I know it seems a bit old fashion, but the modern versions of afternoon tea sometimes referred to as â€œhigh teaâ€ can be pure pleasure for both hosts and guests. It certainly has endured the test of time having been given British historical reference in the early 1800â€™s. Many fine hotels all across America serve everything from elegant formal affairs to afternoon tea and scones. Clearly a tea party is what you make it! Whether celebrating a birthday, graduation, Motherâ€™s Day, or simply an excuse to dress up and use the fine china, a tea party is both trendy chic and traditional.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending TEA at the home of one of our customers. Shirley, who owns a vacation home here in Cannon Beach, has dropped in at the cooking school many times since we opened, and has even taken a class or two. Shirleyâ€™s enthusiasm for cooking is so evident in speaking with her that both Bob and I believe her to be an extraordinary cook! And indeed, we learned that Shirleyâ€™s passion is planning and giving afternoon tea! What a coincidence, I told Shirley one afternoon last December. I was writing curriculum at the time for how to give a TEA to debut this Spring! To my delight Shirley said she would work with me, but I didnâ€™t expect an invitation for me and a guest to tea at her home! A good friend of mine, Wendy, had spent quite a long time as a child in London, and knew first hand all about tea time in Britain. Wendy was the perfect companion to take to tea at Shirleyâ€™s.
After greetings and introductions, we began in, almost unintended tutorial fashion, the how-to-doâ€™s of giving a tea. The dining table was set for a very feminine tea party, so appropriate for the baby shower she had given just days earlier. She kept it set just to show us. The coffee table and mantel displayed many beautifully illustrated tea books from her collection, and though she insists nothing fancy is required, her collection of tea service pieces and art was ample and as special as any fine art collected over time. Our tea table was set in a bright windowed corner of her living room with a variety of tea cups, creamers and sugars that all came with a story. Dixie, close friend of Shirleyâ€™s, was there to help, and she is also a frequent hostess of teas. Dixie had made several of the menu items we tasted including some of the best shortbread I have tasted. Together Shirley and Dixie described tea-time formalities and traditionsâ€”everything from napkins, how to set the table, and what hand to use to serve. After all, this is the way our children learned their table manners, Shirley explained. And TEA isnâ€™t just for girls and women, you know! Mother of six, three boys and three girls, one can only wonder how many tea parties she held. Now her children are all grown up and married with children of their own, and itâ€™s clear that Shirleyâ€™s tea parties are more popular than ever.
I guess until now, I would have been more inclined to give a BRUNCH, and go out for TEA! I remember well the many tea dates Bob and I had with other chef friendsâ€”sort of a culmination to our working weekends, the busiest time for chefs. Late Sunday afternoon we would pick a different hotel in the Wash DC area to meet for tea, one of the most enjoyable times those days. Since working on the class and research at Shirleyâ€™s, I think teas and brunch have many similar attributes. I like that they are both typically held early in the day or early afternoon, and certainly end in plenty of time to get cleaned up without extending into the wee hours like so many dinner parties. And tea and brunch by virtue of their name give your guests a pretty good idea of what will be served. Most of the work is done in advance. Except for making the tea, the menu for tea can be made ahead of time. Some traditional items can be purchased like the jam and lemon curd. Shirleyâ€™s tea menu was mostly home made, and yet she was almost excited to share that some things came from the supermarket! She proclaimed them good enough to pass as homemade.
Whatever the occasion for tea, the approach we are taking at the school is to maintain the tradition of menu, time of day, and the genteel hospitality of it all. We prefer not to let words like â€œfancyâ€ or â€œformalâ€ deter us. And we really donâ€™t fuss over which side of the guest to serve! In fact, during tea with just the four of us, Shirley, Dixie, Wendy and I, all with a fair amount of tea time experience, there were small differences of opinion on small details. But nothing we believed so important that we must change! And we agreed as for which hand to use to serve and clear—just pick one way and be as consistent as you can. Tea is the time for friendship, and that is the tradition of tea thatâ€™s worth repeating again and again!
A recipe follows:
JAM STUFFED ORANGE SCONES
2 cups All Purpose flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
1Tablespoon baking powder
Â¾ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon orange zest
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg lightly beaten
Â¾ cup heavy cream
Your favorite Jam Method: Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; cut in butter until crumbly. Set aside.
Blend egg and milk together. Gently fold liquid into flour mixture; stir only to combine and knead a few times until holds into a ball.
Place onto a floured board. Pat or roll into a about 8 inch diameter circle about Â½ inch thickâ€”careful not to go too thin! Cut circle into half and half again until you have 8 pieces. At this point, you may freeze dough for baking later.
To bake, preheat oven to 400ÂºF; Place slightly separated on ungreased sheet; sprinkle with sugar and bake for approximately 15 â€“ 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and bottom.
To stuff a scone: After baking, cool slightly. Then make small slit in one side. Stuff with 1-2 teaspoons of raspberry jam. Serve immediately!
HOMEMADE LEMON CURD
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs, whole, well beaten
Â¼ cup sugar
3 oz butter, cut into pieces
Blend eggs with juice, zest, sugar and butter and place over low flame; bring to boiling point, stirring constantly until thickened. Strain immediately through a fine sieve and cool. Hold in refrigerator for several weeks. Makes about 1 cup.