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Book review: Rose Petal Jam- Recipes & stories from a summer in Poland

Book review: Rose Petal Jam- Recipes & stories from a summer in Poland
Rose Petal Jam- Recipes & stories from a summer in Poland
Beata Zartorska & Simon Target
Tabula Books
RRP £25
Rose Petal Jam is an aesthete's dream. From fold-out endpapers featuring colourful, folksy textiles, to the lace overprint on the front cover, the textures are so rich they almost render the experience three dimensional.
It's certainly multi-faceted in its subject matter, too. Husband and wife team Beata Zatorska and Simon Target have toured Poland both extensively and exhaustively to weave a tale of the enigmatic country's folklore, history, architecture, geography, and, of course food. The country's cuisine interweaves the other elements, drawn together seductively by a fascinatingly diverse selection of recipes.
'Rose Petal Jam' draws its title from Zatorska's childhood- indeed, parts of the book are devoted to the author's memoirs, surrounding growing up with her Grandmother in the Polish countryside. It's often wistful and nostalgic, yet uplifting to discover that many of the traditions persist with no danger of being lost or superceded by modern innovation.
Culinary landscapes of cities as diverse as Wroclaw, Gdansk and Krakow are painted richly with folkloric tales, psalms and poems. The reader is given insight into local festivals and customs, and led on tours of some of the country's grandest and most historic buildings. There are humorous touches, too- like the tale of the 'Infamous Tongue Twister'.
Zatorska's dual narrative- first as a native, with a child's perspective, latterly as a mature adult- and somewhat an outsider- makes for an almost dreamlike quality where memory and time collide and distort. The tone is often bittersweet, displaying that awful adult realisation that one's recollections are not always the way things truly were.
Food is woven throughout the book like the threads holding together a tapestry. Recipes are sometimes traditional, sometimes personal, and always intriguing- like 'Aunt Elizabeth's Honeycake', which keeps for months, or 'Jozefa's 'Daisy' Eggs'. There's the expected pickles, pierogis and poppyseeds, and much more to discover besides.
'Rose Petal Jam' is at once evocative, enightening and compelling. A true magnum opus, with scope for more to come. Sequels would certainly be most welcome. Zatorska describes a melancholy traditional Polish song entitled, 'You Will Come Back Here'. Experiencing the country via 'Rose Petal Jam', once imagines this as nothing but the truth.
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7 May 2011
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