But in 1987, that’s exactly what Goldstein did. After spending time in the Soviet Union, she fell in love with the people who managed to “turned scraps into food” and shared with her generously, no matter they ability to spare it or not. This led to her landmark work, A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality. Detente was in the air, but the book still made quite a stir. I remember sitting in a bookstore in Chicago where I was going to college and flipping through the pages. Flavored vodka. Sardine butter. French classics. It was insight into a seemingly unknowable world.
Back in the states, she turned to academia but led a double life as a food writer. In 2001, she co-founded Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture to officially marry her love of research and food. She headed the publication until 2012, the same year the James Beard Foundation named it publication of the year. Gastronomica explores food’s cultural and historical impact. “Recipes reveal so much more than ingredients — they reflect history, culture, and global migrations. Most important, they’re delicious to eat and even better when shared,” she says.
In our conversation, we wandered around numerous subjects, from how a nice Jewish girl like her ended up as a Russian scholar, crazy experiences while editing Gastronomica to to her lifelong love affair with Scandinavia. The latter was the subject of her most recent book, Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking.
For this discussion, I made an apple and juniper soup from the book, in part because it reminded me of a soup similar to one my grandmother made for me once when I was a little girl. She said it was something her own mother – who hailed born from Sweden – would make when her stomach was upset. I never forgot that soup but also never ran across a recipe for it, until I found it in Fire and Ice.
Here’s a bit more from her official bio:
Darra is the Willcox B. and Harriet M. Adsit Professor of Russian, Emerita at Williams College. She serves as Series Editor of California Studies in Food and Culture (University of California Press) and has consulted for the Council of Europe as part of an international group exploring ways in which food can be used to promote tolerance and diversity. She was the national spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka when it was first introduced to the US. Darra did her undergraduate work at Vassar College and holds a PhD from Stanford University.
She currently serves on the Kitchen Cabinet of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and on the Advisory Board of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.
Buy Darra’s books
The woman is prolific; these aren’t even all of her books!
A Taste of Russia
Fire and Ice
The Georgian Feast
The Winter Vegetarian
The Gastronomica Reader
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets
Soup photo by Kathleen Flinn. This page contains affiliate links.
Apple Soup with Juniper
- 1 tablespoon juniper berries
- 4 cardamom pods
- 3 allspice berries
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 8 sprigs parsley
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled and cored
- 2 celery stalks chopped
- 2 shallots chopped
- 1 piece of gingerroot peeled
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup apple cider
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Combine the juniper, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, parsley and thyme in a clean coffee filter or a piece of cheesecloth. Tie it tight with string.
- Chop the apples, celery and shallots. Peel the brown skin of the ginger root off with a spoon and chop finely. Warm oil over low heat in a soup pot. Cook until the apples and celery soften, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock, cider and the bundle of spices. Cover and bring to a light boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 40 minutes.
- Remove cover and toss the spice bundle. Puree using an immersible blender or a traditional blender, working in batches if needed. (If using a traditional blender, remove the round lid handle and cover the hole with a dish towel; this will keep the hot soup from creating a vacuum; it will be impossible to remove the top otherwise.) Finish by pouring the soup through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Stir and push on the solids with a spoon to enhance the flavor. Just before serving, reheat gently over low heat, adding salt and pepper as needed.