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E is for Eating Cold War Style Behind the Iron Curtain #AtoZ Challenge

Coming at you all April long, my A to Z Blog Challenge theme is “Historical Treasure”

Image from The Winnipeg Jewish Review

Borscht Image from The Winnipeg Jewish Review

Who doesn’t like the occasional food blog? Living overseas, I’ve gotten to indulge in so many good eats that I ran a foodie series in February. Irene was the inspiration for one of those posts. We got to talking once, and I have no idea how it came up, but she told me her doctor said she had the bone density of a woman half her age. What was her secret? Nettles. She practically had to live on them for a while.

Remember in Forest Gump when they start talking about the many dishes you can make with shrimp? Well, nettles aren’t exactly the same, but when she talks of them it reminds me of that movie. There is nettle tea, nettle soup, nettle mash and so on. If you could make it with nettles, Irene and her mother did. If you’re interested, check out that food post here.

When opportunities came in post-war Germany to eat other foods, you can bet Irene hopped to. These everyday details of life behind the Iron Curtain populate her writing. How many times did her family members risk their lives for the simple things–like a big of bread? Irene’s story isn’t her own, it is the story of so many others. Here’s a slice of it from the summer of 1945, shortly after the war ended and Irene’s family discovered they would be in the Russian sector. [Edited for length]

Since we were so hungry, we said among ourselves, “Russia is closer. They can bring in supplies much faster than the Americans. The Russian zone will do all right.” We had been told for years that Russian farmers had fertile land and worked as hard as the German farmers….No one told us then that the Russians were starving. They were not able to feed themselves. They did not send us food, rather they took what little we had.

Stalin with Soviet Flag

Stalin with Soviet Flag

When Stalin heard that so many people in Germany wanted democracy instead of communism he said, “What, they don’t want to be communists?” He laughed, “We’ll starve them and they will come crawling to us!”

….There were some who had food enough, mainly the farmers and the Russians who came to govern us. The Russians assigned to our village stayed in a villa up in the woods. A large red star on their roof was lit by spotlights during the night. They had their own parties, drinking vodka in large amounts, and playing their music as loud as possible.

….One night, after curfew, Nadja and I slipped through the darkness up to the Russian villa. We were very hungry and thought this might be a place to get some food. We stayed int he shadows of a picket fence and some bushes where the searchlights would not fall on us. Our hunger was greater than our fear of what the consequences would be if we were caught.

Several soldiers were cooking in a large pot out in the open. We could smell the meat. “Borscht” Nadja whispered. When they dumped a lot of vegetables into the pot my stomach cramped with hunger.

….[Later] We heard the men fighting over one of the [abducted] women. It must have been another hour before we were sure the men were sound asleep.

“Now!” Nadja whispered as she climbed out of the bushes and over the fence into the garden. I followed. Slowly, quietly, we crept toward the house. The kettle outside still had some warm borscht in it.

We poured it into a pitcher we had brought, then crept into their kitchen. We took some pieces of commisbread. I saw a box I could carry and took it, not daring to risk the noise of opening it.

A man cursed and we knew a soldier was awake. We held our breath in fear…

[Excerpt from…My Years Hidden As a Boy by Irene Kucholick]

Perfect to end there since tomorrow is F is for Fear.

Till then…a shout out to some very diverse AtoZers:

Regina Martins integrates juxtaposed images under one letter theme.

Get in early on a co-written space opera AtoZ.

Fun to see JazzFeather’s D is for Dixieland because there is a Louis Armstrong tie in to Irene’s life later. (Video will be forthcoming.)

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Kristin King is an NGO co-founder, author, publisher, mom, dog lover, reader, as well as a born and bred Kentuckian. She has a small bag of dried nettles in her tea tin, because Irene hand-picked that gift for her. Unfortunately, nettles is not her favorite flavor.

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Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Food, Memoirs & History

 

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Eating Nettles to Survive (February Foodie)

IMbG_6045We hadn’t lived in Belgium long when I decided to weed the back fence area. If you’ve ever had a brush against a nettle, you know the surprising shooting fire that burned my hands when I encountered this weed. The  exact path of the leaves ran in red welts across my thumb and up the wrist. There was a pain that held on, longer than any bee sting I ever had. The rest of our days in Europe, I kept a sharp eye for these stinging plants.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 7.22.24 PMWhat I didn’t know then was how nutritious those painful plants were. Potassium, dietary fiber, even a bit of protein are there, not to mention almost half your daily calcium and 40% of your vitamin A. How did this come to my attention?

I met a remarkable woman named Irene who was born in the same year as Anne Frank and lived under the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. She made it through World War 2 only to be caught behind the Iron Curtain under Soviet Russian oppression. Hidden as a boy for three years, she provided for her family. One item they could find to eat, eating to survive, was nettles.

Nettle soup. Nettle tea. Nettles were sometimes all they had.

When I read Irene’s memoirs I knew her incredible story had to go public for future generations. She escaped from East to West Berlin in 1953, and today lives in Maryland where her doctors and dentists are always amazed by how strong her bones are. I can’t help but think it’s all that Nettle calcium she had in the lean years as a child and young adult.

February foodies try out the nettles when you get a chance. I’ve got mine in a baggie with the other loose teas–the same baggie Irene gave it to me in.

Cheers.

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SLB kindle face

How did Irene survive? You can get the whole story at the link below.

myBook.to/worldwar2childtoYAsurvivor

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Food, Travel

 

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