The CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine arrived recently on my desk. I don’t even know why I reserved it, maybe it was the cover – a rather insipid looking aspic creation with a very strong retro feel, or just the idea that Soviet Cuisine, (which, let’s face it, is not top of foodies’ wishlists) had its own cook book.
I was not disappointed. The book contains over 60 recipes, most of which I wouldn’t want to recreate. For example, Mimosa Salad calls for a tin of fish that you lay at the bottom of your dish, spread with mayonnaise, then a layer of chopped onion, spread with mayonnaise, cooked egg whites – and you guessed it, spread with mayonnaise followed by grated carrot, egg yolk and – mayonnaise. You can also layer in grated apple, or cheese and butter!
Thankfully the beauty of this book is not the recipes; it is the story of communism and how the population managed sporadic food supplies by using every ounce of ingenuity they could muster. The illustrations are taken directly from Soviet cookbooks and they are stunningly unappetising, but also wonderfully retro in their design. Alongside the subsistence recipes are the extravagant banquets reserved for the political elite, featuring a tonne of aspic, the occasional suckling pig, pickles and other delicacies.
Each recipe has a story reflecting the turbulence and uncertainty of the times, creating a book that is not just a history of food but is the history of an era. Ironically, Soviet-style canteens in Russia are now selling traditional Soviet-era food to queues of young Russian hipsters. I wonder when the craze will take on here?