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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pass the Oil, It's Butter Week

Pierce another packet of sour cream; lay by more caviar. Things could get dicey this maslenitsa.


For 1,500 years, Russians have devoted one week to unchecked consumption of bliny, or thin pancakes, and the range of fatty foods that accompany them. Maslenitsa, or Butter Week, which started Monday and lasts for a week, directly precedes the Orthodox Church's 40-day Great Fast, which demands abstention from -- among other things -- meat, eggs, chocolate, vodka, bliny and sex.


So it stands to reason that Moscow is indulging. This March, though, the city is just emerging from what city officials refer to as "the butter situation" -- an unexpected shortage that forced city planners to order more from New Zealand and drove prices through the roof.


The vagaries of the free market could have left Muscovites celebrating Butter Week with salo and Cup o' Noodles. But true to form, Mayor Yury Luzhkov is greeting the holiday with a municipal diktat and, according to the Department of Food Resources, there is no reason to panic.


"We are not worried. We consider the situation to be completely under control," said Food Resources spokesman Geny Korepanov. "Butter Week will not be butterless."


The 19th-century sociologist Sergei Maksimov described the sole aim of maslenitsa -- similar to Mardi Gras in France and New Orleans, Shrovetide in England and Carnavale in Brazil -- as "drowning in wine and entertainment all the cares and troubles of everyday life."


Today, these pagan entertainments mainly take the form of dinner parties, particularly on the first and last days of Maslenitsa. And those dinners mainly take the form of bliny.


"The blin is the real tsar, knight and hero of Russia," enthused Yakut poet Arkhip Kudrin in the 1930s.


"The blin is red and fiery, like the all-warming sun. The blin, burnished by oil, is a recollection of the sacrifices carried to the mighty stone idols. The blin is the symbol of the sun, of beautiful days, of good harvests, of harmonious marriages and healthy children."


Or it will be, if you can find the ingredients. In a show of true holiday spirit, the city government has imposed price controls on flour, and during the week of Feb. 19 to 26, flour prices officially dropped nearly in half. The egg picture is also rosy. Moscow Region egg producers have laid by 45 million of them, cutting local prices by 25 percent.


Butter is not so easy. But housewife Natasha Yevsukiyevna, 36, who has been known to flip off bliny while giving her son a haircut, said her pancakes would be good anyway, "and when they named the holiday after butter, they meant it metaphorically." She added that she had two kilograms of butter.


And it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Spirits are high at Moszhirkombinat, the former Soviet Union's largest producer of bulk fat products. Although the plant does not make butter, it does make margarine, which is "equally delicious," said director Melkon Aznaurian, "although perhaps less appropriate from a religious standpoint."


"For decades, we have been trying to introduce margarine to the Russian people," he added gleefully. "Finally, it's working."