Catherine Cheremeteff Jones, A Year of Russian Feasts (Jellyroll Press, 2002)

Combing rich contemporary history, delightful antidotes and delicious recipes, A Year of Russian Feasts gives a rare insider's look into a Russia unknown to many Westerners. Author Catherine Jones reveals what she defines as the "real" Russia through her own personal experiences while living there with her parents in the early 1990's. The recent fall of communism allowed Jones to visit the homes of her new Russian friends, which, fortunately for us, produced a cookbook filled with tradition and culture very few outsiders have seen.

From "Spring and the Russian Bliny Festival" to "Autumn and Mushroom Hunting," each chapter is a short vignette detailing a Russian gathering and the delicious traditional foods that accompany it. While so many regional cookbooks focus on the area's finest restaurants and most accomplished chefs, Jones accounts first-hand gatherings in private homes among close family and friends. From a birthday party to a baptism to a vegetarian dinner in a communal apartment, Jones presents the simple, honest food of the everyday Russian people.

Jones' revealing narratives serve as a perfect introduction to the recipes. Just one example: kulich, a traditional bread baked only once a year, is a symbol of the Russian Easter. The baking of the bread is such a serious undertaking that Jones met one woman who keeps a journal, passed through generations, detailing her kulich baking each year. "The journal, a yellowing notebook stained by buttered fingers" includes "the date the kulichi were baked and the date of the Easter that year, how many she baked, and a summary of her baking results."

Other hearty dishes like "Little Meat-Filled Russian Pies" and "Kasha with Mushrooms, Leeks and Walnuts" prove there is more to Russian cooking than Chicken Kiev and Beef Stroganoff. And with a list of accessible ingredients and clear instructions, it's easy to bring a little bit of Russia into your own home.

[Stacy Troubh]