TANGERINES AND CHAMPAGNE: HOW MUCH THEY COST BEFORE THE REVOLUTION

[21.01.2021 16:59:44]

Tangerines and champagne were not always the main symbols of the New Year: not everyone could afford them. For example, at the end of the 19th century tangerines cost 1 ruble 45 kopes a dozen. For this money, you could buy two chickens (70 kopeks apiece) or 2.5 kg of pork (55 kopeks per kg). For a bottle of French champagne at the beginning of the 20th century you had to pay 5 rubles 50 kopeks.
The first tangerines appeared in Russia in the 1870s. The exotic fruit was brought from Germany, but it ripened in January and was not associated with New Year holidays.
By the end of the 19th century tangerine trees were grown in Abkhazia and Georgia. Fruit from these plantations was supplied to Moscow and St. Petersburg just in time for the New Year.
Even today the famous Abkhazian tangerine orchards appeared thanks to the disgraced merchant Nikolai Igumnov from Yaroslavl. Having accumulated huge capital, Igumnov built a luxurious mansion in Moscow. According to legend in 1901, celebrating a housewarming party, he ordered to cover the entire floor with gold coins of new coinage with a profile of Emperor Nicholas II. Having learnt about it, the Emperor sent Igumnov from Moscow to the Abkhazian village Alakhadzykh by the highest decree. There Igumnov became interested in gardening and planted tangerine orchards, which brought a good harvest and income. After the revolution, the former merchant voluntarily donated his property to the Soviet authorities. His estate was called the Third International Citrus State Farm, where Igumnov worked as a simple agronomist until his death in 1924.
Before the revolution, tangerines were traditionally used to decorate Christmas trees, wrapping the fruit in silver or gilded foil.
Lydia Charskaya recalled in 1901: "On a dark velvet background of greenery beautifully stood out hanging bonbonniere, tangerines, apples and flowers, made by the elders ...".
According to the account of the confectioner Peter Pryadin, who in the late 19th century supplied sweets and fruit for the decoration of Christmas trees of the Winter Palace, the cost of tangerines 1 ruble 45 kopeks a dozen. For this money one could buy two chickens (70 kopeks apiece) or 2.5 kilos of pork (55 kopeks per kilo).
From the "Notes on the Culinary School Course" (1904) you can learn that the cost of preparing the most inexpensive three-course dinner for five people was 1 ruble 70 kopeks. Domestic servants, janitors, provincial workers, elementary school teachers or pharmacy assistants, who were paid from 3 to 20 rubles per month, could not afford to buy fruit and sweets even at Christmas and New Year holidays.
Champagne in pre-revolutionary Russia was also available only to the well-to-do strata of the population.
The first mentions of sparkling wine from Champagne can be found in the description of holidays at the court of Peter I. By the end of the 18th century champagne was not only famous, but also quite popular and extremely expensive.
In 1805 a bottle of the famous French sparkling wine "Veuve Clicquot" or "Moët" cost 12 rubles in notes. At the same time, according to the recollections of the Pskov peasant Leonty Avtonomov, he spent 178 rubles per year to buy bread to feed his family during the lean year of 1805. A pound of beef in 1807 cost 5 rubles 50 kopeks in assignations. Under the new statute, introduced in 1805, colonels received, depending on the kind of troops, from 1040 to 1250 rubles a year, sub-lieutenants, cornet and ensigns - 236 - 325 rubles.
Russia's participation in the wars with France led to the cessation of champagne imports into Russia. Thus, in 1813 officially in our country was imported only 100 bottles of sparkling wine worth 600 rubles.
At the same time it was thanks to the war with France that the officers became acquainted with the wine cellars of the trade house "Veuve Clicquot", where they often visited during the occupation of Reims. Secretly from her rivals, the enterprising widow sent 12 thousand bottles of "Clicquot" to Russia, which the army liked and sold for 12 rubles per bottle. After a short time contemporaries noted that no one in Russia drinks anything but "Klikovsky". The famous writer and traveler T. Gautier wrote that this kind of champagne could only be tasted in Russia: it was too expensive for the thrifty French.
By the middle of the 19th century the middle class could also afford inexpensive champagne. The consumption of sparkling wine in Russia has increased. A tradition was established to celebrate the New Year with a glass of champagne. In 1859 one of the magazines wrote: "... a holiday without champagne is not a holiday. At the time, champagne cost 3 to 4 rubles, depending on the brand.  The historian of Russian literature A.M. Skabichevsky recalls: "It was possible to buy a bottle of any brand for three or four rubles at the cellars - both "Rederer" and "Clicquot"; thus we had no more than fifty roubles or a rouble per brother. All in all, a feast with wine and snacks cost no more than five rubles per person," which was affordable even for students.
At the beginning of the 20th century in St. Petersburg and Moscow champagne was popular at 5 rubles 50 kopeks a bottle and also Russian champagne produced in the vineyards of Leo Golitsyn at 2.5 rubles.
With the outbreak of the First World War and the prohibition in 1914 champagne stopped flowing for many years. The tradition of drinking a glass of sparkling wine on New Year's Eve got back only in 1937.