Sour cream was omnipresent on the family table when HG was growing up in The Bronx. HG’s late Mom called it “smetana” (the Russian name). Though not observant of Jewish dietary restrictions, Mom confined sour cream to “dairy” (non-meat) dishes. Sour cream accompanied blintzes. Mom sneered at jam. Considered it an aberration of “galitzianers” (Galicans), Jews fixated on sweets. Kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats and Italian “farfalle”) was topped with smetana as was cold beet borscht and “schav” (sorrel soup). Typical summer lunch was a bowl of sliced bananas (or seasonal strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) with ample smetana. There was a vegetable variant: chopped onions or scallions, cucumbers and radishes. Smetana covered bowls of cottage cheese or pot cheese (lots of kosher salt and black pepper). Mom always bought sour cream, cheese and butter at Daitch Dairy. Considered their products superior. HG/BSK continued that tradition when they lived on W. 79th in Manhattan and there was a Daitch Dairy on the southwest corner of Broadway (the cream cheese was epic and a ‘shmear” on a warm bialy turned morning coffee into a happy ritual). Sour cream plays a big role in fiery New Mexico cuisine. A scoop brings cool to a palate singed by chiles. HG/BSK like to top Goya black beans with chopped onion and sour cream. Mixed with Greek yogurt, sour cream accompanies a variety of BSK’s lamb, middle eastern and Indian dishes. HG is looking forward to Final Four and NBA playoffs. HG’s TV dinner will be small boiled potatoes covered with sour cream. Much salt and pepper, of course. Dill pickles. Icy vodka. Beer chasers. Smetana heaven.
HG is a devoted fan of that wonderful writer, Ian Frazier. HG is currently engrossed in Frazier’s “Travels in Siberia.” There is a direct link between Frazier’s diet on his Siberian voyage and HG’s diet as a youngster in The Bronx. The staple Siberian food is cottage cheese and smetana (sour cream) which Frasier ate at least twice a day during his rugged travels. Little HG also had a robust ration of smetana daily. Sour cream was always called “smetana” in the HG household, a reminder of HG’s Russian ancestry. HG had smetana with boiled potatoes. Smetana with borscht. Smetana with schav (cold sorrel soup, a summer treat). Smetana with cottage cheese, pot cheese, farmer cheese. Smetana with herring. Smetana with kasha. Smetana with chopped scallions and radishes. Smetana with every variety of fruit. The little guy ingested an awful lot of smetana.
This sour cream wasn’t the pallid stuff you find in supermarket containers these days. Bronx smetana was a local product, bought at local stores where butter didn’t come in packages but was cut from a giant tub. The closest you can get to Bronx smetana is Greek yogurt. Happily, it’s easily available. Followers of HG may note that HG adds Greek yogurt to many dishes. Childhood food comforts live forever.