From the personal archive of a Russianist, installment eighteen

A Day in the Life of…

Accompanying Baltimore-based global spice manufacturer McCormick & Co. to their first meetings in Russia

Thursday, 15 November 1979

10.00 – 11.30  Ministry of Agriculture     Kotelnikov, Kramskov + experts –  Rakitina (chief agronomist) and Ivanov from the All-Union Association Soyuzsortsemovoshch and  Kulikov, deputy head of administration of agro-industrial integration

Nearly all the discussion is between Dr. Hall and Kramskov

Kramskov explains that main target of his administration in Agriculture has been to raise production and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Says today USSR produces the same total vegetable and melon crops as the USA, leading to 90 kg per capita. Their task, as set by the Institute of Nutrition, is to raise consumption to 126 kg yearly. They at present import 250,000 tons of fruits and vegetables mainly from Eastern Europe.  Just starting now to look into raising production of rarer vegetable matter, namely spices and flavoring matter. Looking to mechanization. Kramskov says have good cooperation with FMC, also with Castle & Cooke. (I wince since we both know that C&C have cancelled their Soviet project)

Hall:  says we use and study local variety of onion and garlic – seed production could be interesting. Garlic and onion are both highly mechanized.

Kramskov – as regards onion equipment, we have run tests on Dutch equipment for onions, also FMC machines and Hungarian equipment. In 1976 I went to the USA and saw on display in NY a different technology.  Our own machines were developed for North-Central areas, where there is strong onion, with high dry matter content. This machinery is no good for the southern regions. Central Asia, some parts of Ukraine, Moldavia have larger, mild ‘salad’ onions. Here soils are higher temperature. These onions spoil faster.  How do you manage these warmer soils?  We do have possibility to exchange varieties. Some of our onion stores very well. We supplied England. It is good for processing. We have a good genetic pool.

As regards garlic, we produce 60,000 tons here annually. We have winter garlic and spring garlic. Winter variety stores badly. We specially need help to develop better spring garlic. Our weak point is that we have no machines for garlic and it is very labor intensive.  Nothing for herbicides, pesticides. We also want processing of garlic, which can be done within Agriculture. Need garlic paste, juice.

Our spices – we do want help with local types: coriander, majoram, basil leaf. We’re only just beginning now. Seek contact with your specialists. Exchange of delegations.

Hall – we have highly mechanized both onion and garlic production and processing.  15 years ago these were largely hand work. No longer.

Kramskov – interesting spices for us: dill, parsley, turnips, basil, horseradish, coriander, Melissa, fennel, caraway

Hall – We seek to start with onion and garlic then proceed to other, lesser crops which have been less mechanized. We suggest first question be genetics – start new test field for varieties

Kramskov – Yes, but development of new varieties is a long process. I suggest we go faster – the largest problems are 1)mechanization 2)application of chemical pesticides and insecticides, fertilizers 3) processing  Genetics comes later

Hall (at my urging)   – 1st year – set up a model farm to test the varieties and technology.   2nd year – model drying operation.  Then to further improve breeding and processing

Kramskov – (alarmed we are moving too fast): we need some time to think it over – exchange literature. Let’s arrange exchange of delegations. After this we can draft the program.  We want to bring in the Food Ministry. We need their participation as processors. We are the farmers – they are your counterparts.

Note – here Kramskov says we are talking with Pepsico about potato processing (Frito Lay).

Kramskov – give us literature on industrial flavorings. We see great use for garlic – for canned foods. But do not want to forget other crops – rarer herbs and spices.  We grow a lot of paprika – but it is for use fresh.

Hall – we will get samples and spec sheets to you

Kotelnikov – best next step will be to hold a seminar from beginning to end 1)seed production  2) principles of vertical integration 3) processing. Then we can find ways for cooperation – and then go on to exchange of delegations.  See McCormick visit to Soviet production areas this summer – all via Intourist

Note: at the conclusion Kramskov comes over to me and gives a big and friendly handshake – very satisfied with today’s talks.

2.00 – 3.00  Organizing Committee of the 1980 Summer Olympics    Kovalyov, Polnikov +1

Chief negotiator Polnikov is long delayed and while awaiting him we chat with older, less shrews Kovalyov, who tells us about existing agreements with other companies:  1) Brazilian State Coffee company – will donate 3 tons of instant coffee to be used at official receptions  2) Heinekens – beer and monetary contribution – 10,000 cases + $55,000  3) Philip Morris – cigarettes  4)  Seagrams – $100,000  cash + American wine, Scotch, Rye and Canadian whisky.  Asks what we can offer.

Jack:  black pepper, white pepper, salt in 3 – 4 gram packs, plus portioned mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, jams and jellies.

Polnikov enters and looks sternly at Kovalyov for talking too freely.  (Kovalyov had said – ‘we all know Doctorow quite well’)  Asks what we are prepared to put up, stressing cash and saying the Organizing Committee seeks $100,000 – 150,000.   Jack says what is the scope of your need in commodity.  Polnikov is evasive.  I say let’s reckon 30,000 units per day x 20 days = 600,000 portions.  Polnikov acquiesces.

Polnikov asks what products we could put up.  Jack says either small portions or bulk packed – eg., 2 kg containers of mayonnaise. Polnikov: send us catalogues and specs.   Jack: we wish to give some product – to sell more product and will not give any cash.   Polnikov looks irritated but says nothing. 

Caffey says he will have proposal to their representative Kartsev in New York by December 15. Will be back in Moscow in March.

Polnikov is slick, but less unpleasant than formerly. As Caffey says : “He’s no virgin.”  Caffey likes the idea I advanced during the meeting: that we seek two separate deals – to give away some supplies and sell others – since these would be needed by the City Council whatever happens – so why not buy from us.  Polnikov takes exception to my use of the word ‘donate’ – but I remind him that it is merely a translation of the word they use ‘взнос’ i.e., contribution.

“4.30 – 6.00   Dinner with Nesterin at his tiny office in the Nutrition Institute.   Nesterin is cautious with us – especially with me and it’s clear I inhibit him. He wants to show off for Dr.Hall. He treats this as social rather than a business visit.

“7.00  Evening at the Bolshoi seeing my favorite dragon lady Plisetskaya in a program quite familiar to me – Carmen Suite and Death of a Rose. She is unusually good tonight.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

[Memoirs of Russianist, Volume I: From the Ground Up in now in print and available on all national websites of, as well as from other leading online retailers including Barnes & Noble, and]