Cabinet of Curiosities; we will each write about, and place in said cabinet, an item which we consider to be precious or beautiful or significant or fascinating or inspirational, or just plain weird! Watch out for the 30th of the month when that is not the last day of the month and you will see what one of us has chosen.
One day we might draw all our objects together into a virtual museum.
Laurie Graham is going to start us off:
You can buy a perfectly nice working samovar these days, if you have a thousand pounds going spare, but the ones I covet are those owned by my Russian friends, passed down through generations of their families. Exiled samovars had a better survival rate than the ones that remained in Russia. Many of those were melted down for bullets.
Actually a samovar isn't a teapot at all, although a teapot can and often does nestle on top of it, keeping warm. The samovar is a water heater. The fuel may be wood chips or charcoal or dried pine cones. I did once own a small spirit-burning samovar and highly unsatisfactory it was too. I managed to singe my eyebrows several times but never produced a cup of tea that didn't smell of meths.
If the Samovar Fairy ever deposits the genuine article on your doorstep, here's how to use it. First you must make a pot of very strong tea - 2 teaspoons of tea leaves to each cup of water - and leave it to steep. A mixture of leaves can work well, perhaps black tea mixed with something fruit or flower scented. A little of this concentrated tea or zavarka is what you put into your cup. Then, when the water has boiled, you open the samovar spigot and dilute the zavarka to your taste.
Russians can make quite a meal of a cuppa. Sometimes they sweeten it with jam. But their funniest trick is to hold a sugar lump between their teeth and allow the tea to percolate through it. Personally I take mine black but weak, hold the jam.
A friend said to me, 'But you can buy an affordable samovar in any Russian souvenir shop.' True. But that would be a purely decorative samovar, a useless dust-gathering apology for something that should be handsome and functional. I want a samovar that has dents and stains and history. Please.
Photo credit: Wiki Commons