International Cucumber Festival in Suzdal
Cucumbers, onions, carrots and cabbages are the daily vegetables for the Russians. In Russia cucumbers are considered most important and nutritious. It is said that cucumbers can be used to prepare thousands of kinds of dishes. They can, for example, be pickled with salt, vinegar or eucalypt leaves, or half pickled. Cucumber soups include borsch and a variety of soups from the Caucasus. Other food made from cucumbers include cakes and rolls. They can also be made into drinks, pastes and sweetmeat.
No matter what their circumstances Russians always have cucumbers in their vegetable plot at the dacha. You will see stalls at some metro exits, or in the marketplace, where elderly women sell cucumbers grown by them. These stocky cucumbers with an emerald green colour are most eye-catching. They have been the only type of cucumbers seen in major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg until quite recently. But now there are more varieties of cucumbers on the Russian market. Cucumbers are not indigenous in Russia, they were brought to Russia from India by an ancient Russian navigator.
When it is time for cucumber harvesting, the season is usually pleasantly sunny with long daylight hours. Cucumbers are picked all the way from summer to fall. The Cucumber Day is celebrated in many places. On this day, villagers begin to harvest cucumbers and welcome the arrival of summer with singing and dancing, especially where cucumbers are produced in large numbers. The most influential cucumber festival is celebrated in Suzdal near Vladimir northeast of Moscow. Here every household makes some part of their living by growing cucumbers. A local woman told me, "With the money earned by selling cucumbers and cucumber products, I paid for the education of my three daughters, and bought our house and car!" Hers is a typical family. The locals regard cucumbers with pride and a source of wealth. Tradition has it that green Elves protect them.
Every year, the festival is held in mid-July, with every house being decorated with cucumbers.
Displayed at the festival are various locally produced cucumbers and delicacies made from these cucumbers. They are consumed in addition to traditional Russian drinks and foods such as, kvass, fruit juice, honey wine, pies and cakes coated with thick layers of wild strawberries. After satisfying the stomach, visitors can shop at the stalls selling handicrafts, the most famous of which are bedding goods and other cloth products. And various art performances that are all related with cucumbers. In the streets, people are enjoying the festive atmosphere wearing cucumber-shaped masks and clothes. A very important activity is the cucumber-eating contest. The final winner will get a prize – a travel to a foreign destination!
I was once among those pursuers of cucumbers when it rained cats and dogs getting me soaked all over. But people did not run for shelter and preferred to stand in the rain. When the rain was over and there was a silver lining, the festivity came back alive stronger among white churches and verdant grass and trees.
As early as in the 18th century, the first historian in Suzdal kept records of cucumber growing in Suzdal. According to him, cucumbers are extensively planted in Suzdal where the land is fertile, the climate is agreeable and the water supply is good; to the Suzdal people, nothing is more important than cucumber growing. As Suzdal is an ancient town with many churches and monasteries, the friars helped spread the name of Suzdal cucumbers. In 1992, when Suzdal was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, this ancient town and its cucumbers began to be known to the whole world. In 2000 when they heard that a certain city in Finland gained huge economic interests and promote the image of the city through its garlic festival, the smart people of Suzdal started to organize their own cucumber festival – it is the seventh this year.
Originally published in World