(Guest post by Christine Ruane, Professor Emerita of History, University of Tulsa)
Tucked away in the stacks of the Library of Congress’ Rare Book Division are 40 small, leather-bound volumes of an 18th-century Russian periodical entitled “Ekonomicheskoi magazin””(Economic storehouse). Each book consists of 400 pages of what was then the latest scientific advice on how to improve the productive capacity and the quality of life on a Russian landed estate. This remarkable accomplishment was due to one man, Andrei Timofeevich Bolotov, who served as editor and chief writer for the periodical.
The vast majority of Bolotov’s writings in “Ekonomicheskoi magazin”” deal with all types of food production found on a central Russian estate. He wrote about the weather, soil conditions, and the latest techniques for planting grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Bolotov himself was passionate about growing fruit, and the very first volume begins with a series of 19 articles on how to plant and maintain a successful orchard. In 18th-century Russia, as elsewhere in Europe, fresh fruit on the table was a symbol of status and prosperity, and landlords on all but the smallest estates used serf labor to grow apples, pears, cherries, pineapples, and citrus. Meanwhile, whatever fruit was not going to be used immediately, was transformed by women on the estates into jams, jellies, preserves, dried fruits, and various drinks for family use.
Bolotov also had plenty of tips for growing vegetables and herbs. He penned articles on how to grow those vegetables found in Russian cuisine, as well as acquaint his readers with new food imports such as artichokes and potatoes. To assist in meal preparation, Bolotov provided hundreds of recipes as well as pickling, drying, and preserving techniques. Because the Russian Orthodox fasting regulations required a vegetarian diet for almost half of the calendar year, such recommendations were extremely helpful, so that no fruit or vegetable would go to waste.
On most estates, landlords, and especially their wives, provided medical care for their own families and their serfs, since there were not enough doctors in Russia at this time. In most cases, the cures relied upon plant material that could be grown on an estate or in the surrounding countryside. Bolotov reported on everything from major illnesses, such as tuberculosis, to colds.
Estate management included more than care of the human residents. Consequently, Bolotov penned articles on the care of domestic animals. He also included pieces on soil management, building and fence repairs, making paint, and a myriad of other tasks necessary to ensure the prosperity of these rural estates.
This survey can only offer a brief overview of Bolotov’s remarkable publication. By encouraging his fellow landlords to adapt the latest scientific innovations to the practices on their estates, Bolotov’s journal provides a fascinating window on the day-to-day work on a Russian noble estate in the 18th century.