The every day Soviet life was far from luxurious, however, the government had its ways of making people believe that life was good and constantly getting better. An interesting means of achieving it was a notable culinary book published in the USSR – The Book On Tasty and Healthy Foods. This book, a few inches thick, turned out to be more than a collection of recipes – it is considered to be an encyclopaedia of the Soviet epoch, an insight into the ordinary life of the Soviets.
Originally it was created as a way to deliver information on the culture of dining, the values of home cooked meals and good eating habits. Written by prominent chefs and dieticians of the time, the book was approved by the minister of health and then by Stalin himself (the first edition dating 1939). Everything that went into it was carefully chosen and selected. Apart from the recipes, it contained information on how to plan a weekly menu for a family, what is healthy eating, how to serve the tables nicely, as well as basic principles of food handling and kitchen hygiene.
Nowadays this style of cuisine would be called fusion, as it contained recipes from all over the Union: borscht was followed by lamb pilaf with the Soviet style black forest gateau for the dessert. Usually the recipes were simple and would not demand fancy ingredients or time/labour investments. The food shortages were still on and the book could only stretch as far. A few easy meat recipes, a sauce or two, simple salads – surprisingly, “meat and three veggies” recipes were universal across the globe.
The images in the book were not considered to be an advertising material – they were merely a way to form the demand for the foods produced by the food factories – as everything, it was planned in the Soviet economy.
Interestingly, in some later edition, fish was a recommended dietary element at least once a week – that was dictated by the shortages of meat: the protein levels had to stay up in order to keep the nation nourished and thus maintain the medical costs at bay.
Cooking was not considered to be art or indulgence; rather, it had a technological focus — typical for the Soviet era of industrialisation. Here a very important point was made about who would do the cooking: the traditional, western-style family, where the man is the breadwinner and the woman is the pretty homemaker would go against the Soviet ideology, in which women were equal partners and comrades. Therefore the image of a wife was being shifted from a stove towards the factory production line, and a husband would eat something simple, something cooked for the entire family in the weekend, for instance.
Noteworthy, until the 1980s, the book contained no actual photographs — only drawings. However, it does not justify the sad-looking foods pictured in it. Some of it looks just inedible.
Desserts are always nice, though. Timeless, too.
Because restaurants were scarce and the whole concept of dining out was simply non-existent, dinner parties played a very important part in every person’s life. Labour Day on the May, 1st; Victory Day on May, 9th; November 7th (the Revolution Day) and New Year’s Eve were to be celebrated in style and in abundance — regardless of the food supplies.
Such dinners required a lot of leg work as hunting for the necessary ingredients was required and queuing for as long as hours was unavoidable. However, the outcomes were remembered for long and treasured with all hearts. Family time together, what could be nicer, really.