Peach soup: The taste of escape from big cities, cold weather and the Soviet diet

Peach soup. Source: Anna Kharzeeva

Peach soup. Source: Anna Kharzeeva

Anna Kharzeeva
Exotic fresh fruits were rare in the Soviet Union, which ironically may be why they factor so heavily in the Book’s illustrations.

This piece is part of the Soviet Diet Cookbook, a blog about a modern Russian girl cooking Soviet food. To read more of the series, click here.

 

Walking past the numerous fruit and vegetable stalls of Tbilisi, I couldn’t resist the urge to make something with the beautiful local peaches. The recipe I found in the Book is called “peach soup” – odd but possibly good, I thought.

I always had a thing for peaches growing up. I just loved how sweet and juicy they tasted, and was always excited to have a good one — at a beach at the Black sea or occasionally even in Moscow. I remember dreaming of going on a diet made up entirely of fruit.

I wasn’t unique in my obsession with fruit. Fruit still has a bit of a mystique about it for Russians. It’s associated with luxury, good life, summertime and exotic destinations. When travelling, Russians are always keen to try new fruit. No wonder the pages of the Book are illustrated with vases filled with grapes, pears, peaches and apples; they were meant to say “see, life is great, everyone’s rich — we’ve got fruit in abundance on the table!”

An Australian friend once asked me: “why do people always bring fruit when they visit someone at a hospital? Why is fruit such a big deal?” Discovering that this was a strange concept to an Australian made me realize for the first time that Russians do indeed have a slight (huge) fruit obsession.

 When I was a teenage and, naturally, on a mission to spend as much of my mother’s hard-earned cash as possible, she would convert the price of some clothing item I considered a good deal into its banana equivalent: “You know you could get 3 kilos of bananas with this money!” she would say. When my mom was growing up, bananas were rear and expensive, and the words “basket of fruit” sounded like “pile of gold” to her.

Granny remembers reading an interesting story about bananas in the memoirs of people who lived through the Russian revolution. There were quite a few orphans after the revolution, and some of the children in orphanages were old enough to remember life in the pre-revolutionary times. Among the things they remembered were bananas, which the younger kids had never heard of, as there weren’t any in the Soviet Union. The younger kids therefore thought that the stories about bananas were a lie and subsequently started referring to any lie as a “banana.”

I asked Granny when bananas made it back to the USSR – she couldn’t quite recall, but said “late.” Unlike those pre-revolutionary kids, she and her generation never really developed a taste for the exotic fruit. When Granny came to visit me in Tbilisi, she was mostly on the lookout for dried fruit – the more practical version that serves as a replacement for fresh fruit in the winter. We live in a cold climate, after all. I wonder if Granny’s lack of concern with exotic fruit is just part of her generation’s acceptance of their reality. Is it possible that, for people younger than her, peaches and bananas give the illusion of going to a warm place, where there is no metro, snow or Soviet diet – even just for a couple of minutes?

The peach soup, which tasted fine, but still seems like an odd idea, might be able to do just that —although the fresh fruit on its own would do a better job. After all, when you have ripe peaches, why put off the deliciousness by boiling them with sour cream?

 

Peach Soup

The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 119

Ingredients:

400 grams peaches; ½ cup sugar; 1 Tbsp starch; ½ cup cooked rice; 4 Tbsp sour cream or cream

Choose ripe peaches and wash them. Put in a saucepan with six cups of water.

Canned peaches can be used in place of fresh ones. When fruit is boiled, mash well. Into the mashed fruit, add sugar and some cold water until soup reaches the right consistency.

Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Add rice and sour cream or cream. Mix well.

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