September 01, 2015

How the Upper Crust Dined

The nineteenth-century St. Petersburg aristocrat Petr Pavlovich Durnovo regularly entertained at his mansion on the city’s fashionable English Embankment. Thanks to a trove of his dinner menus from 1857-1858, we can get a good sense of the foods that the mid-century aristocracy enjoyed.* Here, for instance, is the menu for September 25, 1857:

Soup with vermicelli
Oysters on the half-shell
Pozharsky cutlets with garnish
Roast great snipe
Meringues with ice cream

Durnovo’s St. Petersburg table was far more restrained than the groaning-board style of traditional Russian hospitality associated with Moscow. After the soup, Durnovo’s dinners always moved on to a cold dish (often fish), then a hot dish, then a roast, a vegetable, and dessert. Not surprisingly, St. Petersburg’s cuisine was more cosmopolitan than Moscow’s, with dishes prepared “French style,” “English style,” and “Italian style,” in addition to “Russian style.”

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