In 1939, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food was published by the Institute of Nutrition of the Academy of Medical Scientists in the USSR. It was filled with praise for the domestic food industry, and had lush color photographs accompanying recipes gathered from all corners of the vast Soviet realm.
The reality of Soviet cuisine was a different story. Individual and artisanal production of food was banned in the mid-1930s as collective farming began. Ingredients were limited and the quality of food varied wildly. But families of government workers had access to goods that were otherwise nearly impossible to buy, such as caviar, cigarettes and sugar.
A new book by Olga and Pavel Syutkin, called the CCCP Cookbook: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine, offers an illuminating glimpse of food during this era. With recipes and photographs from original Soviet cookbooks, accompanied by historical anecdotes, the CCCP Cookbook shows us what it would have been like to have dinner dictated by the State.
Anastas Mikoyan helped bring mass production of ice cream to the USSR in the 1930s after visiting the United States. His interest was noted by Stalin, who said, “You, Anastas, care more about ice cream, than about communism.” Still, the cone above is embellished with the letters CCCP.
Fish sprats, for a Mimosa Salad, of potatoes, eggs, carrots, mayonnaise and of course, fish.
Shashlik, a form of skewered meat cooked over an open fire, and associated with the Caucasus region.
An elaborately garnished pike perch set in aspic.
Steak and onions, accompanied in the CCCP Cookbook with a recipe for the same.
Caviar. Those that worked for the State could access luxury goods like caviar; ordinary citizens would need to make an application to access it on national holidays or special occasions, such as weddings.
Pelmeni, or dumplings, usually served with butter or as in this photo, sour cream.
Suckling Pig with Buckwheat. Suckling pig was a traditional Russian dish that was featured as part of a meal in Chekhov’s 1892 novel The Wife.
Soviet mayonnaise, for the Stolichny Salad recipe. Mayonnaise became popular in the USSR as it was easy to mass produce.
A table set for a dinner of Chicken Kiev. Communal apartments were standard in Soviet cities, where families had one room for themselves and shared the common areas with between two and seven families.
A Princeton PhD, was a U.S. diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Central/Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. After leaving the State Department in order to express opposition to the planned invasion of Iraq, he taught courses at Georgetown University pertaining to the tension between propaganda and public diplomacy. For many years he shared ideas on the theme "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" with Eurasian/European delegates participating in the "Open World" program.
Brown’s articles have appeared in numerous publications. A recent piece is “Janus-Faced Public Diplomacy: Creel and Lippmann During the Great War” (published in Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future; now online).
He is the author (with S. Grant) of The Russian Empire and the USSR: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States (also online). In the past century, he served as an editor/translator of a joint U.S.-Soviet publication, The Establishment of Russian-American Relations, 1765-1815.