Monday, December 19, 2011

Gilding Walnuts from Emily by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Over the course of this year I have been collecting various Christmas themed quotes and have been posting them at my own blog as part of the Virtual Advent tour that Kelly and I run each year.

This week, at Historical Tapestry, we are celebrating Christmas with a few of these quotes, plus a couple of reviews of historical mysteries that are Christmas themed. We hope that you enjoy our themed posts for this week.

We wish all of our readers a very happy and safe festive season.

The first of these quotes comes from Emily by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. By way of introduction, our main character Emily is a young English woman who finds herself living in Russia during the era of the Napoleonic wars.

Gilding walnuts from page 156-157 

One evening, after Yenchik and Zansha were in bed, Mamka brought a basket of walnuts and a bowl of milk into the drawing room and put them down on the table.

‘These are the best, barina,” she said to Natasha. “I’ve sorted them out myself. All the shells are nice and clean and smooth.”

“Ah, good. Stay and help us, Mamka – you have the best touch. Yenya, Emilia, come and sit at the table.”

Yenya brought a lighted candle, a stick of sealing wax, and some green wool cut into lengths, and Natasha fetched from her bureau some little paper booklets about two inches square.

“What’s going on?” Emily asked, taking her place beside Tolya.

“We’re going to gild the nuts,” he answered, surprised. “Haven’t you ever done it before? I’ll show you, then.”

Each booklet contained twenty thin leaves of pure gold with cigarette paper between them, each leaf so delicate it made the cigarette paper look thick and coarse by comparison.

“To get it out you have to blow on it, like this. Look,” Tolya said. He blew gently, and the almost weightless leaf lifted free of the paper with a faint rustling sound. “Your hands have to be clean, and dry, or the gold comes off on your fingers.”

“Like the bloom on a butterfly’s wings,” Emily said, trying it for herself.

Each nut had to be dipped in the milk, then carefully wrapped in the gold leaf. When they were dry, the two ends of a strand of wool were placed on top of the nut and sealed down with a drop of molten wax to make a loop.

“They’re so beautiful,” Emily said. Gold paint would have been nothing to it, a dull meagre imitation. These nuts shone with all the lustre of pure gold, like little suns, like tiny church cupolas. “What are they for?”

“For hanging on the Christmas tree,” Tolya said, all amazement at her ignorance. You must have seen a Christmas tree before.”

And then from page 160

Before her was the first Christmas tree she had ever seen, stretching right up to the ceiling, ablaze with light, a beautiful, glorious thing against the darkness of the room. It was decorated with the gilded nuts she had helped to make, which shone with the soft brilliance of true gold; with small, polished bell-shaped Christmas apples; with little nets of sweets wrapped in shining foil; with crystal icicles and snowflakes, and silver bells. On the top was a fairy dressed in silver tinsel with a diamond crown: and everything seemed to shimmer in the light from the candles which trembled on the ends of the branches, making a cascade of light, layer upon layer of quivering flames, each surround with its own golden halo.


  1. I have read, reviewed and have kept with me practically all the Morland dynasty books. This is a new one for me.

  2. Mystica, I am behind on the Morland books. This is the first book in a trilogy which was lots of fun to read.