Romanian traditions passed down from moms
Author highlights role of mothers as the nation’s ‘culinary bibles’
With layer upon layer of sponge cake and chocolate buttercream — seven to be exact — doboş tort is a walnut-crusted relic of the Austro-hungarian Empire.
Growing up in Romania, author Irina Georgescu made it her birthday cake of choice.
Her mother, Lucia — who worked in IT for the army — kept a cache of secret recipes in an old chocolate box. Doboş tort was among them, scrawled on the back of a receipt from a shoe repair shop.
It listed the method for the buttercream filling, then, “Make the layers for the cake.” No further explanation needed.
“She knew that they were standard — what we call genoise today. So she just said, ‘Layers for the cake,’ that was all. Many people did the same because during Communism we were reduced to a cookery book or two … and no ingredients. ‘Just keep it, read it and imagine it,’” says Georgescu, laughing.
With limited sanctioned cooking inspiration, she recalls, “a black market for recipes” sprung up to fill the void. Jotted down on napkins or scraps of paper, these surreptitious documents became culinary ephemera for future generations.
“People, through word of mouth, managed to keep some traditions alive,” Georgescu adds, “and some sort of regional cookery alive.”
In writing her debut book, Carpathia (Interlink Books, 2020), Georgescu made an effort to stay true to the way her mother cooked.
Drawing on memories of being at her side in the kitchen and at the market, she set out to represent the classics, traditional Romanian dishes with some adjustments reflecting how she cooks and eats today in the U.K. Mothers, she writes, are the “culinary bibles” of Romania. As a result, cooking is intensely individual and your own mother’s way of doing things is hard, if not impossible, to beat.
“We’re very much Italians from this point of view. It’s like, ‘No, my mom cooks the best recipe.’ Everything is very personal and that’s why our mothers are our bibles. We go to them all the time and say, ‘What should we do here?’ ‘How do you do it?’ ‘Oh Mom, I ruined this,’” says Georgescu. “When my mom was alive, I was able to show her on Skype, ‘Mom, look. I did this!’ It was quite something to connect like that.
“But when I was writing the book, she wasn’t there anymore. It’s very sad.”
Very few English-language cookbooks have focused on Romanian cuisine, but as Georgescu illustrates, it has much to offer the uninitiated.
“A culinary melting pot,” the Eastern European nation’s fascinating history is reflected in its cuisine. Centuries of invasions, occupations and cultural exchanges can still be seen on tables today.
In Romania, you’ll find dishes with roots in Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Slavic countries (such as Poland, Serbia and Ukraine) and Turkey.
“There’s a lot of common culinary heritage here, but it doesn’t mean that Romanians don’t use their own ingredients to create their own dishes. This is what I wanted to do (with Carpathia).” Recipes from Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu, published by Interlink Books.