By default, the Russia word slivki means “cream” (only in the sense of the dairy product) but can also mean “little plums.” It has been claimed that Constance Garnett, the industrious translator of Russian classics into English, more than once mistranslated chay so slivkami, “tea with cream”, as “tea with little plums.” Erik McDonald has traced the claim to this 1968 book (strawberry with cream) and 1977 article (tea with cream) but has not been able to locate Garnett’s errors in her published output.

In other words, did she really make those odd errors? I say odd because Garnett apparently came from a conventional English family, which must have taken tea with milk (almost) daily. There is only a tiny step from tea with milk to tea with cream.

As a child, I would also occasionally drink tea with milk, either sweetened or with a piece of sugar. Tea with lemon was far more common in our family, usually sweet and always hot, unlike Southern iced tea. But as a young man, I stopped sweetening un-lemoned tea, and the idea of spoiling the drink with milk or sugar has been relegated to heresy in my regenerated mind. I’d rather have tea with plums.

But I’ve never come across a downy plum yet.

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