This past weekend I brought my great grandmother’s samovar out of the closet, tarnished and dusty. I consulted the internet for cleaning vintage brass and copper and one of the suggestions turned out to be the magic ingredient—ketchup! I had to try it just to see if it worked. I dabbed a glob of ketchup on and watched the tarnish wipe right off. The ketchup bottle is now empty and the samovar gleams with the patina of age.
The vintage tea brewing ensemble now sits in a place of honor in my kitchen. My mother had told me that sticks of charcoal were put in the center cylinder to heat the water in the brass bowl. A spigot emptied the hot water into a bone-handled copper teapot lined with sterling silver which sat on top, kept warm by the burning charcoal. Making tea must have been quite a process. Tea was drunk in clear glass cups, sucked through a sugar cube held in the mouth. Mama told me her grandmother would chastise her husband for using the old world method of putting the sugar cube into his mouth instead of the new world method of stirring it into the cup of tea.
The samovar forms a commanding presence in the room, much as my great grandmother would have, from all the stories I’ve heard about her as the matriarch of her family. I never knew her, nor her daughter, my grandmother, both of whom died before I was born.
The bulky, difficult to pack samovar was one of the few treasures she brought with her from Odessa, Russia in 1890. She was 26 at the time, the same age I was when Bill Blosser and I started our vineyard. We each entered a culture new to us, her to America, me to agriculture. I had the advantage of speaking the same language, although, as I learned over the years, Nature has its own way of communicating. I strain to imagine what it must have been like to leave everything familiar and travel with a husband and 2 young children to a foreign land, never to return. If only the samovar could talk….