Sunday, September 21, 2008

This is my entry for Novel Food. It is from War and Peace by Tolstoy. Natasha and her brother have been out hunting all day long and go to visit their Uncle where they are given a feast of simple but delicious food. Its one of those days that stays with you your whole life. I would like to present you with the whole feast but I settled for biscuits (her's were rye) apples and honey in a comb.

Inside, the house, with boarded, unplastered walls, was not very clean; there was nothing to show that the chief aim of the persons living in it was the removal of every spot, yet there were not signs of neglect. There was a smell of fresh apples in the entry, and the walls were hung with foxskins and wolfskins.

The uncle led his guests through the vestibule into a little hall with a folding-table and red chairs, then into a drawing-room with a round birchwood table and a sofa, and then into his study, with a ragged sofa, a threadbare carpet, and portraits of Suvorov, of his father and mother, and of himself in military uniform. The study smelt strongly of tobacco and dogs. In the study the uncle asked his guests to sit down and make themselves at home, and he left them. Rugay came in, his back still covered with mud, and lay on the sofa, cleaning himself with his tongue and his teeth. There was a corridor leading from the study, and in it they could see a screen with ragged curtains. Behind the screen they heard feminine laughter and whispering. Natasha, Nikolay, and Petya took off their wraps and sat down on the sofa. Petya leaned on his arm and fell asleep at once; Natasha and Nikolay sat without speaking. Their faces were burning; they were very hungry and very cheerful. They looked at one another—now that the hunt was over and they were indoors, Nikolay did not feel called upon to show his masculine superiority over his sister. Natasha winked at her brother; and they could neither of them restrain themselves long, and broke into a ringing laugh before they had time to invent a pretext for their mirth.

After a brief interval, the uncle came in wearing a Cossack coat, blue breeches, and little top-boots. And this very costume, at which Natasha had looked with surprise and amusement when the uncle wore it at Otradnoe, seemed to her now the right costume here, and in no way inferior to frock coats or ordinary jackets. The uncle, too, was in good spirits; far from feeling mortified at the laughter of the brother and sister (he was incapable of imagining that they could be laughing at his mode of life), he joined in their causeless mirth himself.

"Well, this young countess here—forward, quick march!—I have never seen her like!" he said, giving a long pipe to Rostov, while with a practised motion of three fingers he filled another—a short broken one—for himself.

"She's been in the saddle all day—something for a man to boast of—and she's just as fresh as if nothing had happened!"

Soon the door was opened obviously, from the sound, by a barefoot servant-girl, and a stout, red-cheeked, handsome woman of about forty, with a double chin and full red lips, walked in, with a big tray in her hands. With hospitable dignity and cordiality in her eyes and in every gesture, she looked round at the guests, and with a genial smile bowed to them respectfully.

In spite of her exceptional stoutness, which made her hold her head flung back, while her bosom and all her portly person was thrust forward, this woman (the uncle's housekeeper) stepped with extreme lightness. She went to the table, put the tray down, and deftly with her plump, white hands set the bottles and dishes on the table. When she had finished this task she went away, standing for a moment in the doorway with a smile on her face. "Here I am—I am she! Now do you understand the uncle?" her appearance had said to Rostov. Who could fail to understand? Not Nikolay only, but even Natasha understood the uncle now and the significance of his knitted brows, and the happy, complacent smile, which puckered his lips as Anisya Fyodorovna came in. On the tray there were liqueurs, herb-brandy, mushrooms, biscuits of rye flour made with buttermilk, honey in the comb, foaming mead made from honey, apples, nuts raw and nuts baked, and nuts preserved in honey. Then Anisya Fyodorovna brought in preserves made with honey and with sugar, and ham and a chicken that had just been roasted.

All these delicacies were of Anisya Fyodorovna's preparing, cooking or preserving. All seemed to smell and taste, as it were, of Anisya Fyodorovna. All seemed to recall her buxomness, cleanliness, whiteness, and cordial smile.

"A little of this, please, little countess," she kept saying, as she handed Natasha first one thing, then another. Natasha ate of everything, and it seemed to her that such buttermilk biscuits, such delicious preserves, such nuts in honey, such a chicken, she had never seen nor tasted anywhere. Anisya Fyodorovna withdrew. Rostov and the uncle, as they sipped cherry brandy after supper, talked of hunts past and to come, of Rugay and Ilagin's dogs. Natasha sat upright on the sofa, listening with sparkling eyes. She tried several times to waken Petya, and make him eat something, but he made incoherent replies, evidently in his sleep. Natasha felt so gay, so well content in these new surroundings, that her only fear was that the trap would come too soon for her. After a silence had chanced to fall upon them, as almost always happens when any one receives friends for the first time in his own house, the uncle said, in response to the thought in his guests' minds:

"Yes, so you see how I am finishing my days.… One dies—forward, quick march!—nothing is left. So why sin!"

Here's my recipe for biscuits. Its from Bill Neal's Biscuits, Spoonbread,
and Sweet Potato Pie.

Buttermilk biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
5 tablespoons chilled butter
1 cup buttermilk

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the butter
and work it all through the flour with your fingertips.
Add the buttermilk and stir vigorously until the dough forms
a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured
surface. Knead lightly for 10 strokes. Pat the dough
out to about 8x7x1/4 inch rectabgle. Cut into 2 inch
rounds. Place on a baking sheet and bake in an oven 500F
for 8 minutes until lightly browned.


Simona said...

Honey in a comb: what a sweet (in more ways than one) offering! Perfect with biscuits and apples. You made me want to read War and Peace again: I did it many years ago. Thank you so much for participating.

Lisa said...

Delicacies, indeed! Wonderful passage from the book. (I recently had honeycomb, at a local on-the-farm dinner, by the way; it was truly special.)

I never made it through War and Peace, but I read and loved Anna Karenina. The biscuits sound delish. Thanks very much for joining us for Novel Food! We so enjoy everyone's offerings. Hope to see you at a future event...

foodhoe said...

I have never read the book, but avidly read the entire passage on your post. It gave me the warm fuzzies and that meal sounded fantastic. An inspiring post with great ideas for a fall meal!