Darra Goldstein’s new Russian history book, “The Kingdom of Rye,” is a useful tool for understanding the country and its people. The author of this slender volume, a professor of Russian at Williams College, starts a millennium or so ago and goes almost to the present, describing the land, climate and rulers of the sprawling nation that often seems just a loaf away from famine. It has four chapters, no recipes but many literary references. Traditional staple foods, especially fermented, cultured, cured, salted, dried, soured and frozen items, are explained. Soaked oats produced a kind of oat milk “more than a thousand years before it became trendy in Brooklyn,” she writes. Russian salad, Russian table service with sequential courses that supplanted service à la française, and caviar, are of genuine Russian origin; vodka is not, though it was rapidly embraced. Even the Russian restaurateur Andrey Dellos, who briefly opened Brasserie Pushkin and Manon in New York, gets a shout-out.
“The Kingdom of Rye: A Brief History of Russian Food,” by Darra Goldstein (University of California Press, $24.95).