Local Soviet Confectionery(1)
When one thinks of things synonymous with Russia or the Soviet Union , vodka is one of the first images to pop into mind. However, the Soviets experienced fancier times when it came to their high levels of alcohol consumption. The Mid 1930’s up until the war was an easier time for may of the people in the Soviet Union. Collectivization and the Five Year Plan, for all intensive purposes was successful, as it showed when it came to the food industry. Markets had requirements on what they must carry, which can be seen in this food advertisement. These markets carried a much wider variety of food than what was seen in earlier parts on the century.
Among these fine items in during food surpluses across the Soviet Union was Soviet Champagne. The drink became a staple of diet and culture in the mid thirties after the brilliant discovery of mass champagne production. “Anton Mikhailovich Frolov-Bagreev, an aristocrat and chemist was able to change the fermentation process from occurring in bottles to occurring in large reservoirs. This upped production from around 300,000 bottles in 1934 to around 12,000,000 bottles in 1942. It became so popular and accessible that it was sold on tap in local food stores”(3). The quantity of Soviet champagne during this era impressive, but it was also said that the quality of the champagne was to that of France. A majority of the Champagne produced during this period came from the Northeast Coast of the Black Sea across from Crimea.
As well as having a taste for champagne, Soviets also indulged on incredible amounts of caviar and oyster. We can thank the Soviets for the rarity, price, and exclusivity of caviar and a large destruction of oysters in the region. Back then caviar was eaten very frequently; many had it everyday. Even the poorest of Soviets spread it on their bread like jam. This rapid consumption of fish eggs(sturgeon) along with their consumption in other ways helped to severely reduce their population since they are a fish that live long(100 yrs) and reproduce slowly. This realization was not made until decades later, which results in caviar being so expensive currently; up to $250/oz on the legal market. For Soviets, the change from bread rationing to cheap champagne and caviar in their local stores was a widely supported change that improved their happiness, but also their support of Stalin.
1. Bertha Malnick, comp.: Everyday Life in Russia. London: George G. Harrap. 1938
2. Moscow Food Advertisements. 1937. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1934malnick1&SubjectID=1934champagne&Year=1934>.
3. Geldern, Von James. Soviet Champagne. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1934champagne&Year=1934&navi=byYear>.
4. Caviar Tins. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caviar_tins_%28Russian_and_Iranian%29_%28cropped%29.jpg>
Caviar and champagne — what an unlikely counterpoint to the hardships and grittiness we associate with the thirties! I love the detail and images you used to help us get a real “feel” for the finer parts of Soviet food ways and consumption in the 30s.
I never realized Russia had such a passion for luxurious food items! Caviar was “spread on their bread like jam.” For such a hard time, I can’t even imagine Russians doing this. One point I may add though– technically, they did not produce “Champagne” (as that is only produced in the Champagne region of France), but they did produce “sparkling wine.”
Right, the French did not like the Soviets (or any one else for that matter) calling their sparkling wine “Champagne”! Nevertheless, legions of Soviet denizens (including yours truly), have fond memories of the green bottles of “Sovetskoe shampanskoe” and enjoyed the luxury and celebratory spirit it represented. There’s more about it here: http://www.wineterroirs.com/2009/10/sovietchampagne.html
This was a fun topic to analyze this week! As we continue throughout the semester, you might find it interesting to look at the interplay between alcohol, society, and government. There is definitely potential to return to this topic and present an analysis of the impact of alcohol on the workforce, the implications of that impact, and the ways in which the Soviet government responds to that impact. On a side note, while Dr. Nelson has fond memories of green bottles of “Sovetskoe shampanskoe”, I have fond memories of “Russiskoe shampanskoe”. For your viewing pleasure…