Bittersweet memories from the past: I was not a very healthy kid and spent most of my childhood on a very strict diet. What was a boy, who was allowed to eat only boiled or steamed food dreaming about? About “normal” food of course. I was drawing my first food illustrations, inventing recipes and reading famous “The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food” – staple cooking book of the Soviet Union, published in 1952. Since then, I have felt a special connection to old cookbooks, as by reading them you can understand cultural background of the country where they were published. Do I need to say that I was very excited to discover “Cooking for the healthy and the sick” (original title: Varíme zdravým a chorým) by Imrich Sečanský, first published in 1957? So what was Slovak cuisine about 60 years ago?
Let’s start with the menu (the book suggests menu for each day of the week for 12 months and it’s interesting to see how dishes are changing with the season).
For example, what was on the menu for April Friday, Saturday and Sunday?
Friday: lunch – green borscht (without beetroot), sweet yeast dough buns filled with cottage cheese; dinner – fried fish with potato salad.
Saturday: lunch – giblets soup, veal with cauliflower and macaroni pasta; dinner – goose giblets with rice, cucumber.
Sunday: lunch – kohlrabi soup, roasted goose, knedľa (bread dumpling made from dried white bread, milk and egg yolks), stewed cabbage, cocoa cake; dinner: goose meat served cold, bread, tea.
All of these dishes are still being served more or less often (OK, I’ve never tried kohlrabi soup in Slovakia, but it doesn’t mean that no one cooks it), only the goose giblets with rice sound a little bit exotic.
Anyway, there are more than a few really surprising dishes in the book. First, the yeast based dishes. I am tempted to try it, but is it really a good idea to fry yeast? The book states that the typical yeasty flavour will disappear and yeast will smell like a fried meat – wow! Aside from the soup, author also provides recipe for a yeast spread…
Then dishes from meat by-products come: fried veal brain, pork heart stewed in wine, goose blood, soups from lungs, kidneys or brain. Some by-products can be still bought in supermarkets (like hearts, tongues, livers and duck stomachs), but I have never seen brains or kidneys on sale. These are rather dishes and food from butchers festivals.
Next thing that surprised me was the fact, that the variety of products used in the books is much smaller than the choice offered by modern stores. I mean, it’s obvious that during last 60 years a lot of things happened that gave us great food diversity, but it’s strange to realize, that a little bit more than half a century ago we didn’t know products that are usual now. I didn’t find any information or recipes with rice noodles, tofu and hummus. Pineapple was described as an “exotic fruit from Hawaii that is sold canned”, kiwi and lime are not even mentioned. It’s also interesting that classical Slovak Codfish mayonnaise salad is not included.
Being a foreigner, it’s interesting to read a vintage book and find products that are still almost unknown in the region, where I was raised: I’ve already written that I’ve tried asparagus for the first time in Bratislava last year and I haven’t tried fresh artichokes yet (I would like to, but I’ve only saw them at a supermarket once). Both these crops are described in the book and even the recipe for asparagus soup is provided.
The unique find inspired me for my new challenge – to cook the most “creepy” recipes from this book: yeast soup and spread will be on the menu and I’ll try to find veal brain to cook it too 🙂