Still Life with Chocolate Kissel and Squash with a side of Ankovsky Pie

I am honored with the opportunity to review this new cookbook, Leo Tolstoy: A Vegetarian’s Tale, by S. Pavlenko. As a woman with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction and a food blogger, I was told I was contacted because I was considered a “literary foodie.” Highest praise. This cookbook necessarily targets similar “literary foodies” as it is a review of a diary kept by Sophia Tolstoy (wife of Tolstoy) in the 19th century. She maniacially collected recipes from relatives and family friends. Her younger brother stole her diary and published the thing as the “Cookery Book” in 1874 as a gift (prank?). There were over 160 recipes in her version, and this book by S. Pavlenko reproduces 30 of the finest. Most of the originals were entirely imprecise, so Pavlenko, et al, tried to approximate something the average recipe-follower might decode. The biggest surprise to me in all of this is that Tolstoy went totally vegetarian in his 50s. That isn’t to say he started eating healthy…lots of sugar and heavy cream in this book… in fact, my favorite part of Sophia’s diary is the part where she expresses concern over how much Tolstoy likes to indulge himself, “Today at lunch I was watching him eating and was terrified by how much he had: first came pickled milk mushrooms…followed by four big buckwheat toasts with soup, all with sour kvass and brown bread. There was quite a great deal of everything!” All this to say, just being vegetarian doesn’t imply a healthy or balanced diet.


Whoa, whoa, whoa is this a thick brew! Watch that cornstarch, unless you like your cocoa thick as mud. I doubt he could have written War and Peace while drinking this due to sugar coma.


Chocolate Kissel

Adapted from Pavlenko’s Tolstoy: A Vegetarian’s Tale

1.5 oz dark chocolate or ¼ cup cocoa powder (I used Equal Exchange due to my particular love and loyalties)

2 cups milk

¼ cup sugar

½ TB cornstarch

¼ tsp vanilla

Pinch of cinnamon

Melt the chocolate bar in a double boiler, if you’re using a bar. If powder, dissolve in several tablespoons of cold milk until a paste forms. Watch out for clumping!

In a saucepan, stir the milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon together. Bring to a boil and pour in the chocolate mixture. Dissolve the cornstarch in water and slowly add to the milk. Reduce the heat and stir until thickened. Don’t let it boil a second time.

You can find the book for purchase here. From this book, I also attempted my first Ankovsky Pie.

Ankovsky Pie

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