Both would be brutally murdered. He would later be blamed for the accidental deaths of over 1300 countrymen; while she would later be canonised as Saint Elizabeth Romanov.
These two menus are from the palace of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and his wife, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorvna. He was the brother of the reigning Tsar Alexander III and she was the sister of the future and last Tsarina. “No two human beings could have offered such a contrast”, remembered fellow Romanov, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich.
The menu dated 1891 is from the couple’s Moscow palace, just two months after the Grand Duke’s appointment as Governor-General of the city. It offers a truly imperial breakfast of jellied grouse; strawberry ice-creams with glacéed chestnuts; and a traditionally Russian dome-shaped Kournik (Kurnik/ курник): a pie made with pastry encasing pancakes separating alternate layers of chicken poached with fennel, mushrooms with cockscombs, and buckwheat porridge flavoured with dill and chopped egg.
Most accounts of imperial Russia indicate that a dinner or a ball at the home of Grand Ducal couple was only pleasurable because of the hostess, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. She seemed to be adored by all fashionable Saint Petersburg.
“Everybody fell in love with "Aunt Ella” the very first moment she arrived in St. Petersburg” gushed her nephew Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich; but of her husband, “try as I will, I cannot find a single redeeming feature in his character”.
Even the future Queen of Romania sounded defensive in her love of her uncle admitting “few perhaps cherish his memory, but I do”.
In his last years of life before an assassin struck, the Grand Duke’s reputation had been severely damaged as he was blamed for the mishandling of the public coronation celebrations of Nicholas II, which led to a stampede causing more than 1300 to be trampled to death.
“Uncle Serge wore a close-cropped fair beard; his lips were thin and closed in a firm line that was almost cruel”, remembered Queen Marie of Romania from her youth. But then, to his defence again, the Queen remarked almost dreamily “but oh, how handsome he was, so inconceivably upright, with such a magnificent figure”.
But as Prince Felix Yusupov recalled, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich “wore corsets, and when he was in his summer uniform the bones could be clearly seen through his white linen tunic. As a child, it always amused me to touch them, and this of course annoyed him intensely”.
According to the Romanian Queen, Grand Duke Sergei “had something of the schoolmaster attitude” towards his wife.
“I can still see the adorable blush that would suffuse her cheeks when he reproved her, and he did this often, no matter where or before whom. “Mais Serge . . .” she would then exclaim, and the expression of her face was like that of a schoolgirl detected in some fault. Only to remember her still makes my heart melt within me”.
Both menu-cards on this website are embossed with the Romanov imperial crown atop the personal monogram of each of the hosts: CA being the Cyrillic initials for Sergei Alexandrovich and EΘ being the Cyrillic initials for Elizabeth Fyodorvna.
The second menu, dated 1888, is from a dinner at the couple’s Sergievsky Palace in Saint Petersburg: originally called Belosselsky Belozersky Palace.
“One night we dined with the Grand Duke and Duchess Serge at the beautiful old ‘Beloselski’ palace”, recounted Lady Randolph Churchill of a visit in the early 1880s.
“It was built in the reign of the great Catherine, whose hand is found in everything of real taste in Russia. Decorated and furnished by the best French artists of the day, to whom the Empress was a generous patron -with its lovely Bouchers and carved white panellings - I thought it quite the finest house we saw while in Russia”.
For the dinner on this menu guests were treated to jellied quails; ham with a chestnut and Malaga sauce; and roast ducks basted with a truffle reduction. For dessert each guest was served an apple-cake base topped with almond and blackcurrant ice-cream and sealed in a colourful case made from chopped jellied fruits.
“The Grand Duchess Serge gave some fine balls whilst she still lived in St. Petersburg, before her consort was appointed Governor-General of Moscow”, recalled Princess Catherine Radziwill.
The age of the Grand Duchess’s guests was inconsequential. “As small children she petted and spoiled us all, often inviting us to tea, the feast ending in a grand frolic in which we were allowed to search the rooms for toys which she had ingeniously hidden”, remembered Anna Vyrubova who, as an adult, was a Lady-in-Waiting to the last Tsarina.
According to her nephew, the Grand Duchess possessed “ravishing beauty, rare intelligence, delightful sense of humor, infinite patience, hospitality of thought, [and a] generous heart”.
These menus provide a glimpse into the splendor of the formal lives of the Grand Ducal couple while the grandeur of the Romanov lifestyle in imperial Russia seemed permanent.
Decades later, both the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess would meet with particularly violent deaths, albeit 13 years apart.
He would die instantly when a bomb was thrown in his lap as his coach went through the Kremlin gate. The widowed Grand Duchess however, who has since been canonised, suffered a more brutal death during the Russian Revolution: clubbed and thrown alive down a mine-shaft with hand-grenades and torched birch-wood following behind her.
Following her husband’s assassination, the Grand Duchess had become a nun and founded the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary. She inexplicably became a vegetarian; with those close to her surmising it was from the day she rushed to the site of the explosion that blew her husband apart; and the shock of the bloody mangled scene that confronted her.
“Her beauty and sweetness was a thing of dreams”, remembered the Queen of Romania:
"Aunt Ella! Beautiful, beautiful woman, may something of that love I felt for you reach you in that far country where you lie in a martyr’s tomb”.
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
1888 dinner and 1891 breakfast menus for Their Imperial Highnesses Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna
29 апреля 1891 года
29 April 1891
Potage purée de tomates
Traditional Russian dome-shaped chicken pie made from layers of braised chicken and fennel, buckwheat porridge, mushrooms and cockscombs; all separated by a layer of pancakes before the whole ensemble is encased in pastry
Gélinottes en gelée aux pointes d’asperges
Jellied grouse with asparagus tips.
Fritures de viande et petites côtelettes de poulardes
Fried crumbed meats and small chicken cutlets
Bordure de marrons aux glaces à la Parisienne
Rings of glacéed chestnuts forming a border around strawberry and vanilla ice-cream
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
6 марта 1888
6 March 1888
Consommé au goût de tomates
Condensed tomato consommé
Petits croustades en surprise et pailles au parmesan
Small open pastry cases filled with a mixture if savoury ragouts; and parmesan flavoured baked cheese sticks
Chaud-froid de Cailles à la Montebello sauce Américaine
Cold dish of boned quails coated in a Béarnaise sauce that has been mixed with tomato paste and grated truffles and sealed in a layer of aspic jelly; served with an Américaine sauce made from tomato and bacon
Noix de jambon à la purée de marrons sauce au Malaga
Leg of ham served with puréed chestnuts and served with a sauce made from the thick and sweet Malaga wine
Canneton de Rouen et poulardes au jus de fumet de truffes
Ducks from Rouen and poulardes (spayed hens not less than 120 days old) that have been basted with a strong truffle reduction during roasting
A salad of celery, apple, raisins and blanched almonds in a vinaigrette dressing
Gâteau Marguérite à la plombiere de cassis garnis de gelées à la Persigny
Apple cake base topped with an iced almond and blackcurrant cream and garnished with chopped jellied fruits.