Baking Pampushky (Garlic Bread!) for Ukraine - No. 99
Food writer Olia Hercules’ daily social media dispatches describe a love of Ukraine and its people
During March I’ve focused on Ukraine and the fierce connection its people have to their land. Two weeks ago I shared a Ukrainian Poppy Seed Cake and the metaphor of the millions fleeing Ukraine as poppy seeds scattered in the wind. Today, I tell the story of a Ukrainian food writer who lives in London and share her garlic bread recipe. When I first followed Olia Hercules, her hometown of Kakhovka in southern Ukraine was threatened by Russian invasion. Now, it is Russian-occupied.
SADLY, THIS WAR IN UKRAINE has been our chance to learn more about people and places we never knew.
I have followed Olia Hercules, a Ukrainian food writer who lives in London, on social media since the war began. I regret I didn’t sooner.
Olia was born in Kakhovka, in Ukraine’s southern region, just two hours from the Crimean border. She moved to London to study Italian, and then Russian and English before she trained as a chef and worked at restaurants including Ottolenghi’s.
She is the author of Mamushka, a gorgeous blue-and-gold-covered cookbook full of luscious family photos and recipes that speak to what a cornucopia of color and flavor Ukraine food is. This looks like the food I’ve planned a vacation just to experience, with the myriad bowls and platters, copious sides, vibrancy, plenty of bread and wine, and all your friends and family at the table.
Olia says in the foreword that she wrote Mamushka to dispel myths that the food and scenery in Ukraine are dark and gray, which seems chilling at this moment as we see the images on TV. She also wrote two follow-up cookbooks, Kaukasis and Summer Kitchens. As of late, her writing is focused on social media platforms—Instagram and Twitter—where she speaks like a poet and patriot about her land and her people and why Ukrainians don’t give up.
“The soil is rich, the sun is Mediterranean, and everyone who lives there appreciates it and is connected to their land on a deep, cellular level.”
Daily posts from Olia are a hopeful kind of ritual
Just last week, Olia said on Instagram:
“Let me tell you a little bit about Ukraine’s south, specifically where I was born—the region of Kherson:
“It is the area of flat steppes—where the horizon seems so far and the sky so unbelievably vast. You can drive for ages without going through a city, sunflower fields turn into fields of wheat that turn into fields of corn that turn into fields of watermelons. Have you ever seen a field of watermelons? It’s an incredible, surreal sight.”
“Almost every household grows the biggest, juiciest tomatoes, mauve round aubergines (eggplant), flat peaches, prickly sweet cucumbers…A lot of the trees are planted at the front gardens of people’s houses, so when we walk the streets of my home town, our sandalled feet are covered in mulberry, cherry or apricot juice as the floor is covered in a cornucopia of colourful fruit.”
Ukraine and bread, the world’s staff of life
The war has affected the Ukrainian people, infrastructure, and its ability to produce wheat, corn, and sunflower oil. The U.N. World Food Programme has predicted 2022 will be the year of “catastrophic hunger” because no one in Ukraine is sowing wheat right now.
“Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s second biggest exporter of grains and biggest exporter of sunflower oil,” writes Heather Cox Richardson in her newsletter Letters from an American on Substack.
“It provided over half of the corn imports to the European Union, about a fifth of its soft wheat, and almost a quarter of its vegetable oil.”
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded with farmers to plant whatever crops they possibly can, but as Russians are killing farmers, supply chains breaking down, roads and bridges bombed, and ships can’t leave Black Sea ports, fear is that food prices across Europe will spike as a result.
“Look at these photos. This is what Putin really wants. To chip us off from Ukraine and turn us into yet another no man’s land, to be exploited and suppressed.
“But do they really think we will give up all this beauty, our sustenance, our families, our freedoms? They may have managed to dilute our language, but they will never break our ties to our land.”
Warm, yeasty garlic rolls and believing in the future
I kept flipping back to the Pampushky recipe—plump yeast rolls, crammed into a round pan, baked and drenched in garlicky oil full of chopped parsley. How can you resist a recipe called Pampushky? Olia says it is so-named because the word “Pampushka” in the singular form describes a “gorgeous plump woman,” and she likes the sound of it.
Olia is one for words. The word “Mamushka,” which I thought was an old Ukrainian or Russian endearment you gave your mother or favorite great aunt, in truth comes from a dance scene in The Addams Family Movie. Olia and her brother watched the movie and found it hilarious and renamed their mum “Mamushka.”
Sadly, Mamushka the book is out of print. Possibly for supply chain reasons or not expecting a war to break out in Ukraine and this Eastern European country to be on center stage? Surely the publishing world can get this 2015 book back into print.
The Book Larder bookstore in Seattle posted on Instagram recently they were receiving 100 copies of Mamushka and would donate the proceeds to UNICEF, to help protect the children of Ukraine. I rushed to buy two copies.
When the books arrived, the corners were bent like they’d been on a bit of a rough ride. There was an enclosed note of apology from the store saying they usually don’t sell damaged books, but in this case the monies were going to help the people of Ukraine, so they hoped I would understand.
I did. There is something about these banged up books that makes them even more endearing. I plan to give away one copy to a Between the Layers subscriber at the end of March, and the other, I am keeping on my kitchen shelf. When the images of the war get to be just too much, the pain, suffering, injustice, threat to freedom and democracy, well, at least I can pull down Mamushka and bake some bread to honor the people of Ukraine. And in eating what they eat, I am in solidarity with them, their country, and their cause.
I’ve come to realize that cookbooks written from kitchens a world away are a way of opening our hearts. I make this garlic bread and let it rise at the back of my stove. I eat it so hot from the pan it burns my tongue. I can’t stop this war and the devastation it is causing. But kneading and working this dough on the counter feels like a salve.
Olia posts today that her parents are cooking dinner. I was relieved to read they are still alive.
“I have been worried that my parents were slipping into depression as their answers via messenger started becoming too laconic. But today I spoke to them and they seemed better, and they said they were making borsch! In fact, they said they’ve been making borsch non-stop. Mum said there was something in their DNA that drove them to cook it and the dish in return made them feel stronger.”
She shares a photo of her mother’s tiny tomato plants and a comment that if you garden, you believe in the future.
Feeling a twinge of guilt, I head out to my garden to pull weeds and sow some bean seeds. Truthfully, I haven’t felt the desire to put in the summer garden ever since this war began.
But if Olia’s mother can do it, then I can pull myself away from social media and get my hands dirty.
To help the people of Ukraine:
Support the World Central Kitchen and their humanitarian efforts feeding the Ukrainian people. We’ve just a few days left in March, when my Ukraine writing will wrap up - I think…Many thanks to all of you who have become subscribers this month because your monies go to World Central Kitchen.
Art, too, is a casualty of war. Here is a beautiful piece from the Los Angeles Times about the stained glass in Lviv.
Want to share how you or your community are helping Ukraine?
Pampushky (Ukrainian Garlic Bread)
This lovely dough is easy to make and work with but allow time for an overnight rise. On the next morning you shape the dough into eight plump buns and wedge (seven around the edges and one in the center) them into a round cake pan and then let rise and bake and then bathe in oil—Olia uses sunflower oil, understandably. I used olive oil because I had it. Next time, I’ll use sunflower to be more authentic. It calls for loads of crushed (minced) garlic, a pinch of salt, and finely chopped parsley. With no willpower, I ate one right out of the pan, just after I shot the photo with my iPhone. My son ate one when he got home and then packaged up the rest for his friends. It’s that kind of bread. A cross between a dinner roll and soft and spongy focaccia, so make sandwiches out of these Pampushky or serve them with soup. If you have the Mamushka cookbook, you may notice I adjusted the amount of flour and changed to just the egg yolk for glazing so the rolls get more golden in color.
Makes 8 servings
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water (no hotter than 125 degrees F)
2 3/4 cups bread flour (345 grams), plus more flour for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, to glaze
3 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons crushed, pressed or minced garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
First make a sponge, which is a type of yeasty starter. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Add half of the flour and mix roughly. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to proof overnight.
The next morning, add the rest of the flour and the salt to the starter and blend with an electric mixer and paddle attachment until the dough is smooth and loses its stickiness, from 4 to 5 minutes.
With the help of a kitchen scale, divide the dough into 8 pieces and shape each into round buns by rolling them on the counter with the palms of your hands lightly oiled. Arrange them side by side in a lightly greased 9-inch cake pan. Cover with a light kitchen towel, and let them rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the dough with the beaten egg yolk to glaze it. Place in the oven, and bake until deeply golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.
While the bread is baking, stir the garlic and parsley into the oil. Add a pinch of salt, if desired. When the bread is done, immediately baste with the garlic oil. Serve warm.
This Thursday for Subscribers:
Let’s spring-clean the fridge, shall we? Recipes born from the bits and bobs of sauces and condiments that clutter our fridge and our life! Part One: The Best Barbecue Sauce. Becoming a paid subscriber is as easy as clicking a button…
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Have a good week. Go bake some garlic rolls! Mamushka!