International Cuisine in Soviet Estonia

Salme Masso, widow, homemaker, mother, teacher and home economist published  over 30 books throughout her career. Most Estonians either in Estonia or abroad own at least one of her cookbooks. Masso’s first book entitled Kodu korrashoid (Home Maintenance) was published in 1935. Her writing career was then put on hold with the start of the Second World War and the sudden death of her husband in 1948. She moved to Tallinn to continue her education in home economics and began a career as a teacher .

The late 1950s, referred to as the Khrushchev Thaw renewed interest in home economics, which had since the start of the war been repressed. Women’s magazines began publishing articles on home management and cooking, many of which Masso was commissioned to write. Her writing career had been revived. She went on to publish over 30 cookbooks and household management guides, many of which were used in schools.

For a home economist whose writing career fell into a period of great repression, censorship and scarcity, it is interesting to look at what she was allowed to publish. The post-war Estonian diet was relatively uneventful. Private restaurants had been banned and all cafeterias and eateries were nationally owed. All recipes and cookbook content had to be approved in Moscow. Often these recipes would either leave out significant ingredients or include ingredients that were difficult to come by, rendering a cookbook more a work of fiction than a practical guide.

Salme Masso’s 1975 cookbook Rahvaste toite (People’s Food) explores recipes from around the world, covering international cuisine from countries such as Japan, Canada and Australia. The author states in the foreward that the recipes have been “revised to suit Estonia’s palate.”

For example, the recipe for Röstitud kala või liha or teriyaki as Masso translates, asks the following ingredients for the marinade:

4 tbs. unspecified flavouring, soy sauce perhaps

4 tbs. dessert wine

4 tbs. dry white wine

optional 1 clove of garlic

The wide selection of recipes in the American and Canadian chapters are an interesting look into a certain period of North American culinary history. In the American food chapter, while the introduction discusses the popularity of hamburgers, a recipe is not included. Instead the chapter contains recipes for:

Cheese sandwiches with oranges or Hawaiian sandwiches

Summertime Melon Bowl

California Slaw (cabbage, orange, mayonnaise, walnuts)

Cabbage Salad with boiled dressing

Marinated Fish ( white vinegar, pepper, chili pepper, onion)

Chicken Chowder

“Fat Fish Soup” or Cioppino

Creole Fish

Godfish Cakes

Tomato Sauce (to be served with meat, fish and eggs)

White Sauce (Béchamel)

Aztec Baked Beans

Beet Baskets

Hopping John

Deep-fried Cheese Balls

Eggs on Noodle Casserole

Porcupine (Baked Apples)

Banana Steaks (Fried Bananas)

Spiced Apples

Pennsylvania Cracker Pudding

Milk and Honey Baked Custard

Poppy Seed Cake

Bride’s Cake

Masso refers to a bibliography for further reading and perhaps the sources for the some or all of the recipes in the book. The American bibliography includes:

America’s Cook Book. New York, 1937.

Consumers All. the Yearbook of Agriculture. Washington. 1965.

Food. The Yearbook of Agriculture. Washington, 1959.

Herman, B. and Z. Taylor. A Time for Cooking. USA. 1963

Hughes, O. Introductory Foods. New York, 1962.

Krause, M.V. Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy. Philadelphia, 1963.

Proft, S. The Master Chef’s Outdoor Grill Cookbook. Chicago, 1960.

Stevenson, G. and C. Miller. Foods and Nutrition. New York, 1960.

Vail, G.E. Foods. Boston, 1967.

The American bibliography is probably the most extensive of the sources with Canadian cookbooks, mostly French Canadian following closely behind.

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2 thoughts on “International Cuisine in Soviet Estonia

  1. Oh, I love the book! I used to read it as a kid and dream about all those impossibly fascinating places behind the Iron Curtain that I am never able to visit! (How little did we know how our world is about to change!)

    The book is, of course, outdated and a victim to the scarcity of culinary sources during the Soviet time. However, a great starting point for further research back then and even now. One of my very favourite cake recipes – and one the most popular recipes on my food blog, is the Canadian apple cake: http://nami-nami.blogspot.com/2005/11/non-canadian-apple-cake.html

    I used to serve it to my Canadian friends in Scotland and while they all adored the cake, they didn’t recognise it as Canadian in any sense. Perhaps when I’d cover it with maple sugar, it’d be more Canadian? 🙂

    • Hi Pille,
      When I was writing this post, I did a quick Google of the title of this book. Of the hits that came up, many spoke of this Canadian Apple Cake. Out of curiosity I tried it out myself and it makes one fine apple cake, Canadian or not.

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