I hadn't come across Ukrainian cooking until I set my eyes on the beautiful pages of Mamushka, the debut cookbook written with love by fellow food writer Olia Hercules. As it's often the case in the webscene, and in my exquisite experience so far, I first got in touch with her on a digital basis. Only the fact that we are in the same tentacles, meaning that we share the same, beloved publisher, Octopus (curious about my love at first sight book deal story? It's thoroughly explained here), somehow makes me instantly look at her like family already (sharing being the most essential element of our foodie community). To start with, I had a glimpse of Olia's style and tone as she was explaining for Periscope - a live video straming app - the use of her authenticly rustic kitchen paraphernalia while cuddling up on the pasteled cushions softly placed around her London dining table. In those brief moments, I observed how delicately she caressed a crystallized candied edible flower, and as I contemplated her care and dedication in that glimpse of a second, that was it: ever since I fell under her food spell.
From then on, I literally counted the days until her book publication date, sharing her excitement and trepidation for a moment so incredibly electrifying, a moment that I will also have the honour of going through as of next May :)!
And then it came, wrapped in a shipping cardboard case, one of those I like to tear apart with the tips of my fingers, so much I'm keen to put them on the cover and flip through the freshly scented pages with childish amazement. I hid with a chuffed hand the grin on my face as I happily discovered Olia's lovely handwritten inscription.
The book's flash blue cover is reminiscent of those kitchen tiles that immediately bring you to your senses, giving you the desire to get your hands buttered and splattered as you test the recipes away with a timeless sense of gratification.
The first taste felt like a homecoming - Olia's fuss-free apple sponge cake- , as much as the first touch did.
Yet, I've never been to Ukraine (still!) nor have I had until now any specific cultural contact with that side of the map. Nonetheless, Olia vigorously takes you into the immaculate blond wheatfields typical of her native country. She explains the foraging, the markets, the ever so willing faces, the revived old recipes distributed within her family that she personally went and got hold of on a sweaty hot Ukrainian summer, with the most beautiful and crunchy tomatoes ever.
Her green borsch is an explosion of beetrooty flavours, her stuffed cabbage leaves a declaration of lust for life. Even though I'm in the very intense and calories consuming process of writing my own book, I couldn't resist but testing some of Olia's recipes.
Her work is a propagation of pristine intentions, unchained flavours, atypically delightful combinations...and hope. Knowing that there's always another side to the coin and the best is yet to come.
Come and meet us in London: With Olia, I'll be holding an event about Food and Social Media in London at Cookbook Confidential Festival later this summer at Southbank Centre. Come around and join us on Saturday September 5th. Places are limited, so you can book yours online now by clicking on the link here.
With love and borscht,
Photo credits @ Olia Hercules