The book Baba’s Kitchen: Ukrainian Soul Food with Stories from the Village is a half-century labour of love, written by Chilliwack author Reisa Mary Stone.
It’s a humorous memoir with authentic Ukrainian recipes recounted by the feisty Baba. But it’s so much more.
Baba’s Kitchen is steeped in a rich broth of stories Stone has collected all her life like mushrooms in the forest.
“I have kept these stories in my heart,” she says.
Ukrainian was her mom’s first language — and hers. She includes the Ukrainian version of her name, Raisa Marika Stohyn on the title page.
Stone was only about four when she first started reaching up to the kitchen table to cut out dough with her little drinking glass to make traditional verenekes or varenyky — the delicious dumplings some know as perogies.
In the years since then, Stone has travelled across Canada as a singer and a horse groom, training and grooming horses, and listened intently to the stories of her elders and seniors she met, including concentration camp survivors.
The Winnipeg-born storyteller says she’s not a celebrity chef and she doesn’t have a food TV show, but she can get the job done in the kitchen.
“I make most things by hand,” she says. “When I cook it really is a process. It is a spiritual process.”
In Baba’s Kitchen, Stone spins some wonderful tales in the voice of Baba, a no-nonsense grandma, a composite of some of the characters that peopled her world.
So who was real the inspiration behind Baba?
“She is the voice of all the European immigrants who enriched my life including both grandmothers.
“They told me stories, fed me and taught me about politics.
“I have a rich spiritual life because of them. My ancestors are with me and I have an obligation to tell their stories, to keep their voices alive.”
These are gritty folks for the most part who survived the Soviet and Nazi regimes, and chose Canada for a better life in the post Second World War phases.
So the stories are more than recipes. There are no glossy, drool-worthy photos. There are compelling folk remedies, legends and well-researched historical tidbits.
“Some of the actual recipes I learned from people who never used measuring cups. Handful of this, pinch of that.”
The character of Baba first jumped off the page when Stone was a member of writers’ group about six years ago. She started getting terrific feedback about the compelling nature of the uncompromising Baba.
Baba would have frowned upon modern-day seed patenting.
“I believe in our human right to grow our own food,” she says. As a girl, she remembers picking mushrooms and healing herbs from the forest.
Here’s a taste of how Baba introduces her recipe of Sauerkraut with Peas:
“Why is Ukrainian so big on dish from cabbage? We say, ‘If there are potato and cabbage, then house is not empty.’ Baba herself never seen house with only these thing. Usually is at least chair and television. But you never know. She wouldn’t doubt is some isolate American somewhere, carving couch from freakazoid big potato.
“In Baba next book, she going to teach you make your own sauerkraut. Since you is beginner, she going to let you buy from stupormarket in big jar.”
The book is available only online at ukrainiansoulfood.ca or through Amazon.
The author hopes to sell enough in electronic copies to one day soon print some hard copies of Baba’s Kitchen. But if self-publishing was the only way Baba’s voice was going to go global, that was just the way of it.
“I just wanted to get it out into the world.”
After two years making queries of publishers, she realized marketing it solely as a cookbook wasn’t going to work, because ultimately it is so much more, so she forged ahead with the ebook release in 2011.
So there’s no book tour planned for Baba’s Kitchen in Stone’s future quite yet, but get a taste as she tells funny, poignant stories and sings a few songs on Tuesday, March 13, 7 p.m. at the Chilliwack library. A discussion of Easter traditions is part of this rich presentation. ukrainiansoulfood.ca