Copies of my two cookbooks are available from me (contact me through http://www.hazardchase.co.uk) at the cost of five pounds each, plus fifty pence postage for the two. In dollars or euros ten each plus one for postage. All the proceeds of these books, which contain ten recipes each and quite a lot of circumstantial chat about where I first found them, go to help make up bursaries for students at the Tallis Scholars Summer Schools. A third volume remains a possibility: the reason why it has not yet appeared is that much of 2003 was spent eating other people’s preparations, in restaurants on tour.
Here, to whet your appetite, is one of the recipes already published:
Russian salad I – The Herring under a Fur Coat
3 average herrings, filleted
3 onions, peeled and chopped into small cubes
4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced for boiling
1 large beetroot*, peeled and sliced for boiling
3 carrots, peeled and sliced for boiling
Mayonnaise (if possible home-made)
* (in America called ‘beet’, in Russia called ‘root’, in England called ‘beetroot’)
One of the more surprising, and exhilarating, jobs that I am asked to do from time to time is conduct a small chamber choir in Novosibirsk, Siberia. This group, entitled Markell’s Voices, was founded on the model of the Tallis Scholars by Igor Tjuvajev entirely on the evidence of pirated copies of our recordings. When I first went there, in 1999, I was greeted by about sixteen choir-members, many of them professional musicians if not professional singers, who had more or less learnt by heart the first two movements of Taverner’s Western Wind Mass, alongside a selection of English polyphonic motets, from our records. I quickly discovered that I had to keep strictly to what I had done on those recordings or they lost confidence, which in the case of the older discs was like requiring a painter to return to a style he had once used but from which he had matured. The last time I went, in February 2002, they had done the same with the whole of Victoria’s Requiem.
But this is to give the impression that they don’t really know what they are doing. On the contrary, the reason why I keep going back (for no money, and often in extreme weather) is that these Russians have quite exceptional voices and musical sensibilities, even if the style of renaissance polyphony is not native to them. The basses, for example, are everything one has heard about – able to sing bottom B flat in full voice (with access to notes lower than that) which leads to a seductive richness of sound throughout their range. At my first rehearsal we began with Victoria’s motet O quam gloriosum, which involves a controlled crescendo in block chords. When the basses came in I felt as if I were opening up the throttle on a Ferrari and moving into the fast lane. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my career, not least because the sound was perfectly in tune. Although some of these people make a living in the local opera chorus, they have the natural technique to sing as straight as anyone in the world when asked to do so.
Siberia is not known for its cuisine partly because of the uncertain supply of some basic ingredients. The double whammy of frozen ground for eight months of the year (though the Siberians too are experiencing global warming, so this may change) and shortage of money to import products throws them back on some very traditional staples. To my delight a couple in the group – a (female) alto and tenor, Olga and Andrei – took the trouble on my last visit to prepare some traditional specialities, which included buying bootleg sturgeon at the local market. All the sturgeon in the River Ob is supposed by law to swim down to the Caspian Sea where it will have grown big enough to yield Beluga caviar in serious quantities, which can then be sold at very serious prices to the West. The Russian economy seems to need this. However my friends also made more legal and communicable dishes, amongst which were two superb Russian salads. Here is one of them::
Boil the sliced potatoes, beetroot and carrots until they are soft – the beetroot will take the longest. Grill the herring for two minutes or so each side until it is cooked through. Allow all these to cool, then cut them, including the uncooked onions, into small cubes, leaving them in separate piles. In a bowl large enough to contain everything, make five layers, like a cake, separating each layer with mayonnaise and salt. The order of these layers should be: first and at the bottom, potato; then the herring; then the onions; then the beetroot; the carrot is the topping.