Tsar (Emperor) of Russia
January was the month that triggered a procession of celebrations and balls at the Russian Imperial Court, with the first banquet being held on 6th January (in the Julian Calendar) to mark the Baptism of Christ.
The Feast of the Epiphany (sometimes also known as the Feast of the Theophany or the Feast of the Baptism) was part of a spectacular religious and imperial ceremony played out along the Palace Embankment of St. Petersburg’s frozen Neva River. The event marked the blessing of the waters in a symbolic celebration of Christ’s own blessing in the Jordan River.
This 120 year-old menu-card is from the banquet hosted by Tsar Alexander III in 1892 that followed the elaborate religious ceremony conducted in the faith of the Russian Orthodox Church. The great irony of this seven course palace’ menu-card is that, in 1892, the Russian famine was at its peak - although the serving of arrowroot pudding for dessert does seem a rather humble and austere creation from the palace kitchens.
At 10am on this day, imperial guards and soldiers, in full-dress uniform, ceremonially marched to the Winter Palace and lined-up along its endless halls and galleries that formed the route from the royal apartments to the imperial family’s private chapel located within.
Personal guests of the imperial family, men in full uniform and ladies in their formal court dresses, were required to take their places in the palace by 11am; at which point the military-band stationed outside the Emperor’s private apartments broke into “God Save the Tsar”, the grand doors swung open and the imperial procession materialised.
The procession was led by four ‘pages of honour’ followed by Privy Councillors, Generals, aide de camps, chamberlains and equerries before the Tsar and Tsarina emerged, hand-in-hand and leading members of their family.
In 1890, the New York Times reported of the same event two years earlier:
“At the conclusion of the service in the chapel the imperial ladies withdrew to the apartments on the first floor looking out on to the Neva [River], while the Emperor, accompanied by the Princes and gentlemen present, stepped forth out of the palace and crossed the broad quay to the pretty little pavilion erected on the left bank of the river.
“His Majesty strode a few paces behind the venerable and white bearded Metropolitan Isidore, a prelate ninety-two years of age, who was preceded by a large body of clergy decked out in all the gorgeous vestments and jewels of the orthodox church. The entire Nevski prospect [the main boulevard in St. Petersburg] as far as the eye could reach was occupied by the troops of the garrison, the magnificently mounted Chevalier Guards with their eagle-crested golden helmets presenting a particularly picturesque appearance.
“As soon as [Emperor] Alexander had taken up his position under the pavilion the massed bands commenced to play the strains of the ‘vozglass’ or ‘Call to Worship,” and immediately every head was bared to the icy cold winds.
“Standing to the edge of the hole cut in the ice of the Neva, the Metropolitan, whose long white locks fluttered in the breeze, thereupon intoned the words prescribed by the liturgy, and, after blessing the black girdling waters as they rushed rapidly by under the thick layer of ice by thrice dipping therein the crucifix which he bore in his hands, he turned to his sovereign and besprinkled him and the Princes with the water thus consecrated.
“[Emperor] Alexander, having responded by kissing the prelate’s hand and reverently crossing himself, slowly wended his way back to the palace amid the hoarse shouts of “Gospodi pomilut,”, (Lord be merciful to us), by the officers and soldiers present, and while the big cannon of the fortress of Saints Peter and Paul on the opposite side of the river boomed forth an imperial salute of 101 guns.” – The New York Times, 16 February 1890.
The Governess to the imperial children, Margaret Eager, remembered how “some of the water is then brought into the palace and put into glasses reserved specially for it, and it is then drunk after many prayers and much blessing of themselves by the Russians”.
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
Potage Crême d’Asperges
Cream of asparagus soup
A selection of pastries filled with meats, fish and vegetables to accompany soup
Truite froide à la Parisienne
Cold dish of trout glazed in aspic jelly served on a bed of chopped aspic jelly surrounded with stuffed tomatoes, lemon slices and eggs filled with mayonnaise
Poulets Reine à la Valencienne
Chicken breasts coated in a demi-glaze made from Madeira with reduced veal and partridge stock, served on a bed of savory rice made from tomatoes, smoked ham and peppers
Point de Bœuf pöelèe garnie
Pan-fried beef garnished with vegetables
Pouding à l’Arrow-Root
Baked custard pudding flavored with arrowroot, nutmeg
and lemon rind
Menu dated 6th January 1892 (Julian Calendar)
Imperial luncheon for the Feast of the Epiphany at the Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg, hosted Their Imperial Majesties Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria-Feodorovna of Russia to mark the Blessing of the Waters in celebration of the Baptism of Christ.