The grocery and produce stores of St. Petersburg were a delight to tourists - their facades and signs were brightly painted with luscious folk-art paintings of the items to be found within - enticingly portrayed piled high and in gigantic quantities. This picture shows a fruit store operated by A. S. Ibragimov.

While some of the food that fed the city came from the environs of Petersburg, the government neglected the development of nearby farms and dairies, which could have supplied a significant part of the city's need. Most food stuffs were imported and this caused a serious problem in feeding the city when train transportation was interrupted - as it was right before the revolution.

There were exceptions, Isabel Hapgood stayed for some time in Tsarskoe Selo and described the fruits to be found there:

"The scene at the market was always entertaining. Tsarskoe is surrounded by market gardens, where vegetables and fruits are raised in highly manured and excessively hilled-up beds. It sends tons of its products to the capital as well as to the local market. Everything was cheap and delicious. Eggs were dear when they reached a cent and a half apiece. Strawberries, huge and luscious, were dear at ten cents ($1.94 in 2000) a pound, since in warm seasons they cost but five. Another berry, sister to the strawberry, but differing from it utterly in taste, was the klubnika, of which there were two varieties, the white and the bluish-red, both delicious in their peculiar flavor; but less decorative in size and aspect than the strawberry.

The native cherries, small and sour, make excellent preserves, with a spicy flavor, which are much liked by Russians in their tea. The only objection to this use of them is that both tea and cherries are spoiled. Raspberries, plums, gooseberries, and currants were plentiful and cheap. A vegetable delicacy of high order, according to Katifisha, who introduced it to my notice, was a sort of radish with an extremely fine, hard grain, and biting qualities much developed, which attains enormous size, and is eaten in thin slices, salted and buttered. I presented the solitary specimen which I bought, a ninepin in proportions, to the grateful Katiusha. It was beyond my appreciation.

Pears do not thrive so far north, but in good years apples of fine sorts are raised, to a certain extent ' in the vicinity of St. Petersburg. Really good specimens, however, come from Poland, the lower Volga, Little Russia, and other distant points, which renders them always rather dear. We saw few in our village that were worth buying, as the season was phenomenally cold, and a month or three weeks late, so that we got our strawberries in August, and our linden blossoms in September. Apples, plums, grapes, and honey are not eaten - in theory - until after they have been blessed at the feast of the Transfiguration, on August 18 (N. S.), - a very good scheme for giving them time to ripen fully for health. Before that day, however, hucksters bearing trays of honey on their heads are eagerly welcomed, and the peasant's special dainty -fresh cucumbers thickly coated with honey - is indulged in unblessed. Honey is not so plentiful that one can afford to fling away a premature chance!

When the mushroom season came in, the market assumed an aspect of half-subdued brilliancy with the many sombre and high-colored varieties of that fungus. The poorer people indulge in numerous kinds which the rich do not eat, and they furnish precious sustenance during fasts, when so many viands are forbidden by the Russian Church and by poverty. One of the really odd sights, during the fast of Saints Peter and Paul (the first half of July), was that of people walking along the streets with bunches of pea-vines, from which they were plucking the peas, and eating them, pods and all, quite raw. It seemed a very summary and wasteful way of gathering them. This fashion of eating vegetables raw was imported, along with the liturgy, from the hot lands where the Eastern Church first flourished, and where raw food was suitable. These traditions, and probably also the economy of fuel, cause it to be still persisted in, in a climate to which it is wholly unsuited. Near Tsarskoe I found one variety of pea growing to the altitude of nearly seven feet, and producing pods seven inches long and three wide. The stalks of the double poppies in the same garden were six and seven feet high, and the flowers were the size of peonies, while the pods of the single poppies were nine inches in circumference.

Next photograph: A St. Petersburg Delicatessen

For a small map of the St. Petersburg area click here.

To see a large map of the center of St. Petersburg go here.

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