When I first lived in Lithuania in 1993-1994, the country was struggling to make the transition from a Soviet planned economy to a free-market economy. This process caused a lot of economic dislocation that was very difficult for many people. I was protected from the economic hardship by the fact that I received a Fulbright stipend in dollars. However, I still had to deal with the reality of shortages. It was particularly difficult to get fresh produce during the winter. There were also few locally produced canned foods and very little imported food. Various entrepreneurs would go to Western Europe or Poland and bring back fresh produce and other foodstuffs. Most of the fresh produce was sold at street-corner stands, while other foodstuffs were sold in small store fronts.
Our small group of five Americans at the university joked that all of Kaunas belonged to a “fruit and vegetable of the month” club. It seemed that all the produce stands on the street would sell the exact same item — and that would be the only fresh item for about a month. I distinctly remember that brussel sprouts were the available vegetable in December 1993. I’m not a big fan of brussel sprouts so it was a challenge to keep inventing new ways to eat them since the were the only fresh vegetable available. I was very happy when lemons appeared in January. I made a lot of lemonade even though it was the middle of winter.
The few imported goods available were very expensive and even I did not frequently buy them. Every once in a while I came across something I couldn’t pass up. At one point, I was in a shop in Vilnius and I saw a box of Jiffy cornbread mix. Suddenly I was so homesick and I had to have Jiffy cornbread. I actually paid $5 for the box. That was not only an exorbitant amount of money for Lithuania in 1994, it was an exorbitant amount of money for a box of Jiffy cornbread mix — which cost about 35 cents in the US at the time. I didn’t make the cornbread for a couple of months, because just having the box on the kitchen counter made me feel a little bit like home. Finally, I decided the time had come to actually make the cornbread and it was the most delicious Jiffy cornbread I’ve ever eaten.
That spring, I walked into a shop on Laisves Aleja in Kaunas and spotted two boxes of Girl Scout cookies on a shelf. They were even Samoas, my favorite kind. I almost fainted, but I managed to stay calm and purchase them. The next week I decided to check out that shop again — and discovered two boxes of Girl Scout shortbread trefoils. I immediately bought them as well. I was rather disappointed not to find Girl Scout thin mints the following week. No more Girl Scout cookies appeared, but I had four boxes and I treasured every cookie I ate.