- The New Ukrainian Cookbook by Annette Ogrodnik Corona
The classic Ukrainian cookbook written in English has long been Savella Stechishin’s Traditional Ukrainian Cookery, first published in 1957. This book was extremely popular and went through eighteen printings, selling 80,000 copies. But it has been out of print since 1995, and copies of it sell for over $265 (U.S.) on Amazon.com. I belong to a number of Ukrainian online discussion groups and the topic of a new cookbook that would replace Stechishin’s classic has come up again and again. I am happy to report that Ogrodnik Corona’s The New Ukrainian Cookbook is the book that people have long been waiting for.
The New Ukrainian Cookbook book, like Stechishin’s classic, presents more than recipes; it provides cultural information about Ukrainian foodways and about the use of food in custom and ritual. As Ogrodnik Corona tells us, her earliest and fondest memories are of her grandmother’s kitchen where food was part of an entire culture. The author tries to recreate her own experience by putting her numerous recipes in cultural context and giving us a sense of Ukrainian life.
The book begins with maps and information about Ukraine, its foodways, and the importance of food in Ukrainian culture. Next come the recipes. These are given roughly in the order in which they would be served during a fancy, multi-course meal: first, the appetizers, then, the soups and salads, then, the various components of a main course such as vegetables and grains, meat and fish, breads and pasta. The main course section is followed by one on eggs and omelettes. The book concludes with a section on desserts and various flavoured alcoholic beverages. Each chapter begins with a discussion of how a particular food category is served and consumed. We learn about the appearance of various dishes, typical accompaniments to them, the etiquette that goes with the presentation and consumption of the foods discussed. For example, we are given five different ways of serving kulesha, a Hutsul cornmeal mush. We are also told that horilka (vodka) should not be sipped, but downed in one gulp and followed immediately by some sort of salty or savoury zakuska—food which might also be an appetizer. In addition to the information on the various dishes themselves, there is general cultural information about such events as potato-digging parties, where villagers take turns helping each other bring in the potato crop and then are treated to a meal. We learn what kinds of flowers to bring on which occasion and we are told never to bring an even number of flowers as a hostess gift since even numbers of flowers are appropriate only for funerals. The rynok or farmer’s market, a wide-spread institution in Ukraine, is described. We learn about Crimean Tatars, ethnically different from Ukrainians but now citizens of Ukraine, and how their cuisine was adopted by the Ukrainian mainstream. Some Tatar foods have been accepted as is and others have been altered slightly, producing Tatar-Ukrainian fusion. The book tells us about fishing and hunting as Ukrainian pastimes. We learn how to make a proper Easter basket and how to prepare and present [End Page 377] a Christmas Eve Lenten meal. Each dish is given a descriptive name in English with its Ukrainian name in transliteration underneath. All in all, the book provides a treasure trove of information about Ukrainian foods, their preparation, and their ritual and customary uses.
The book presents its material well. The transliterations use a modified Library of Congress system. The background information is good. The author traveled to Ukraine and, although her observations describe the city more than the country, they do reflect contemporary life. This is one of the main differences between the book under review and Stechishin’s classic: The New Ukrainian Cookbook truly is new in the sense that it reflects Ukraine as it is today. I disagree with some of the depictions of ritual practices, such...