When searching for a cookbook, one does not usually find an accompaniment of survival stories along with the recipes. Raisa Stone, author of Baba’s Kitchen: Ukrainian Soul Food, offers just that. With humour and anecdotes laced throughout the recipes, Stone sheds light on survivors of the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
As a child growing up in Winnipeg, Stone started collecting stories on her baba’s knee as well as from her family, friends and neighbours who were European immigrants and refugees. She also developed an affinity for writing at an early age. Her family hailed from Ukraine and her father experienced the terrors of both Stalin and Hitler. In order to cope, many of these survivors turned to humour.
“Ukrainians can make a joke,” says Stone. “Horror and humour are the dark and light of the same thing.”
In the early 2000’s Stone became a professional storyteller and started collecting Ukrainian legends and rewriting them to perform as monologues. Stone became a professional singer in her teens and as she performed, the voice of Baba, the quintessential Ukrainian grandmother emerged.
“Baba talks like every Ukrainian I grew up with. I found that when I was on stage, parts of these stories came out in songs,” says Stone.
Many of her fans have also praised her for nailing the voice of Baba.
Baba’s Kitchen is a humourous lifelong compilation of true survival stories with a side of authentic Ukrainian recipes and a helping of history. In addition, Stone has also included a chapter on folk remedies with cures for ailments such as baldness.
In Baba’s no-nonsense grandmother voice, Stone offered a quick performance of one of the stories in her book. She recounts the outrageous tale of how one woman murdered her abusive husband who had diabetes. The story is shocking at first but is also balanced with humour to make light of the situation while emphasizing the lengths one must go to in order to survive.
The art of cooking
As an avid cook herself, Stone incorporates some fusion into her recipes by introducing substitutes from other cultures. For example, Ukrainian cheese patties are similar to East Indian paneer, and Stone uses these similarities to teach readers shortcuts in cooking.
When asked how she defines Ukrainian soul food, Stone cites a Ukrainian proverb: “without art, there is no life.” This proverb implies that one should delight in creating pleasurable things and happiness. Stone says that cooking is about expressing the soul, which is the same as when she sings, dances, or tells stories.
“Cooking is a creative expression, it feeds other people and it’s important that it satisfies on many levels, like good art,” explains Stone.
Furthermore, Stone emphasizes that cooking is how she shows love to people and that they are welcome.
The recipes in her book are classified by ingredient, with many recipes for eggs, cabbage rolls and mushrooms, to name a few.
“I encourage people to buy locally, organically and from humanely raised animals,” says Stone who is also a professional animal communicator and healer.
Stone says that fans have thanked her for bringing the atrocities faced by many to light in a light-hearted way. Additionally, she has enriched their knowledge of Ukrainian history, thanks to her extensive research.
“I get letters from all over the world saying this is how my family talked and it’s so wonderful that I was talking about the history while making fun of the Nazis and Soviets,” says Stone.
To give the public a taste of Baba and her anecdotes, Stone will be doing a book reading and book signing as well as answering questions and discussing current events in Ukraine. The event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library on Sept. 9 and Sept. 11 at the Central Library and Mount Pleasant Branch, respectively. For more information, please visit www.vpl.ca/calendar/index.php/calendar/progid/47515.
Baba’s Kitchen: Ukrainian Soul Food is available on Amazon and through Stone’s website www.ukrainiansoulfood.ca.