Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Gastronomice - Alexandru Osvald ‘Pastorel’ Teodoreanu

Alexandru Pastorel was born in 1894 in the town of Dorohoi in the extreme north east of Romania, close to the border with Ukraine. He went on to study law in Iasi in the province of Moldova before serving in the First World War, after which receive his licence to practice law in 1920. Throughout the inter-war period he published several collections of poems, epigrams, and contributed to various journals and publications. He also developed a reputation for being something of a gourmand, his views on wines and food being actively sought out by his peers.

After the Second World War and the communist takeover of Romania, he concentrated more on translating texts and contributed prolifically to gastronomic journals. Gastronomice is a collection of many of these articles and was first published posthumously in 1973. Teodoreanu sadly spent some of his final years in prison, sentenced for his writings, mostly satirical epigrams. He was released shortly before his death in 1964.

The book itself is arranged more like a series of articles about cookery rather than a traditional recipe book. In some ways I believe it reads much more like a blog than a cookbook, with little stories and anecdotes in each section followed by a description of how the meal is prepared.

Frequently throughout Gastronomice Teodoreanu refers to ‘his friend Castache’, who is portrayed as the expert in all things culinary. I haven’t been able to find out much about Costache so I can’t say for sure if he was a real person, a genuine friend of Pastorel’s, or whether he was simple a literary construct through whom the author could present his recipes via the means of a more entertaining dialogue in place of the standard descriptive prose of traditional culinary books and articles. If anyone knows more about Costache, please leave a comment.

Being largely anthological in nature the book isn’t arranged by type of ingredient or even by course, but meanders organically through various styles and products and seasons. Some articles comment on regionalisms and traditions whilst others focus more on a particular ingredient. My impression, from this book and others from the earlier part of the last century, is that in the kitchens of the capital, or at least of the literate middle classes and higher, the variety of meat used was more varied and thus Gastonomice tells us how to prepare some dishes with lamb, with quail, with pheasant, and with crayfish, which rarely feature on the Romanian dining table today (except perhaps in some of the more modern up-market restaurants). There are also some articles on preserving and a few pages at the end on local Romanian wines.

Here is an excerpt from Gastronomice, translated by me (so blame me for any mistranslations) in which Pastorel learns how to make a leek tart:

Leek Tart

My friend Costache has never caught me in front of the oven. I, however, just today, caught him at his desk, doing what? Writing verse! And addressed to whom? To me! Here:

With little talent and some art,
As far as I can see,
You can also make leek tart,
If you know cookery.

However you know nothing
About cooking on the flame, laddy,
So eat up your lovely grub,
Shut up...and give me the recipe.

“Look what it is, Costache,” I say, after reading the following lines:

So don’t have a go at me, boy,
For what’s happening here,
Seeing as you play the poet too
Well, I’ll shut up...but you make the food!

“And what exactly does your heart want?!” replies Costache.
“You need to ask? That which you praised in your poem. And if your tarts are no good, then don’t expect any kind of pity from me.”
“I accept the challenge!” he replied.
“Come on them, let’s see what you’ve got, and if you’ve got nothing, Costache, you’re right out of luck. I’ll destroy you, I’ll wipe you out, I’ll write about you in the newspaper!”
Even though I was only kidding, my friend Costache didn’t particular like the taste of my threats.
We went into the kitchen, where, after putting on his apron and hat, my friend Costache started the proceedings thus:

The two then go on to make a leek tart, which, I must admit, sounds rather lovely, so lovely I’m very tempted to have a go at it myself, although I suppose I should wait until leeks are in season to get the most out of them.

As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there is no English translation, which is a shame as it is one of those books that is a pleasure to read as much as an education in Romanian culinary tradition and a source of interesting recipes from that period of time. If you are, like me, an expat with some Romanian language skills, you might look for a copy. Even if some of the exchanges between Teodoreanu and ‘his friend Costache’ are a little difficult to follow due to the use of expressions and some archaic terms, the recipes themselves can be followed with a reasonable knowledge of Romanian.

Gastronomice was first edited and published in 1973 and again in 2010 and is available online and in the shops from most Romanian online bookshops. You sometimes see copies of the original 1973 version in the second-hand bookstore in Universitatea or at Obor.

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