One thing I know very little about is the etiquette around a true British tea time. We have gone to tea rooms and had ‘high tea’ and ‘afternoon tea’ but I hardly thought about the practice aside from a fun thing to dress up and do with my little girl. Going to Britain afforded me the reason to study this fun tradition a little more.
First off, High Tea and Low Tea are different things. “High Tea” is a tea that is a full meal complete with meat. “Low Tea” is the traditional afternoon tea that is known for it’s bread and butter sandwiches and tiny cakes. Both are usually taken about 4pm and they are to bridge the gap between lunch (around 11) and dinner (around 7-8pm).
On the site “What’s Cookin America” the author writes:
According to legend, one of Queen Victoria's, ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon teatime. Because the noon meal had become skimpier, the Duchess suffered from "a sinking feeling" at about four o'clock in the afternoon.
At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.
For our tea time we decided to have a “Low Tea” at 4pm of cakes and treats along with the customary Early Grey. I set it up in our dining room in a formal way so the kids could invite their friends. According to my sources, an actual ‘Low Tea’ is set on small tables with couches around, but we are remodeling the living room wall this week, so I had to compromise.
Our prep started about 1pm (as soon as the baby was down for nap). We used bought shortbread (it was on sale at World Market) and that gave us some room to use other English recipes… like scones! Cyan made scones and mini pumpkin muffins, and then she cut bananas. (Let me tell you, the scones recipe from Jamie Aramini’s Eat Your Way Around the World is SUPER good! Especially when you add white chocolate chips. ) I read “Cratchit’s Christmas Dinner” from A Christmas Carol while we all enjoyed our treats.
After tea we all sat down and made Pomanders (clove studded oranges).
The smell wafted through the house and is still here this morning. Cloves and oranges and cinnamon… what a lovely sent!
Soon after we were done with our craft, our friends went home and we read the selections of Christmas Around the World, and Celebrating Christmas Around the World, and we made Wassail.
Then I set the kids up with the gentle, animated version of A Christmas Carol. (The Jim Carry one and the real actor ones were just too scary.)
It was a lovely day!