It is said that one cannot truly appreciate caviar without vodka. As Russian traditions go, caviar is best appreciated with a glass of vodka in hand. With that said, it is imperative that only ice-cold vodka is best served with it as the vodka has a subtle flavour that complements the saltines coming with the caviar without overpowering the delicacy. Choosing the caviar is another matter as well. To find the perfect caviar, consider the following.
Some features of the caviar can readily influence the price of caviar sold in the market. Here are some of them:
- Size. Caviar size indicates the type of sturgeon or fish that the roe is collected from. As each roe size corresponds to a particular fish variety, one can be assured of whether the fish eggs are mature when harvested. Beluga sturgeons have bigger sized roes where ossetra sturgeons have smaller roe.
- Color. Each fish roe colour depends on where the caviar is gathered. Beluga caviar, for example, ranges from pale to silver-gray to black depending on the age of the sturgeon.Ossetra roe, however, has the color of gray to brownish and the imperial caviar has orange to golden in colour.
- Maturity. As caviar’s taste depends on the age of the sturgeon, the older the sturgeon, the more expensive the caviar is. Beluga sturgeon takes about 20 years for it to mature and to be capable of producing eggs. Other sturgeons like the sevruga takes about 15-20 years to mature.
- Texture. Good caviar possesses a fresh sea scent to it, has a shiny coat and has good quality grains to it. Top quality caviar should be able to withstand the sieving process but is delicate enough to melt when eaten.
Another factor that affects the price of this delicacy is the type of caviar that one wants to buy. All of the caviar varieties are colour coded to make sure that consumers are not mistaken in their purchase of their caviar needs. One would normally see blue, yellow tin cans which corresponds to the type of the fish that the roe was harvested from. There are online stores that categorized their caviar so online shoppers can readily check the item that they want.
Depending on variety, there are four major Russian caviar in the market today – Beluga, Ossetra, Sterlet and Sevruga. Beluga is the rarest and most expensive of the caviar as the sturgeon takes a longer period to mature and develop their eggs. A fishing restriction is also implemented by the government wherein only 100 beluga sturgeons allowed to be fished in the Caspian Sea to ensure that the species will survive.
Sterlet variety is reserved for the Imperial family and as such, prohibited and banned for local people to eat the roe of this sturgeon variety. The popular caviar sold today come from the ossetra and the sevruga sturgeon. The sturgeon varieties are more abundant and take a shorter time to produce the said caviar.
The demand for caviar, however, resulted to sturgeon farms not only in Russia but also in other countries such as America, Iran and Azerbaijan. One can readily see caviar made from American milkfish, paddlefish as well as bowfins in the market. The taste and texture of the American variety is almost of the same quality but is much more affordable than the Russian caviar.
Nowadays purchasing one’s caviar is more accessible with online shops that sell caviar and other gourmet products online. The online gourmet store guarantees 24 hour shipping which is a must to maintain the delicate flavor of the caviar and also reliable shipping companies making the caviar a timely hors d’oeuvres to just about any event halfway around the globe.
Writing letters to the “West” during Stalin’s regime is a criminal offence. According to NKVD documents, sending or receiving a letter can result in arrest without trial. For this offense, and other trumped up charged, millions are sentenced to Stalin’s Gulag of over 2000 prison camps. The survival rate is one winter.
In their home village in southern Ukraine, on a warm summer day in 1931, an entire family is arrested. Father Jasch Regehr, mother Maria (Bargen) Regehr and their six children are declared “enemies of the State” and sent into northern Siberia. A space 5′ X 5′ in a three-story barrack becomes their new home. From this space they write letters to their family in Canada.
Little Lena is on her knees, leaning over a rough wooden trunk. Her hair falls over her eyes – the ribbons too torn to hold the blonde strands. She tries to focus. The noise distracts her and her baby brother bumps her elbow. The pencil is dull and the thin paper tears easily. “Dear Aunt Liese” … two men below her are fighting and her father is coughing. “I really do not like writing letters. Our Papa is so sick he can no longer get up. If our dear Papa should die what will become of us?”
What is happening? Where is this little girl? Why is she in this noisy, crowded place writing on a wooden trunk? Why is her father so sick? Where is Aunt Liese?
When she is arrested with her family for crimes against the state in 1931, little Lena is only nine years old. But she too is guilty and sentenced to prison in Stalin’s Gulag.
Some of Lena’s surroundings appear ordinary – almost “normal”, but this is another normality that is far more unpleasant. Lena’s prison camp has a doctor, a store and post office. But behind the façade of normality, Lena and her sisters scavenge for potato peelings in the garbage heap behind the officers’ quarters. Prison guards read her letter which can only be sent to locations inside the Soviet Union. Wherever she walks, she is watched by guards with dogs. The doctor (if he agrees to see her) does not practice the Hippocratic Oath. russian store
Yet leaning over the wooden trunk in the cramped barrack, her three-year old brother bumping her arm, Lena writes a letter to Aunt Liese. The large, carefully crafted script of a young child bears witness to Lena’s age. At nine years old, her childhood innocence has been shattered. Her father is dying and she is hungry. Her “school” is not like those in her home village. These are the “schools” where the children of imprisoned kulaks are re-educated; where a new ideology replaces their former values; where the NKVD (Soviet police) monitors every move. It is in this school where Lena is refused food while she watches privileged children eat. It is here that Lena is questioned: Do your parents criticize communism? – Do they write letters? – Who do they write to? – Do they pray? It is in this place that Lena and her classmates are told to bid farewell to their mothers who are accused of heinous crimes.
Although Lena was released from prison camp with her surviving siblings in 1956, she was only liberated in 1989 when she left Russia. With her husband Jacob Dirksen, her daughter Ludmila, and two granddaughters she finally lives in freedom in Cologne, Germany.
Lena’s Letter (1931)
Dear Aunt Liese,
I really do not like writing letters. Our Papa is so sick he can no longer get up. If our dear Papa should die, what will become of us? How sad that would be. He just cannot sleep during the night. Tina and I go to school and it is so far to walk. For those that pay, the school provides 1 meal a day — 100 grams of bread. For supper we have porridge and mushrooms and tea, without bread or sugar. Today, in the store, they actually had flour and sugar for sale. Our Tina went to the Soviet very early this morning and earned 1 litre milk. Now maybe we can cook rice soup, and that tastes so very good. Write me a letter too. Greetings and a kiss from your dear niece, Lena Regehr
Ruth Derksen Siemens is a first-generation Russian Mennonite who grew up in Vancouver. She spent many spring and summer months at her grandparents’ farm in Yarrow (in the eastern Fraser Valley region of British Columbia). Here she was immersed into the ethnic culture of a replicated Russian settlement. As a pre-teen, she moved with her family from Vancouver to another Mennonite village. Arnold was a retreat into European Mennonite customs, rituals and language. Music was her first passion and career choice, but a longing to understand language and its rhetorical uses directed her to return to university. Ruth is now an instructor of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of British Columbia, a researcher and historian. Her primary research has been conducted in the field of rhetoric and discourse analysis in an English Department, but her interest in historical documents and their linguistic implications remains dominant. Her PhD in the Philosophy of Language from the University of Sheffield (UK) investigates letters written from the former Soviet Union (1930-38) by Russian Mennonites, many of whom were imprisoned and died in Stalin’s Gulag.