October 10, 2021

Garnet Bracelet Salad: A Tribute to a Popular Russian Love Story

Garnet Bracelet Salad: A Tribute to a Popular Russian Love Story
The comparison to a garnet bracelet may be a stretch, but the dish is beautiful regardless. Tatiana Claudy

Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate. 

Aland D. Wolfelt 

Sicilian Pasta alla Norma was created to commemorate Bellini's opera Norma, and French Soup D’Artagnan to honor the well-known fictional character. How did Russians continue this tradition? By creating Garnet Bracelet Salad as a tribute to a famous Russian love story: The Garnet Bracelet, by Alexander Kuprin. 

Alexander Kuprin
Alexander Kuprin

It is unclear when and by whom Garnet Bracelet Salad was introduced. This dish was not known (at least, was not widespread) in Soviet Russia. Growing up in Leningrad in 1970s, I remember seeing on holiday tables the most famous salads: Olivier (a long-time favorite dish with meat, eggs, cooked vegetables, and mayonnaise) and Herring in a Fur Coat (pieces of pickled herring covered with layers of cooked vegetables and mayonnaise). Moreover, The Book of Delicious and Healthy Food (published in 1952), considered a culinary “bible” in the USSR, did not mention Garnet Bracelet Salad.

Yet by the mid-2000s it could be found among favorite holiday dishes, especially for the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8. The salad appeared on menus of many restaurants in major Russian cities, including in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is also available at deli sections of food stores. Its recipe is in the cookbook Holiday Salads, by Daria Kostina (2011).

So, how did a garnet bracelet become so significant that it deserved not only to be mentioned in a story but also commemorated as a dish? 

As the legend goes, in the nineteenth century, the author Alexander Kuprin brought the now-famous garnet bracelet from Bohemia and presented it to his first wife, Maria. In her memoirs, Years of Youth, Maria Kuprina-Iordanskaya wrote, “My garnet bracelet... was covered with small garnets, and in the middle several large stones.” Although the original bracelet was made of silver, a jeweler later covered it with gold. Maria kept this present for many years and at the end of her life gave the bracelet to a friend for safekeeping. Today it belongs to the Pushkin House (the Institute of Russian Literature) in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

Kuprin wrote The Garnet Bracelet in 1910, after his divorce from Maria. Thus, in the story, he described the bracelet differently: “It was of low-standard gold, very thick but hollow and studded on the outside with small, poorly polished old garnets. But in the center there arose, surrounding a strange small green stone, five excellent cabochon garnets, each the size of a pea.”

Interestingly, Kuprin based his story’s plot on events that actually happened in St. Petersburg to his friends: A young married woman, Lyudmila Lyubimov, receives multiple letters from a secret admirer. For Easter, she receives a thin gold bracelet with a little Easter egg. Lyudmila’s husband finds this highly inappropriate and returns the present to the sender. Soon, the secret admirer leaves the city. There are rumors that he later gets married. 

But Kuprin turned this moderately funny story into a sincerely tragic one. His heroine, Princess Vera, receives a garnet bracelet from her secret admirer, a poor clerk. They never meet, and the young man expresses his sentiments only in letters. After learning about his death, Princess Vera feels “that love about which every woman dreams had gone past her.”

As Kuprin confessed to Maria, “I was writing his story with all my heart, with all my soul.” No wonder then that the love story has inspired two Russian movies, one ballet (music by Konstantin Artamonov), and even a sculpture! Timur Sadullaev (sculptor and blacksmith) created a metal sculpture “Man and Woman,” portraying Princess Vera and her admirer. The piece of art was unveiled in 2017 in Gatchina (near St. Petersburg), where Kiprin lived.

But let's not forget about Garnet Bracelet Salad!

I first discovered Garnet Bracelet Salad in St. Petersburg when planning a menu for my birthday party. Looking for an unconventional but truly Russian dish, I asked around, and voila! – somebody mentioned Garnet Bracelet Salad. Since in the Russian language the same word describes “garnet” and “pomegranate,” this dish is lavishly decorated with pomegranate seeds. Other ingredients include chicken, hard-boiled eggs, cooked vegetables (beets, potatoes, and carrots), onion, and chopped walnuts. To shape the salad as a “bracelet,” I placed a tall glass in the center of the plate, then arranged the chopped ingredients in layers, topped with mayonnaise. After refrigerating the salad for two hours, I removed the glass and served the dish.

Although I first had doubts about combining fruit with vegetables, the blend of sweet pomegranate seeds with pieces of crunchy walnuts and cooked vegetables created a tasty combination! My guests were impressed with my culinary talents (if not my knowledge of literature). Now I have a new favorite dish for my holiday table, thanks to Alexander Kuprin.

It's a surprisingly tasty dish, and well worth trying out for yourself.

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