December 15 in Russian history. Elena Molokhovets.


On 15 December 1918 Elena Molokhovets (née Burman) was buried in St.Petersburg. It is not known when she died, only one record was found in a cemetery registration book. 1918 was not a good year to die.

The name of Molokhovets, long forgotten, is now very popular. She wrote a number of books (including such immortal bullshit like "Monarchy, Nationalism and Orthodoxy" (1910) or "The Voice of The Russian Woman on National, Spiritual, Religious and Moral Revival of Russia" (1906)), but only one of them survived for more almost 150 years. It is a cookbook A Gift to Young Housewives or a Mean to Decrease Expenses in Household. When the name of Molokhovets began its comeback in the early 1990s, the period of economic hardships in Russia, most of us knew just one quotation from this book: "If guests payed an unexpected visit to your home, and you have nothing to dine them, send a man to the cellar to fetch a hind quarter, a pound of butter and a dozen of eggs..." Ironically, this phrase is not found in the book, but it conveys the spirit quite well. The book is a monument to the years when hind quarters were stored in the cellars (not all of them, of course) and the butter was bought in pounds (if you had some money left after you had bought bread). When Yevgeny Zamyatin, the author of the famous dystopia We, left Soviet Russia, he wrote: "The two most popular authors among Russian émigrés are Molokhovets in the first place, and Pushkin in the second." On 20 May 1911, the Birzheviye Vedomosti newspaper wrote: "Tomorrow, on 21 May, it will be exactly 50 years since the first edition of the well known to everyone book, A gift to young housewives, compiled by E.M.Molokhovets. The first edition was issued on 21 May 1861 and was published since then in 26 editions, 10 to 15 thousand copies each, in total number of 300,000 copies, and it seems that there's not a single family in Russia who do not have a copy of the book."

In the foreword, Elena explained that the goal of the book was to teach young ladies the tricks and subtleties of housekeeping. To avoid possible misunderstandings, Elena pedantically indicates exact amount of ingredients, unlike authors of other cookbooks of that period. She teaches, lectures and almost moralizes on the art of housekeeping. A literary almanac joked in 1884 that "Molokhovets is convinced that cooking on fire is her invention, and that without her guidance people will be unable to put the spoon in their mouth. Every dish not cooked in accordance with her book is forged for her, and everyone who does not follow her lessons is her personal foe".

In one of her other books, a housekeeping encyclopedia called To the Russian People, she gives such invaluable recipes like: "If your palms sweat often, take two frogs in your hands and hold them till they die." Or "during the birth pangs, the best cure is a prayer". The Russian Society for the Public Health Care was enraged: "We cannot decide what is more objectionable: the impermissible ignorance of M-me.Molokhovets or her impudence".

Her family life was sorrowful. Her husband died. Her youngest son was sent to mental hospital. Of her ten children only two outlived her. But she died in the age of 87. What happened to her between 1917 and her death, we do not know. Probably, she starved. If 1918 was not a good year to die, it was not a good year to keep living, either.

Her books are still available in bookstores (even in English). There's a restaurant in St.Pete named Mechta Molokhovets (Molokhovets' Dream) and NY Times' readers say it's one of the best restaurants in the city.

Wikipedia article about A Gift to Young Housewives:

A Gift to Young Housewives (Подарок молодым хозяйкам) is a Russian cookbook written by Elena Ivanovna Molokhovets (Елена Ивановна Молоховец). It was the most successful book of its kind in 19th- and early 20th-century Russia.[1] Molokhovets revised the book continually between 1861 and 1917, a period of time falling between the emancipation of the serfs and the Communist Revolution. The book was well known in Russian households during publication and for decades afterwards.[2]

The original series went through 20 editions and sold 295,000 copies. The book gave instructions for elaborate dishes like suckling pig, Madeira cake, and hazel grouse. Other recipes included soups, fritters, tortes, mushrooms, aspics, mousses, and dumplings. There were also instructions on making jam, mustard, and vodka. Although the number of recipes varied by edition, there were as many as 3,218 in the 1897 edition.[3]

In addition to recipes, the book covered cooking techniques, utensils and cooking equipment, stoves and ovens, household management, relations with servants, menus for feast days, and nutrition; it also gave time- and money-saving hints.[3]

During the Soviet era, the book, written for the middle class and aristocrats, was condemned as "bourgeois and decadent", mainly because of its aristocratic tone and obvious disparagement of the lower classes. The book, for instance, says that "fresh roach is not very tasty and barely useful; it is, therefore, best used to feed the servants."[4] Also, it was mostly outdated for the 20th century, as for obvious reasons it didn't cover usage of modern kitchen equipment: refrigerators, electric and gas ovens, etc.

In the post-war USSR, a time when people dealt with food shortages, long lines, and a scarcity of the necessary ingredients, cookbooks were mostly seen as a laughable anachronism.[3] For example, one recipe for babka called for ingredients such as 60 to 70 eggs, which few people could afford at that time. But as life was getting better the need for cookbooks and complex recipes was arising. In 1952 "The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food" was published to replace outdated "Gift" as an everyday cookbook.

Joyce Toomre adapted and translated recipes and other content from the various editions into a 1992 book published as Classic Russian Cooking: Elena Molokhovets' a Gift to Young Housewives.

Now, I need to go and fetch something from the cellar... Sorry. Bye for now.


Randal Oulton said...

Hello, you have disregard the terms of usage of Practically Edible in quoting the entirely of our article on Elena Molokhovets. The Terms of Usage are stated on our site:


"Not-for-profit use / Blog Use
Reprint permission is generally granted for not-for-profit use in print or in electronic format provided the following conditions are met:

(a) The quantity being reproduced is a reasonable one. If the article being cited is a long one, in our view a reasonable quantity constitutes one or two paras which are germane to the topic being discussed, with a link directing your readers where they can view the rest of the article. We will not view an entire long article as a reasonable amount for you to reproduce without our permission."

Please reduce the amount you are quoting to just one or two paragraphs at the most.

Many thanks.

Dmitri Minaev said...

I'm really sorry. Fixed :).

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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