Is there really a Russian myth about Solenya, the pickle man?
While pickles are a part of Russian cuisine, there’s no such myth. The story you’re recalling was probably from the American program “Rick and Morty,” in which Rick tells his grandson that there are creatures made out of pickle guts who live under Russians’ beds to eat them while they sleep. But these monsters aren’t real, nor is anything about them related to Russia. Believe it or not, the origins of this meme was actually in the very old 1944 film “The Great Dictator” featuring Charlie Chaplin!
The Russian myth about Solenya the pickle man is a great example of how new urban legends are made up and then rapidly spread through social media. Folklorists have studied the wild story about this popular figure in Russian folklore – but with only one reference to him in a 16th century compendium of folk tales, it’s highly unlikely there was ever really a tradition of onion-scented scarecrows that roam Russia in search for juicy orphans. This is just one more rumor spawned by unverified eyewitness accounts on the internet combined with an age-old tale told over generations passed down within families.
In Russia, there’s a story known as “The Legend of Solenya the Pickle Man”. It goes like this: There was once a woman who had come about her house, and she suddenly found herself without anything to eat. She called out to God in her dire hunger, promising that if he would only help her with some food or drink she vowed never again to act so disobediently as she did then before his infinite majesty. The voice answered that it would be done; after saying these words, inside appeared one of the emperor’s servants carrying in his hands a tray on which lay the most delicious food imaginable for one such as this poor creature.
Yes. The story originates with a legend from the Russian village of Kuzminki.
In a small Russian village named Kuzminki, there was once an old man who sold pickles. This Pickle Man would pack the street in front of his store building every day with jars and jars of fresh pickles until eventually he ran out of room and had to put them on top for sale. One day he saw that no one was buying any more so he asked several young boys to help try and sell them for him but they all got busy doing something else long before they reached the end of his store front where his jars were perched up high on their shelves.
In Russian folklore, Solenya is a Pickle Man who dwells in the pantry and stealthily eats pickles from their jars. He stays away when he’s full or when there is no pickle left in any jar. Then he takes out more to eat until they are all gone, but does not actually help in preparing foods for dinner.
He only appears while working during nighttime and hides during daytime as his face makes children cry out of fear of seeing him again until another night fall with new cans of pickles to be consumed by the callous and voracious creature.
There are many Russian myths about Solenya, the pickle man.
Due to age and some translation issues, not all of these myths have been fully documented. However, one popular myth is that so long as the sun shines before midnight on New Year’s Day, Solenya will leave a jar of pickles at your doorstep after he finishes ringing in the New Year with his lanterns and walking stick.
The origins of this legend are unknown but it goes back centuries. Some folks say this legend springs from a tradition in which children would put jars outside their house overnight to collect water for drinking on New year’s Morning and if they didn’t see any jars then they were doomed to go thirsty for another year…
One ropot of this myth has a pickle peddler encountering the devil and exchanging his soul in exchange for eternal life on Earth if he had to come to hell every Sunday.
Russian families have been making pickles since Russian soldiers were stationed on the high salt-content steppes of Central Asia, Mongolia, and Siberia. Pickles – cooked beetroot, boiled cabbage, carrots and cucumber – were a means of preserving good food with salt in place of expensive sugar or oil for months at a time. The salty acidity reacts with the nitrates naturally present in vegetables converting them into nitrites that give traditional pickled vegetables their characteristic flavour.
A Russian myth about Solenya, the pickle man, is none other than an account of the apocalyptic future predicted by such prophecies in Russia as Rasputin’s Bald Mountain, or Rasvyet. The apocalyptic vision of an imminent turn to darkness and instability are most vividly expressed in folk tales known collectively as legend okovka soleny (pickle jar prophecies), which are deeply embedded in modern Russia’s consciousness. These predictions were favorites among tsarist officials who used them for their own political ends; they sought to turn all subjects into obedient slaves “before the frost.”
Yes. In Russia, a tradition of village life was to give brides on their wedding day a special dish called “kisel’e,” which is a pickle made from cucumbers, beets, carrots and dill. The kisel’e was said to bring the bride good luck in her marriage. The custom of giving the groom his own special food at the wedding persisted until World War I (1914-1918), when many Russian soldiers were thrown into an environment where they did not have access to certain foods or ingredients required for condiments like ketchup and mustard.
The legend of Solenya is common in Russia, with regional variations.
In some traditions, a red-clad man will enter the kitchen during Christmas and ask for pickles that he politely tries to repay with big rubles. When there’s no pickle on hand, he swallows the household’s best cutlery set and hides until someone leaves a bowlful of pickles out on Christmas Eve night. It turns out that these are good spirits who need to be pacified so they don’t sabotage the celebrations.
A different folkloric tradition holds that Solenya was forced to wear red as punishment for his part in offending Jesus Christ by selling him poison while he traveled through Russia preaching.