Ro­ma­nian tra­di­tions passed down from moms

Au­thor high­lights role of mothers as the na­tion’s ‘culi­nary bibles’

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - LAURA BRE­HAUT

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.

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