Only In Russia
Back in 2004, when I was studying in St. Petersburg, I used to keep a jar of Baltimor’s “Grigori Rasputin” mustard in my fridge. It was part of the popular condiment brand’s Demented Villain (not the official name) range of spicy mustards. I’m relieved to see that these products, original branding intact, are still on the market.
It was never clear to me whether the namesake of each variety was supposed to correlate to its position on some kind of heat scale. Maybe it’s immediately obvious to a Russian person that the anarchist rebel Nestor Makhno was a real pussycat compared to Ivan the Terrible’s chief goon, Skuratov, but I find it all a bit ambiguous. Of course, spiciness in Russian cuisine is an ambiguous concept to begin with: I would often order such items as salat ostryj (spicy salad) only to find that the “spice” component of the dish was being fulfilled by red bell pepper. But I’ll summarize the accomplishments of each mustard mascot here, and perhaps the scale will become apparent.
Grigori Rasputin: The last tsar’s “Mad Monk” was a religious mystic who came to exert some influence over the Russian royal family, although the extent of that influence would seem to have been exaggerated by those seeking to turn the public against the Romanovs. (We all know how that ended.) Supernatural powers have been attributed to him, as have some curious religious views that revolve around the attainment of divine grace through sin, but the most bizarre of the legends surrounding Rasputin is how very difficult it was to murder him. It is said that he survived a massive dose of cyanide, three gunshots to his back, strangling, and a rumored castration–all on the same night–before drowning in the Neva, into whose icy waters his stumped assassins had finally thrown him.
Malyuta Skuratov: Ivan the Terrible’s most bloodthirsty enforcer in the Oprichnina, a medieval precursor to the KGB. Known to purge entire cities at a time of “traitors,” and to personally strangle political VIPs. One of his daughters is supposed to have been a poisoner, too. What a lovely family.
Nestor “Daddy” Makhno: Ukrainian guerilla leader who commanded an independent (but generally pro-Bolshevik) peasant army during the Russian Civil War. His men committed atrocities against Ukraine’s Mennonite population, pillaging their farms and razing what remained so as to leave nothing behind for their enemies. Makhno ended his days in Paris, working as, among other things, a stage-hand at the Paris Opera.
I’m trying to imagine what the American equivalent of this sort of branding would be. Our monsters tend not to be warlords, but serial killers. I don’t know if I can see a John Wayne Gacy hot sauce flying off the shelves, but who can really tell anymore?
Update: I don’t know how well the stuff sells, but a John Wayne Gacy hot sauce does, in fact, exist. It’s part of a fairly extensive range that includes both real and fictional killers. So there you go. These do appear to be novelty products, though, and not supermarket staples like Baltimor’s.