I grew up hearing stories about my great-grandmother Anna (usually called Anita), from her daughter, my grandmother Sophia, and though I'm sure she told me things that were nice about her well-loved mother, I see to have imprinted on the harsh side of Anita. Grandma told me about how her mother used to punish her by making her kneel for hours on dried corn kernels (how medieval!) and how she used to take care of the ever-burgeoning kitten population around the house by drowning the poor babies in a bucket of water in the backyard. Then there was the embarrassment of having a mother who didn't speak English, who would traipse to the butcher store with my teenaged grandmother in tow, making her speak directly to the butcher and order the weirdest things, like pig's tails and ears. She always seemed like a strange and mean ancestor.
However, Anna had endured quite a bit of tragedy, and other stories of her zest for life unfold in the pages of this biography, so carefully researched by my mom over the course of several years. Mom unearthed fragments about Anna's life in Byelorussia, her long voyage to America, life with her husband and children in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and her talent for gardening, home remedies and cooking. I've filled in many more details about my great-grandmother and after reading my mom's book, I've come to love her, corn kernels and feline atrocities aside.
One thing that has made me feel closer to Anna is her love of gardening and cooking. She always had turnips, grapes, herbs, carrots and garlic in her garden and was adept at preserving the harvest by drying, canning, salting or fermenting them into sauerkraut or homemade wine. I love that my mom included eight of Anna's recipes (updated with measurements and enlivened with some delightful illustrations) at the end of the book, so that readers can try out some traditional Russian peasant fare.
Some blogger friends of mine are going to join me in reviewing Anna: Heart of a Peasant and we are all planning to try out some of Anna's or other Russian recipes. Look for reviews of this book by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, Heather of Girlichef, Claudia of Honey from Rock, Alicia from Foodycat and Simona of Briciole in the coming weeks, which I will roundup back here at The Crispy Cook next month.
I made up a big pot of Cabbage Soup the other day based on Anna's recipe. I tweaked it a bit to include what I had in the pantry, so this is an adaptation of this hearty vegetarian soup. My comments are in the parentheses).
Anna's Cabbage Soup
2-3 pounds of cabbage sliced into ½-inch strips (about 1 med head)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup of chopped carrots (only had 1 large carrot)
1 large onion, chopped
1 28-ounce can pureed tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
½ cup of brown sugar (left it out)
¼ cup of lemon juice (left it out)
1 bay leaf
pinch of black pepper
(I added 1 tsp. dill seeds)
Heat oil and sauté garlic in a large soup pot over medium fire until garlic is soft, about 2 minutes. Add onion and sauté until soft as well. Add 3 cups of water, carrots, tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, bay leaf and simmer for 10 minutes until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Take out the bay leaf and discard.
Mash the above mixture in a bowl until it is a coarsely blended. Return the sauce mixture to the pot, add lemon juice, cabbage strips, and 3 cups of water. Simmer until cabbage is cooked about 2 hours. (I like my cabbage crunchier, so I only cooked it for 45 minutes) Add more water to desired consistency. Add pepper (and dill seeds) and serve with a topping of sour cream. (And some brown bread!)
Makes 8-10 hearty servings.
If I have piqued your interest in this wonderful book, you can borrow a copy from your local library or buy a copy on Amazon or from my mother directly if you would like a signed copy (I'll send you the details if you leave a comment below). It truly is a wonderfully written account of an interesting life and one which I am very grateful has been elaborated for others to learn from and enjoy.
Thanks Mom, from the bottom of my own peasant heart.