“Ah, there she is at last! what is it, Sonia, where have you been? It’s odd that even at your father’s funeral you should be so unpunctual. Rodion Romanovitch, make room for her beside you. That’s your place, Sonia . . . take what you like. Have some of the cold entrée with jelly, that’s the best.”
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (1886)
Russian journalist, short-story writer, and novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow in 1821, the son of a former army doctor. After his mother died in 1837, he entered the Army Engineering College in St. Petersburg. He graduated and became a military engineer but soon resigned from his position to focus on writing. In 1849, his allegiance to the socialist agenda led to his arrest; he was condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment in Siberia. Dostoevsky spent four years doing hard labor, became a soldier, and eventually left the service to marry his first wife. Between 1964 and 1965, he lost his wife and his brother, suffered from incapacitating depression, and lost most of his fortune to gambling debts. Two years later, he published Crime and Punishment, a fictional account of protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov’s crime and redemption.
Dostoyevsky, along with George Eliot, Henry James, Charles Dickens, Honore de Balzac, and Leo Tolstoy, is often considered to be a “realist,” a term associated with the literary style that considers a wide range of social conditions and experiences from an objective perspective. To achieve this objectivity, writers often use the point of view of the “omniscient narrator,” revealing the motivations, thoughts and experiences of characters while providing the reader with additional plot information. In Crime and Punishment, the material is primarily presented through the point of view of Raskolnikov, although it occasionally switches to the viewpoint of other minor characters. While Dostoyevsky uses this realist technique in his novel, he also invokes his characters’ sense of consciousness and spirituality; this, I believe, makes him one of the first published writers to use psychological realism (i.e. considering and providing details about the inner lives of characters) in his novels. The personal philosophy that guides Dostoevsky’s technique is demonstrated in a 1849 letter to his brother: “Life is in ourselves and not in the external.”
The first culinary task I took on this week was peach butter; while I pulled a jelly reference from Dostoyevsky’s book, I could have easily used one of his many references to liquor (a few healthy shots of golden rum found their way into this batch). Peach butter, like apple butter, contains no dairy, but its smooth, spreadable consistency emulates the texture of milk butter. Fruit butters require hours of cooking over very low heat to concentrate the fruit; because of the fruit density, butters require less added sweetener than traditional jam.
I used the peach rum butter to make jam pinwheels. These little cookies are ridiculously easy to make (hey, there’s no harm in cutting an amateur pastry-maker a break every now and then): basically, you just make a pate brisee (basic pie) dough, roll it out, cut it in squares, score the squares, dollop some fruit in the middle, and fold in the left-hand outside edges (I promise, I just made that sound much more difficult than it really is). Bake in a hot oven for ten minutes, and voila!, you’ve got little peach rum-filled cookies that taste a bit like homemade peach Pop-Tarts.
Dostoevsky’s descriptions of food in his novels often parallel the psychological and spiritual constitution of his characters.
Frankly, I think a fruity, rum-laced state of being sounds pretty wonderful.