Tribal Portraits

Polina Levkina is universally acclaimed as the best pastry chef in Sheltozero, a village nestled in the lush pine forests of Karelia, a republic in northwestern Russia along the border with Finland. Levkina, 80, a retired nursery school teacher, proudly sets out an impressive spread of pashtates (pastry): rahtpirgat (pot cheese pies), kolobs (oat flour and potato pies) and kalitkas (rye pancakes topped with cottage cheese and sour cream). Delicacies like these are traditional fare for the Veps, an ancient Finnish-Ugric tribe that first settled in the region in the 6th century, and Levkina still prepares the food the way her...

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