I am very much enjoying reading the fairy tales in A Mountain of Gems – Fairy Tales of the Peoples of the Soviet Land. I am so glad I found this book on top of a stack in a corner at Shakespeare & Sons. To me, bookstores are a goldmine.
Politics aside (and I’m sure you can guess which side I’d be on), I love this book because it contains fairy tales of all the Soviet lands (Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Karelian, Moldavian…) and it hits you over and over again that children are the same all over the world. And that parents are the same all over the world. It’s very touching.
Anyway, I digress. Please keep reading to enjoy a fairy tale from this book.
Axe Porridge – A Russian Fairy Tale
An old soldier was once on his way home where he meant to spend his furlough, and he was tired and hungry. He came to a village and he rapped at the door of the first hut he saw.
“Let a traveller in for the night!” he called.
The door was opened by an old woman.
“Come in, soldier,” she said.
“Have you a bite of food for a hungry man, good dame?” the soldier asked.
Now, the old woman had plenty of everything, but she was stingy and pretended to be very poor.
“Ah, me, I’ve had nothing to eat myself today, dear heart, there is nothing in the house,” she wailed.
“Well, if you’ve nothing, you’ve nothing,” the soldier said. Then, noticing an axe without a handle under the bench: “If there’s nothing else, we could make porridge out of that axe.”
The old woman threw up her hands in astonishment.
“Axe porridge? Who ever heard the like!”
“I’ll show you how to make it. Just give me a pot.”
The old woman brought a pot, and the soldier washed the axe, put it in the pot, and, filling the pot with water, placed it on the fire.
The old woman stared at the soldier and never took her eyes off him.
The soldier got out a spoon. He stirred the water and then tasted it.
“It will soon be ready,” said he. “A pity there’s no salt.”
“Oh, I have salt. Here, take some.”
The soldier put some salt in the pot and then tried the water again.
“If we could just add a handful of groats to it,” said he.
The old woman brought a small bag of groats from the pantry.
“Here, add as much as you need,” said she.
The soldier went on with his cooking, stirring the meal from time to time and tasting it. And the old woman watched and could not tear her eyes away.
“Oh, how tasty this porridge is!” the soldier said, trying a spoonful. “With a bit of butter there could be nothing more delicious.”
The old woman brought some butter, and they added it to the porridge.
“Now get a spoon, good dame, and let us eat!” the soldier said.
They began eating the porridge and praising it.
“I never thought axe porridge could taste so good!” the old woman marveled.
And the soldier ate, and laughed up his sleeve.