Friday, December 02, 2011

Emily's First Russian Christmas

Yesterday when I posted a quote from this book, I forgot to give any set up as to the setting of the quote. Emily is a young English who has just arrived in Russia to live with her aristocratic grandmother, just in time for the dramatic events of 1917.

This quote about Emily's first Russian Christmas comes from page 158-159.


Christmas dinner began at six that evening with the zakuski. The butler and the footman brought into the drawing-room a wheeled table on which were laid out salted cucumbers, stuffed mushrooms, green and black olives, marinaded tomatoes, stuffed eggs in their shells, two kinds of caviare – red and black – and open tartlets filled with creamy concoctions of smoked fish and spiced chicken. Flasks, of vodka sat in ice buckets, and as soon as the plates were filled, the glasses were charged and Natasha toasted the first toast – to Yenya and Yenchik, whose name-day it was.

Everyone drained their glasses in unison, and then tasted the zasuski while the servants went round refilling for the next toast. Emily has been in Russia almost six weeks now, and knew the procedure. She had found the vodka rather startling at first, but there was no doubt that it warmed up the atmosphere of any gathering very quickly, as toast after toast was drunk, and the delicious hors d’oeuvres were consumed.

It was seven o’clock before they moved into the dining-room, where the servants brought in the soup and the hot pirozhkis – small pastries filled variously with minced meat, onions and cabbage, and mushrooms – which went with it. The vodka was exchanged for wine now, but the toasts went on, and the laughter and conversation rose a notch. Emily’s whole body seemed to be filled with a warm astonishment: it was different as it could be from those stiff Christmas dinners at Bratton. She was seated between Adishka and Tolya, and the former kept her entertained with stories about Petersburg society, while she had never seen the latter so animated and unselfconscious.

After the soup there was kulebiaka, a noble pie made in millefeuille layers of crisp pastry filled with salmon, sturgeon, mushrooms, chopped eggs, and rice flavoured with onions and dill. Then, for the main course, there was the Christmas goose stuffed with cinnamon apples, and partridges cooked in sour cream. When it came to the dessert, the cook, Borya – a large Georgian with huge moustaches of which he was intensely proud – brought it up before him on an enormous silver platter: a traditional English plum pudding, flickering bravely with blue flames of ignited brandy and crowned with a sprig of holly.


  1. What a great bit from a book to use for this.

  2. Reading this passage made my stomach grumble and my mouth water! What a great snippet for you to have excerpted today! Thanks for sharing this, Marg!

  3. Thanks Misfit.

    Zibilee, I had fun collecting quotes to use, mainly for the Virtual Advent tour. I think I will try to do it again for next year.