It is every man’s fantasy to get a glimpse of a young pioneer girl, in her high socks, bare knees, plaits and a tomato-red tie…
This was one of the first and perhaps most poignant remarks at the re-launch party of ‘USSR: from an original idea by Karl Marx’ By Russell Taylor and Marc Polonsky – a glorious ‘guide’ to the Soviet land, its idiosyncrasies and people, originally published in 1986.
Full of (light but knowing) references to Marx(ism) and the best of English understated irony, the book is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long run.
Managing to portray the full diversity of most clichéd Soviet experiences – the solemn doorman, the drinking of pure spirit, the hunting for ‘defecit’ – it captures the best and the worst of what life was in the big old USSR in the 80s. Unashamedly laughing at the idiocy of many realities, but with so much warmth that you are left with no doubt that, this is an insider’s joke, the one who understands and gives a damn.
I was only a young pioneer myself in those days, and so some aspects of Soviet existence described by Russell and Marc made (new) sense to me – as if eating a well familiar dish with a new topping..
The authors – who have now asked me and Karina (of Russia on a Plate) to cater for the party to re-launch the book – had studied Russian and later were organising real-live tours of the Soviet Union.
Now in well-respected jobs (Russell of the famous Alex Cartoon and Marc a lawyer), they wanted to celebrate the 25’th anniversary of the book by creating an ultimate Soviet party – with bottles of Sovetskoe shampanskoe, smell of herring and, of course, young pioneers.
Disclaimer: many of the photos are of lovably soviet quality. bear with us.
Our brief was – the weirder the better.
No prettiness or elegance. Russell and Mark wanted to invoke the memory of those boozy Soviet nights in the 80s. With six days to go and having practically no experience in either canapé creation or catering as such, we took on the challenge.
The venue would be Pushkin’s house in Bloomsbury square.
Proper, revolutionary spirit indeed. After all Karina and I are soon to extend my Russian Brunchclub into things bigger, better and more fabulous – curious? Stay on.
Here are I present our final menu – we had 75 people to feed on a gloomy Monday night. Bold colours and strong aromas were on order.
The ultimate (I say so myself) Soviet canape offering:
No Soviet table would be without boiled eggs, this is a communist version – slightly pickled, then ‘dyed’ in beetroot, creating a glorious pink hue. The recipe I originally took from NamiNami blog.
Mini buterbrody with home-pickled herring on rye
150 pieces of bread with 150 pieces of herring that I pickled myself at home. Yes 150. With embellishment of a star shaped out of cucumber.
Another must on a Soviet table – a terrifying smoked tinned sprats (usually Latvian). We served with (very English) pickled onion or a tart apple and a piece of rye bread.
Blinis with aubergine caviar
In truth these should be called oladushki(s?), but I’m yet to meet a Brit who knows the term.
I’m afraid I’ve no picture so am using the one somewhat similar from someone I know wouldn’t mind – one of my favourite bloggers KCMeecha.com
Tongue and relish
Katrina’s food cann’t be without some offal, can it?
Tongue cooked at home, chilled and cut into small circles. Served on rounds of toasted white bread and topped with (home-made) relish of cranberries and horseradish. A proud success.
Karina’s lovely recipe of a buttery, flaky pie with a filling inspired by borsch. Went like a storm.
And here is the piece de resistance….
Hammer and sickle cookies
I had an idea – AN idea – which took us jointly almost a week to accomplish. With no experience in cake decoration and few contacts we spent many hours looking for ways to put the ultimate Soviet symbol on a cookie. Karina did most of the work actually, not just baking over 90 cookies but also decorating them.
12 bottles of Sovetskoe shampanskoe, most authentically sickly sweet.
I also made home-flavoured pepper vodka, and dill and garlic vodka – which were a surprising hit of the night.
…I still have an image of one of our young pioneer waitresses sipping a shot of very cold garlic vodka, in one go, praising its smoothness.
Hmm, pioneer and vodka – where it all starts and ends.