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Book review: Summer Kitchens by Olia Hercules

02 July 2020 by

Olia Hercules' third book, Summer Kitchens, focuses on the Ukrainian tradition of families decamping to small outbuildings to cook away from their main homes in the summer months.

This tradition has dwindled with the emergence of air conditioning and extractor fans, but the book explores the dishes that resulted from it, which vary depending on geography, whether due to the local climates impacting the available ingredients or wider factors. As well as influences from Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, Hercules notes Ukraine is also peppered with Bulgarian and Molovan-style villages, German and Swedish settlements in the south, and some of the biggest Jewish hubs in Europe, the heritage of which still resonates in local dishes.

Hercules was born in Ukraine, lived in Cyprus, and moved to the UK to study English, Italian and Russian, before retraining as a chef at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. She worked as a chef de partie in restaurants including Ottolenghi, and as a recipe developer, before landing a book deal for Mamushka, her first cookbook.

As well as chapters on breakfasts and bites; broths and soups; vegetables; meat and fish; and cakes, desserts and pastries; a large section is devoted to fermenting, pickling and preserving – a natural focus for summer kitchens, which are often positioned near a fruit plot or vegetable patch. The bread, pasta and dumplings chapter also has alternatives to sourdough for those who have enjoyed lockdown breadmaking.

It's not just about dumplings and cabbage of course, but I did love the sound of the dumplings filled with beans and potatoes, while the poppyseed cake with elderflower and strawberries would be a perfect summer crowd-pleaser.

Summer Kitchens is a welcome and well-timed cookbook following a period where many have perhaps discovered a love of gardening and realised the importance of minimising waste after the precarious nature of our own food system was exposed early on in the pandemic.

Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine, by Olia Hercules (Bloomsbury, £26)

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