I’ve never explored the foodie side of my personality here on Liquid Ink, but readers should know I love a good morsel and fancy myself a decent cook. You won’t get liver foam or liquified porcupine eyeball induced wildebeest spleen at my house. But you will certainly get something like homemade mushroom broth.
My sister-in-law and brother sent me a gift in the mail: Beata Nicholson’s Taste Lithuania. It’s a cook book of Lithuanian cuisine, a simplified and modernized version of a book like Didžioji Virėja, which attempted to be exhaustive (the tome has over 3,400 recipes), and had appeal only for those who speak Lithuanian.
I’ve yet to make a single of Nicholson’s suggested recipes—the book has been in my possession for only a few hours—and yet I feel my house is warmer for the book. I know many, perhaps most of the book’s dishes. Beata has included anecdotes and photos of real people from the Lithuanian countryside; the book feels one part family album, one part encyclopedia. A 500 word story of a Curonian fisherman’s daily routine, along with gorgeous photos of him coming out of a smokehouse with a spit of smoked fish, is steeped at once in centuries-old lore and works as a piece of contemporary ethnography. The recipe for fish soup will yield, I know, exactly the kind of tasty and filling žuvienė I’ve eaten in small family-run cafes in Nida.
What struck me was how intimately the photos of herbs and cutting boards and flax cloths and stacked wood affected me. I won’t get into the ethereal nature of identity—you can read about that in The Fugue—or the mysteries of how we feel drawn to an aesthetic that belonged to forebears we never met, living in cottages we’ve never seen. It seems to me that the straightforward idea in this book—food is made from scratch, using ingredients available in nearby rivers and forests, vegetables grown right in your own garden, prepared to be healthy, simple and hearty, best enjoyed in the company of loved ones, savored over many hours of conversation—should be a universal value. That it isn’t leaves me exhaling a humid, befuddled sigh.
At any rate, I’m endlessly grateful for the gift, and I wanted to share with others who may not have heard of this book. The foodie in your life will adore it. Click here for the Amazon page.