Stories from Soviet Childhood: MISHKA’S PORRIDGE (1)


Today we continue reading stories from my Soviet Childhood. How I already told that is very important to know what books people read and what movies watched when they were kids. That gives us a clue to understand who these people are. Today we start to read next story by Noikolay Nosov, first it was published in the magazine for children “Murzilka” then in the book Rat-tat-tat (Тук-тук-тук), 1945. Many generation of Soviet people were brought up on this stories. And I’ll tell you a secret that I like them all but maybe “Mishka’s Porrige” is my favorite ;).


(Part 1)
Last summer when I was living in the country with my mother, Mishka [a boy’s name] came to stay with us. I was very pleased to see him because I had been quite lonely without him. Mum was pleased to see him too.

“I’m so glad you’ve come,” she said. “You two boys can keep each other company. I have to go to town early tomorrow, and I don’t know when I’ll be back. Do you think you can manage here by yourselves?”

“Of course we can,” I said. “We aren’t babies.”

“You’ll have to make your own breakfast. Do you know how to cook porridge?”

“I do,” said Mishka. “It’s easy as anything.”
“Mishka,” I said, “are you quite sure you know? When did you ever cook porridge?”
“Don’t worry. I’ve seen Mum cook it. You leave it to me. I won’t let you starve. I’ll make you the best porridge you’ve ever tasted.”

In the morning Mum left us a supply of bread and some jam for our tea and showed us where the oatmeal was. She told us how to cook it too, but I didn’t bother to listen. Why should I bother if Mishka knows all about it, I thought.

Then Mum went away and Mishka and I decided to go down to the river to fish. We got out our fishing-tackle and dug up some worms.
“Just a minute,” I said. “Who’s going to cook the porridge if we go down to the river?”
“Who wants to bother with cooking?” said Mishka. “It’s too much trouble. We can eat bread and jam instead. There’s plenty of bread. We’ll cook the porridge later on when we get hungry.”

We made a lot of jam sandwiches and went off to the river. We went in swimming and lay on the sandy beach afterwards drying ourselves and eating our sandwiches. Then we fished. We sat for a long time but the fish wouldn’t bite. All we got was a dozen or so gudgeons, teeny-weeny ones. We spent most of the day down at the river. Late in the afternoon we got terribly hungry and hurried home to get something to eat.

“Now then, Mishka,” I said. “You’re the expert. What shall we make?”
“Let’s make some porridge,” said Mishka. “It’s the easiest.”
“All right,” I said.
We lit the stove. Mishka got the meal and pot.
“See you make plenty while you’re at it. I’m good and hungry.”
He nearly filled the pot up with meal and poured in water up to the brim.
“Isn’t that too much water?” I said.
“No, that’s the way Mother makes it. You look after the stove and leave the porridge to me.”
So I kept the fire going while Mishka cooked the porridge, which means that he sat and watched the pot, because the porridge cooked by itself.

Before long it got quite dark and we had to light the lamp. And the porridge went on cooking. Suddenly I looked up and saw the pot lid rising and the porridge spilling out over the side.

“Hey, Mishka,” I said. “What’s the matter with the porridge?”
“Why, what’s wrong with it?”
“It’s climbing right out of the pot!”
Mishka grabbed a spoon and began pushing the porridge back into the pot. He pushed and pushed, but it kept swelling up and spilling over the side.
“I don’t know what’s happened to it. Perhaps it’s ready?”

I took a spoon and tasted a little, but the meal was still hard and dry.
“Where’s all the water gone?”
“I don’t know,” said Mishka. “I put an awful lot in. Perhaps there’s a hole in the pot?”
We looked all over the pot but there wasn’t any sign of a hole.
“Must have evaporated,” he said. “We’ll have to add some more.”
He took some of the porridge out of the pot and put it on a plate; he had to take out quite a bit to make room for the water. Then we put the pot back on the stove and let it cook some more. It cooked and cooked and after a while it began spilling over the side again.

“Hey, what’s the idea!” cried Mishka. “Why won’t it stay in the pot?”
He snatched up his spoon and scooped out some more porridge and added another cup of water.
“Look at that,” he said. “You thought there was too much water.”
The porridge went on cooking. And would you believe it, in a little while it lifted the lid and came crawling out again!
I said: “You must have put too much meal in. That’s what it is. It swells when it cooks and there’s not enough room in the pot for it.”
“Yes, that must be it,” said Mishka. “It’s all your fault. You told me to put a lot in because you were hungry, remember?”
“How do I know how much to put in? You’re the one who’s supposed to know how to cook.”
“So I do. I’d have it cooked by now if you hadn’t interfered.”
“All right, cook away, I shan’t say another word.”

I went off in a huff and Mishka went on cooking the porridge, that is, he kept scooping out the extra porridge and adding water. Soon the whole table was covered with plates of half-cooked porridge. And he added water each time.
Finally I lost patience.

“You’re not doing it right. This way the porridge won’t be ready till morning.”
“Well, that’s how they do it in big restaurants. Didn’t you know that? They always cook dinner the night before so it should be ready by morning.”
“That’s all right for restaurants. They don’t need to hurry because they have heaps of other food.”
“We don’t need to hurry either.”
“Don’t we! I’m starving. And besides it’s time to go to bed. See how late it is.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to sleep,” he said, throwing another glass of water into the pot. Suddenly it dawned on me what was wrong,
“Of course it won’t cook if you keep adding cold water,” I said.
“You think you can cook porridge without water?”
“No, I think you’ve still got too much meal in that pot.”
I took the pot, spilled out half the meal and told him to fill it with water.
He took the mug and went to the pail.
“Dash it,” he said. “The water’s all gone.”
“What shall we do now? It’s pitch dark, we’ll never be able to find the well.”
“Rats, I’ll bring some in a jiffy.”
He took matches, tied a rope round the handle of the pail and went off to the well. In a few minutes he was back.
“Where’s the water?” I asked him. .
“Water? Out there in the well.”
“Don’t be silly. What have you done with the pail?”
“The pail? That’s in the well too.”


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