Thursday, May 3, 2007

Afternoon Tea

Since arriving in the US from England some years ago, I am still surprised at how interested Americans are in the , and English traditions and customs.

Today I was reminded of this when the and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Virginia and I read an article on MSN about how worried everyone was because they were unsure of the correct protocol with regard to dress and behavior when receiving the Queen of England. A crowd of an estimated 5,000 people were told through a PA system "The Queen has landed", and all state workers in Virginia were given the day off.

The Queen's last visit to the US was in 1991 when President George Bush's father was in power, and before that they also visited Ronald Reagan in 1983. Apparently Ronald Reagan wrote in his diaries how the Prince was served a cup of tea with the teabag left in it. Now I am not sure whether this was a mistake, or simply the tradition here in America of leaving the teabag in the cup, complete with string and label, in order for the teabag to steep to the drinker's desired flavor. Obviously, tea drinking is still strongly associated with the English, and many people I speak to here have asked me about the famous Afternoon Tea, which really is no longer a tradition in England, as most people are working and even if you are not, it is generally accepted that eating many of the goodies that go with this long lost ceremony is a bad idea. However, if you are in London and want to treat yourself to something special, you can still have at The Ritz, or Harrods of London.

What is Afternoon Tea?
Well, it usually consisted of a plate of dainty sandwiches, scones, sponge cake, and fruit cake, and hot buttered crumpets. Homemade jam and clotted cream would accompany the scones, and politeness dictated that you start with the savory items before moving on to the sweet. The table was always laid with a white lace tablecloth, lace-edged linen napkins, fine bone china and a silver tea service, so this was no casual affair! Afternoon tea became fashionable during Edwardian times, and when the tango arrived in Britain in 1910, London's large hotels began to host tea dances. The tea dance continued to be an important social event right up until World War II. The Savoy Hotel and Waldorf Astoria still hold these dances today, which recently have had something of a revival due to the new interest in ballroom dancing.

Below is the typical way Cucumber Sandwiches would have been made for the Edwardian upper classes (taken from the book, the Duchess of Duke Street Entertains).

Salad Oil
Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper

For the Creamed Butter:
2 ounces Softened Butter
1 tablespoon Thick Cream
Tip of Teaspoon of Mustard
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper

  1. The cucumber must be cut as thinly as possible, ideally using a mandoline.
  2. Very lightly salt the slices and leave them to drain in a colander lightly weighted with a plate for 2 hours or so, pressing firmly from time to time to get rid of excess juices.
  3. Dress the sliced and drained cucumber with a little oil, lemon juice and a dredge of freshly ground white pepper.
  4. Make up the creamed butter by blending all the ingredients together.
  5. Butter thin slices of white or brown bread; fill in the usual way, but at the last possible moment - as there is a tendency for this sandwich to give all sandwiches the reputation of being soggy!

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