Tory Historian's blog - Russian food and literature

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, October 04, 2011 ,

For various reasons to do with an article to be completed Tory Historian has been reading a fascinating book by Alison K. Smith, called Recipes for Russia, subtitled Food and Nationhood under the Tsars. It deals partly with attempts to discuss and reform agriculture in Russia in the nineteenth century and partly with the late development of cookery books from the end of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century, analyzing the links between agriculture or food and national identity.

Quoting others, Professor Smith describes the growth of Russian literature (also from the second half of the eighteenth century)
particularly the art of translating - became the source of a new image of the Russian nation as an imperializing and assimilating one. Incorporating foreign literary works into the Russian canon helped suggest the power of the Russian state, and its ability to borrow from abroad without losing its sense of self.
She then draws a parallel with writing about food:
Something rather similar developed on the tables of Russia's elite. By choosing to eat foods labeled [sic] Russian, even the westernized elite could still think of themselves as tied to the land. Or, alternatively, the persistence of Russian foods even among those whose dress, carriages, and even language had shifted enormously displays a raeal connection between Russians of different social estates. Whether mere fa├žade, the mixture of foreign and native foods struck many foreign visitors as deeply disturbing.
For Russian authors, though, she adds, this was a source of pride as native Russian and foreign influences were combined to create a Russian cuisine beyond the old-fashioned, rather crude Russian cooking.

Tory Historian has read many accounts of Russia by foreign travellers and the number of things that disturbed these people is very high. One cannot really go by that, any more than by the fact that almost every national cuisine consists of many "native" dishes and others that became "native" at various times. However, Russian pride in ability to "borrow" and incorporate is real enough, especially at times when there is yet another drive to build up some kind of an official national identity.


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