Real food and realistic expectations

Fried eggs with a garnish. Source: Anna Kharzeeva

Fried eggs with a garnish. Source: Anna Kharzeeva

According to The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food, Soviets were supposed to eat four substantial meals a day, but where were they supposed to find the ingredients?

I’ve been working my way through the great Soviet Book of Healthy and Tasty food for a month now and have gotten to know some of its main myths. It’s clear that propaganda was as strong in the fields of soups and stews as it was in art, labor and politics.

The main surprise so far has been the quantities of food a Soviet citizen was meant to procure and consume: starting with a protein-heavy breakfast of fried meat or fish with boiled eggs, bread, cheese and milk, tea or coffee. Then followed in just a few hours by a second breakfast consisting of a vegetable bake or sandwiches. Then after work was “lunch” or the main meal of the day: starters, soup and a main meal with fruit kompot or dessert.

After all that you’re supposed to have dinner, no sooner than 2-3 hours before bed, that should consist of prostokvasha (a kind of dairy drink like buttermilk), and omelet or a salad.

The Book also reminds housewives that a diet must be varied: “One must vary the menu. Meanwhile in households variety of meals isn’t paid attention to…  A housewife has the habit of making 10-12 meals…that get repeated throughout the year. As the result members of the family get monotonous food”.

Wow, this really is something. Russian, and especially Soviet food, has never known much variety (although there are plenty of options now), but this was mostly through the lack of availability of products, not through lack of desire to feed a family well. This paragraph from the book might as well have told a person with no legs to “start running already!”

My childhood memories of “getting monotonous food” are confirmed by my grandmother: “There was no food. What we ate was very much the same, no variety whatsoever. There wasn’t a cult of food, like there is now. Today I think of what I want to cook, then go to the shop and get the ingredients for it. Back in the Soviet times I went to the shop to try and find anything, and then cooked with whatever I found. There was never a fuss about food – you just cooked and ate what you could find, that’s it.” She added, “Don’t forget, the Stalin book was an ad for the happy Soviet life. Sure, some recipes were realistic, but a big part of the book is just for show.”

And what a show it is! The variety of recipes is truly endless. Time has worked in its favor, too. Now that you can get the ingredients, it can be ranked up there with some of the best cookbooks I’ve seen. Although, it could be more “user-friendly.” I can only assume the authors thought: “Why write it all out, if no one’s going to be able to make it anyway?” Well, they could have thought about me cooking my way through the book some 60 years later!

I did work out the fried egg recipe, it was pretty simple and quick and, I must say, absolutely delicious! I never thought to fry eggs right on top of tomatoes and fried dark bread, and what a fool I was for that.  Breakfast for dinner makes sense, too, when you have meat or fish for breakfast. Based on what my grandmother said, the book was very much fiction anyway, so the cyclical composition seems very appropriate.

Next month I will make another breakfast, lunch, dinner and will even attempt preserves. I will keep it more realistic using recipes that sound more familiar to me. I might even choose porridge for breakfast and fish for dinner.  I’m very excited to try the pumpkin pancake recipe I found in the book – I’ve become slightly obsessed with it!

 Fried eggs with a garnish

Click to enlarge the page

To make fried eggs with a garnish you need to first fry pieces of dark bread, lard, ham, sausages, salami, zucchini etc.. 

Then put eggs on top, salt and keep on the stove for 1-2 minutes and then bake for 3-4 minutes. As soon as the eggwhite is the color of milk, serve it on the frying pan or a warm plate. 

If you don't have an oven, the frying pan with eggs should be covered with a lid or plate.

 

Read more: The Kremlin diet: From Lenin to Gorbachev

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