laboratory for a future generation of dramatists. Check the events website for more details about the festival.



Tuesday, Sept. 30


Local neo-pagans invite all worshipers to the dedication of a new Heart Tree in Sosnovka Park, Gods Wood. 4 p.m.


The second MIFIC Expo begins today at Lenexpo, providing an interactive platform for industry experts and manufacturers. Accessories, surfaces and interior decoration materials are just some of the things that will be available for perusal at the expo, which runs through Oct. 2.



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