Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing

Anya von Bremzen. Crown, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-88681-1
Author of several international cookbooks, Moscow-born von Bremzen immigrated to U.S. shores with her mother in 1974. Here, she unlocks conflicted memories of her Soviet upbringing through reminiscences of certain dishes that became her very own “poisoned madeleines.” The period covered by the book begins with the fall of the czar in 1917 and ends with the triumphant return of the mother-and-daughter duo to “Putin’s mean petro-dollar capital” in 2011 in order to do their very own TV cooking show. Each decade is represented by foods that evoke emotional volumes: the fussy, decadent pre-Revolution aristocrat’s diet of burbot liver and viziga gave way to Lenin’s culinary austerity, exemplified by a spartan apple cake; the labor-intensive gefilte fish made by the author’s Jewish grandmother in Odessa was deemed unpatriotic and was replaced by utilitarian kotleti (Russian hamburgers); and food shortages and the rationing of the 1940s prompted “sham” foods for the starvation diet. The fluctuating political winds of the Soviet state were harnessed in successive editions of the totalitarian culinary bible, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food, where American and Jewish ingredients were unceremoniously deleted during the 1950s Cold War. Corn, caviar, mayonnaise, and vodka: for both von Bremzen and her mother, a teacher, these were the subjects of intense longing, as they endured living in a communal apartment with 18 other people and being abandoned by von Bremzen’s father, as well as regimented schooling and harassment as Jews. Recipes included. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/26/2013
Release date: 09/17/2013
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