The Boomer Corner
The origins of Victorian Tea, and how to enjoy the tradition today
I guess I’m writing this for the ladies. A delightful way to entertain a few friends for lunch is a Victorian or afternoon tea. If you are part of the baby boomers, like me, you probably have china cups and possibly fancy plates. It’s a chance to dust them off and to spend a great afternoon with a few special friends. And you would be enjoying something that dates back over a hundred and fifty years.
The story goes that in around the mid-eighteen hundreds, Victorian ladies found the time between their noon meal and dinner to be a long duration. Fatigue set in. Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, apparently upset the household routine by asking for a tray with tea, bread and butter and cake to be brought to her at four o-clock in the afternoon one day. She enjoyed it and so began to have tea each day at four o-clock, sometimes with friends. The idea spread and so afternoon tea became a Victorian custom. Even Queen Victoria took part in it.
We sometimes hear about high-tea and low-tea. For some, high-tea sounds like it would be more upper class. Actually, high-tea was more like dinner, eaten by the working class when they returned home exhausted from work. It was called high-tea because it was eaten at a dining (or high) table. Low-tea was the tea with dainty sandwiches, scones and fancy cakes. It was usually served in the parlour on lower coffee tables, and so was referred to as low-tea.
It’s not difficult to prepare a Victorian tea and serving is easy. Tea consists of sandwiches, scones and sweets. You can use thin sandwich bread (I get it at Metro), but if you can’t find it then regular bread will do. Some people cut off the crusts, I don’t (personal preference). Cut the sandwiches in triangles.
Cucumber sandwiches are usually part of tradition. They can be made using English cucumbers, and you can leave the skin on if you want to. Wash the cucumber, cut it into thin slices and put onto a few layers of paper towel to drain. You can use cream cheese instead of butter.
Another sandwich is chicken. You can use real chicken (if you happen to have leftovers) or canned. I have a long recipe, but the basic difference is that finely chopped Granny Smith apples can be added. Egg sandwiches are also popular. You can just make sandwiches of your choice.
Scones are always part of the tea. This is a simple recipe for Cream Scones
2 cups flour sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup cream (I use milk)
2 beaten eggs
Cut butter into sifted dry ingredients. Combine eggs and cream and add. Pat to 3/4 inch thick. Cut in squares or triangles, sprinkle with sugar and bake at 375 degrees until lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Serve hot with any jams,
preserves and clotted cream.
Yield: 1 dozen. I use a juice glass to cut them and I end up with more. If the dough is sticky, add a little bit more flour.
Scones are served with clotted cream, which you can sometimes buy at stores. If not here is a simple recipe to make some.
Mock Devonshire Cream
2 cups heavy cream or 8 ounces softened cream cheese
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
2 cup sour cream
In a chilled bowl, beat cream until medium-firm, adding sugar during the last few minutes of beating. If you are using cream cheese, just stir together with sugar. Fold in sour cream and blend. Makes 1 to 2 cups.
I like it made with cream cheese, and you can cut the recipe in half.
There are two ways to eat the scones. You can do it the Devon way. That is put the cream on the scone and then the jam. If you want to do it the Cornwall way, you put the jam on the scone and then the cream. Both ways are delicious.
The third part of the tea is sweets. Usually, the treats are cut small. Little tarts such as lemon or jam are good. Any small squares. If you like to get fancy, petite-fours would be great. Empire biscuits are another traditional part of teas. As I seem to have gone on for quite a while, I don’t really have room for the recipe. There are lots of recipes around.
I like to put a pink tablecloth covered with a white lacy one on the table. I find anything that I have with roses, and put them on the table and around the room and the bathroom. The three tiered plate is the traditional way to serve the food. Sandwiches go on the bottom, scones in the middle and sweets on top. However, it usually tastes just as good served on regular plates!
CBC News also recently reported on how the tea trend is growing in popularity once again with the younger demographic.
Maybe some time this summer, give it a try.
About the Author
Linda Calder is a retired teacher. She likes to write and enjoys spending time with her family. She also enjoys going on cruises, taking pictures and scrapbooking.