Two hours before, Princess Sophia Obolensky wed Eugene Day in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. Now friends and family have gathered to alebrate with a traditional Russian wedding breakfast.
"You see how it is," says longtime friend Maria Fisher. "The priest blesses the food, and the bride and groom tear pieces of the bread, dip them into the salt and eat them. This is an age-old custom. This is tradition. Most of the people here have familial ties to Russia, and doing this reception in this manner is very important to them."
As the guests move to greet the wedding couple on the lawn outside the Chevy Chase home of Prince and Princess Gregory G. Gagarin (the bride's cousins), the air ripples with the sweet skirl of a bagpipe. The parents of the bride and groom present the wedding couple with a hand-painted icon of the Virgin and a lovely domed khleb sol, a ceremonial bread with a small crystal vessel of loose salt just peeking from the top of the loaf. The bride's mother, Selene Obolensky, hands Sophia the bread in a piece of embroidered Russian linen and reminds her that it is "symbolic of cleaning away past sins, of starting a fresh life together, and of health and happiness."
The reception food comes from the house one dish at a time and is laid on the buffet tables with a deliberate slowness--a rhythm that does not disturb the tranquil ambiance, a sleepy elegance on this sunny summer afternoon.
With audible "ahs" the guests survey the dishes of salmon mousse, eggplant caviar, marinated mushrooms, liver pa te', cucumber mousse, eggs a' la russe, ham with mustard sauce, tongue with horseradish sauce, caviar crown and squares of whole wheat, pumpernickel, and black breads. And they enthusiastically debate the ingredients used for the salmon mousse or the quality of horseradish needed to produce the piquant bite of the horseradish sauce.
Sophia has spent several months planning the wedding fare, and is delighted with the results. The bride says the food is simple but appropriate, and she is proud that all of it has been made by friends and family. "In this way everyone has a chance to participate and share their own versions of our traditional Russian cooking," she says.
The afternoon wanes. The cake is cut, toasts are made; the guests reluctantly depart, one by one and in small groups, leaving the core of Russian family, close friends and the remains of a wedding feast.
Now for the vodka!
With the groom (his friends call him Gene) as the leader, most of those left cluster around the zakuska ("small bites") tables. A large pile of black bread and a platter of salted herring smothered in finely sliced scallions go well with the six different flavored vodkas that Sophia's father has made especially for this occasion. They drink the chilled vodka neat--in one gulp--from small shot glasses.
No one hesitates. They pour more vodka, make more toasts, clink glasses, eat more herring and refill glasses. At one point, Gene raises his glass to peer at the party through this ritual drink and says in a voice loud enough to be heard by all that this "is indeed the right stuff." PICKLED MUSHROOMS (Marinovannye Griby) (6 to 8 servings) 1 cup red wine vinegar 2 whole cloves 1/2 cup cold water 5 whole peppercorns 1/2 bay leaf 2 teaspoons salt 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 1 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
In an enameled or stainless-steel saucepan, combine the red wine vinegar, whole cloves, water, peppercorns, bay leaf, salt and crushed garlic.
Bring to a boil, drop in the mushrooms and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring the mushrooms occasionally. Allow to cool to room temperature. Remove the garlic from the marinade and pour the entire contents into a 1-quart jar.
Slowly pour the vegetable oil on top, secure the top with plastic wrap, and cover the jar tightly.
Marinate the mushrooms in the refrigerator for at least one week. From Time/Life Foods of the World Series, "Recipes: Russian Cooking POOR MAN'S CAVIAR (Baklazhannaia Ikra) (6 servings) 1 medium-sized eggplant 1/2 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup tomato sauce 1/2 cup chopped green peppers (optional) Freshly ground black pepper to taste 2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional) Black bread for serving
Put enough water in a saucepan to cover eggplant. Bring the water to a boil and blanch the eggplant by dropping it into the boiling water for at least 5 minutes, removing it from the pot and running it under cold water. The skin should peel away very easily. Dice the eggplant into fine pieces.
Fry the onions in the oil until they are golden brown. Add the eggplant, salt, tomato sauce, black pepper and green pepper. Stir and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and add more salt and pepper if desired.
Pour into a bowl and refrigerate for several hours. Serve cold on black bread. TONGUE (Yazik) (6 to 8 servings) 1 fresh beef tongue Meat stock or water to cover tongue 2 carrots, peeled 1 whole onion 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns 1 teaspoon salt
Wash the tongue well with cold running water. Place it in a large saucepan, cover it with the meat stock or water. Add the carrots, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt. Bring it to a boil, cover the pot and cook the tongue until it is tender, approximately 30 minutes to the pound. Remove the tongue from the stock, and allow it to cool before removing the skin and trim it by removing any small bones, the roots and gristle. Cut into thin slices and serve with a horseradish-sour cream sauce or a horseradish-marinated beet sauce (see recipes below). HORSERADISH-SOUR CREAM SAUCE (Hren) (Makes 1 1/2 cups) 1/2 pound fresh horseradish (substitute 1 cup prepared horseradish) 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar Salt to taste 1/2 cup sour cream
Thoroughly clean horseradish root and grate finely. Mix in the vinegar, salt to taste and sour cream. Chill until serving time. HORSERADISH-MARINATED BEET SAUCE (Hren) (Makes 1 1/4 cups) 1/2 pound fresh horseradish 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar Salt to taste 1/4 cup finely chopped marinated beets
Thoroughly clean horseradish root and grate finely. Mix in the vinegar, salt and marinated beets. Chill until serving time. SALMON MOUSSE (Semga) (4 servings) 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 small onion, finely diced 1/2 cup chicken broth or stock 1/3 cup mayonnaise 1/2 teaspoon paprika 1 teaspoon dried dill weed 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce 16-ounce can of salmon (drained) 2/3 cup whipping cream Carrots, olives, capers, green peppers, cucumber or fresh dill for garnish
Put gelatin, lemon juice and onion into a blender or food processor. Bring the chicken broth to a boil and add. Blend the ingredients until smooth. Add the mayonnaise, paprika, dill weed, hot pepper sauce and salmon. Again blend the ingredients until smooth. With the machine still running, add the whipping cream and blend until ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Pour mixture into a lightly oiled 3- to 3 1/2-cup mold and refrigerate until set. To unmold, run tip of small knife around the edge of the mousse and unmold on a bed of lettuce. The mousse may be garnished with carrots, olives, capers, green peppers, cucumbers and fresh dill. Serve as a main dish with black, rye or pumpernickel bread and salad. RADISHES WITH SOUR CREAM (Rediska v Smetaniye) (4 servings) 2 cups washed and thinly sliced radishes 1/2 cup sour cream Salt to taste
Mix radishes with sour cream and salt. Serve soon after preparation or radishes will become watery. Serve as a vegetable. FISH IN SHERRY ASPIC (Zalivnoe iz Riba) (6 servings) A 4-pound fresh firm-fleshed whole fish such as flounder, pike, or cod--or enough to yield about 1 1/2 pounds of meat 1 teaspoon salt 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns 1 small onion 2 1/2 cups water 1 package unflavored gelatin 1/4 cup water Sherry to taste 1 to 2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced Fresh dill and parsley for decoration Horseradish-sour cream sauce
Scale, clean and wash the fish. In a large pot, add the salt, bay leaf, peppercorns, onion and 2 1/2 cups water. Bring these ingredients to a boil and add the whole fish. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 for 15 minutes. Remove the fish, skin it, remove bones and cut into pieces.
Strain the fish stock and bring it to a boil. Combine gelatin with 1/4 cup cold water and allow to soften. Add gelatin to fish stock and remove the pan from the fire. Stir with a whisk until it just begins to thicken. Add the sherry. While the stock (or aspic) is cooling, rinse out a 4-cup mold with very cold water. When aspic is cooled (about room temperature, but not yet solid), spoon a little in the mold to cover the bottom completely, then arrange the sliced eggs in a pattern on top of the aspic. Arrange the fish slices on top of the egg and spoon the remaining aspic over the fish. Chill well until it is set, at least 4 to 5 hours. Unmold and garnish with any extra egg slices, the dill and the parsley. Serve the aspic with the horseradish-sour cream sauce (recipe above). CUCUMBER MOUSSE (Ogurtzi) (6 to 8 appetizer servings) 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin 1/4 cup cold water 1/2 cup boiling water 1 cup mayonnaise 1 tablespoon scallions, sliced 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon dry dill 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional) 2 medium-sized cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cubed Radishes, cucumbers and dill for garnish
In a small bowl, soften the gelatin in the cold water. Transfer the gelatin to a blender or food processor and add the boiling water. Blend until smooth and slightly cooled. Add the mayonnaise, scallions, lemon juice, dill, salt and optional hot pepper sauce. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add the cucumber pieces a few at a time and blend until smooth. Pour into a 5-cup mold and chill overnight.
Unmold on lettuce and garnish with radishes, cucumbers and dill. LOBSTER SALAD (Salat iz Omara) (6 to 8 servings) 2-pound cooked lobster 5 hard-cooked eggs 3 cups diced boiled potatoes 1 cup diced cucumber (peeled and cored) 1 cup fresh diced apples 1 cup fresh cooked green peas 1 cup cooked asparagus pieces 1 teaspoon salt White pepper to taste 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise Radishes, dill and parsley for garnish
Remove the lobster meat in large chunks (keeping the shell as whole as possible) and cut the meat into cubes. Chop three of the hard-cooked eggs and toss with the lobster meat, potatoes, cucumber, apples, peas, asparagas, salt, pepper and mayonnaise. Pile the salad in or around the lobster shell. Sprinkle the top with more chopped eggs and garnish the plate with rings of hard-cooked eggs, radishes, dill and parsley. SALTED HERRING (Selodka) (6 to 8 appetizer servings) 2 salted herrings Cold water and milk 1 bunch scallions, sliced (use both green and white parts) 1/2 cup vinegar 3/4 cup vegetable oil
Cover the herring in equal portions of cold water and milk for 8 to 10 hours or until the outside skin is soft and can be removed. Remove the heads, slit the stomachs and clean out the intestines. Wash the fish under cold running water. Cut down the center of the spine, through to the bone and starting at the top, peel the skin away, one side at a time. Remove the backbone and cut the fish across in 1/2-inch pieces. Arrange the fish on a long plate, like a whole fish. Sprinkle scallions over the top. Mix vinegar and oil and sprinkle it on the fish. Refrigerate the fish for at least 3 to 4 hours before serving. Serve with dark bread. HAM WITH SWEET MUSTARD SAUCE (Vetchna and Gorchitza) (8 or more servings) 1 fresh ham (about 5 pounds)* 4 1/2 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup water or more Mustard: 1/2 cup mustard powder 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt Boiling water to moisten Juice of 1/2 lemon
Allow the fresh ham to come to room temperature. Mix the flour, salt and water together and form a thick dough. Put a little oil on your hands for easy handling and roll the dough out on a lightly floured board. Wrap the dough (casing) around the leg, pinching it together to seal it, until the leg is completely wrapped. (This process takes a little handling and piecing together). Bake the leg for 30 minutes to the pound at 350 degrees. Take the ham out of the oven and let it cool. Remove the casing and discard, peel the skin back and brush the ham with butter or the fat drippings (although the casing will absorb most of the drippings.) Put the ham back into the oven long enough to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove, cool and slice. Serve with sweet mustard sauce.
To make the sauce, mix the mustard powder, sugar and salt together, adding enough boiling water to moisten the mixture. Add the lemon juice and mix again.
*Call the butcher ahead of time to make sure he has a fresh ham on hand. This is not a cured ham, but a leg of fresh pork.