In Russia, they were persecuted for their religious beliefs – they were pacifist, vegetarian and refused to swear allegiance to any power lower than God. As the Doukhobors were packing, Canadian authorities were scrambling to welcome such a large number of immigrants at once. The answer was potatoes.
In the fall of 1898, government agents were buying up potatoes from Brandon to Regina. It was a very wet fall and many potato crops were ruined, reducing the volume and increasing the price. Potatoes purchased in the fall for 30–45 cents per bushel were $1.25 a bushel by spring. Estimates said they would need upwards of 10,000 bushels for food that winter and another 1,000 bushels for planting in Doukhobor gardens come spring.
Storage was an issue, as seen in this memo from December 1898: "Quantity potatoes stored in cellar public building here think require attention decaying smell through office very bad most unhealthy for officers and presume potatoes spoiling."
Most of the potatoes reached their destination. A year later, the Doukhobors had built fifty-seven communal villages and proved themselves to be successful farmers, particularly in potatoes. This salad of potatoes and beets came to Saskatchewan with the Doukhobors and is still popular in Russia.
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vinegar (opt)
Salt and pepper
Boil vegetables until cooked. Cool and peel. Chop vegetables and pickles. Mix with onion, oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Variation: add 1/2 cup sauerkraut.
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(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)