Monday, November 17, 2014

No Time for Tea


If you'll recall, I recently wrote about how I relished the thought of afternoon tea.  I was reminded of that blog post after reading Jeremy Musson's book, The Drawing Room, and attending his recent lecture in Atlanta.  In his book, Musson discusses the relationship of afternoon tea and the drawing room, writing:

...a new meal emerged in the drawing room in the 1830s and 1840s.  By about 1840, afternoon tea had become a feature of the English country house day, probably related to the main meal of the day having moved to the evening from the middle of the day during the course of the eighteenth century.

I have a living room, which serves as my version of a drawing room, and I have a tea set, sundry sets of dessert plates, pretty teacups and saucers, and plenty of table linen.  But what I don't seem to have is the time to serve afternoon tea to guests or, for that matter, to myself when I'm home alone.  In fact, the closest I come to afternoon tea is preparing tea sandwiches for my dinner.  (That is one of the perks of being single; I don't have to take another person into consideration when choosing what to have for dinner.)

I'm guessing that most of the women featured in this blog post had the time, not to mention the assistance of a staff, to serve afternoon tea.  Nevertheless, these photos will likely serve as the impetus I need to invite guests to tea.  And until I figure out how to carve time out of my schedule to host the occasional tea, I'll simply have to make do with the occasional tea sandwich supper, perhaps served with tea or, better yet, champagne.


Billy Norwich's Cucumber Society Sandwiches

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped dill
1 large seedless cucumber
1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
24 slices white bread cut into 2-inch rounds
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley.

Place butter and chopped dill in container of a food processor using the steel blade, process with a few pulses. Set aside. Peel cucumber and cut into 1/4" rounds. Toss cucumber slices in a bowl with vinegar and salt.  Drain liquid.

Spread one side of each bread round with dill butter. Place a cucumber slice between the buttered sides of two bread rounds. Roll the outside edge of each sandwich in chopped parsley. Cover with a damp cloth until ready to serve.



 Nancy Mitford and her Mappin and Webb tea service in 1940.


 Mrs. Winston Churchill pouring tea in her sitting room at 10 Downing Street, 1940.


 Mrs. Thomas Hitchcock taking tea at her Canadian lake house in 1986.  I love her wicker furniture, the straw matting on the floor, and her Belgian loafers.


 Mrs. Dwight F. Davis and her pooch taking tea in 1938.  Alfie would be envious if he were to see this photo.


Ann Bonfoey Taylor, relaxing at her après-ski afternoon tea.


Tea and cigarettes for Pamela Turnure.



Mrs. Alma Spreckels in her San Francisco home.

30 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:37 AM

    Mrs. Spreckels looks like a dear little lump of her famous sugar sitting there, and quite lonely. I'd love to plop down next to her and have a delicious chat about those fabulous twin sleeves and clips of hers.

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    1. I would love to join you for that chat!

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  2. Every Saturday and Sunday at our house at four, tea with Dundee cake. No sandwiches and nowadays the tea set remains in the kitchen cupboard but the reviving essence of the ritual remains. Ironically, I rarely drink tea so the whole thing is not for me.

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    1. I just might have to "accidentally" stop by some afternoon when I know you two are having tea.

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  3. Anonymous8:02 AM

    I love tea time! My children (12 and 10 years old) and I have tea twice a week. It makes for an elegant after school snack, perfect for days when my children's activities make for an 8 p.m. or later dinnertime. We love the specialness of it.

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    1. What a lovely after school snack!

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  4. I'll take my tea with Mrs. Hitchcock, please. Her lake house and relaxed demeanor beat any of the others in my book.

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    1. Mrs. Hitchcock's lake house looked divine. I would be interested to see the interiors of the house.

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  5. There is nothing nicer, but may we be honest about afternoon tea and admit to the great bother of giving a tea party for even a smattering of close friends? Those cucumber sandwiches, with crusts removed, are labor intensive to a fault; and I myself compound the problem by including tiny shrimps sandwiches as well. Naturally, there is cake to follow. Throughout this production, the tea must be poured out again and again, by which time it becomes tepid. Fresh hot tea is then needed.

    Recently I was describing this exhausting ritual to a friend whose only response was," but darling, didn't you know that Tea requires SERVANTS?"

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    1. Strangely, I don't find making cucumber sandwiches to be labor intensive. Tiny shrimps sandwiches, on the other hand, do sound a trifle complicated.

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    2. Your friend's sally sound like some of the bon mots I can expect from my krewe...

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  6. Jennifer I love this feature. I watch so many of the British and Masterpiece shows and having tea time is often a feature I love in these programs. A wonderful tradition!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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    1. Yes, and those shows make the idea of tea even more appealing to me!

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  7. Mrs. Davis + her dog + are soo cute! xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

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    1. The scary thing is that could be Alfie and me in a few years!

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  8. Thomas1:21 PM

    My mother who is in her 80's still makes cucumber sandwiches for her lunch using the method the French cooks used at her boarding school- they had them at a 10:00 break called "Gouter"

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    1. Thomas, do you mind telling us what the French method is? I'm intrigued.

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  9. Precisely one week ago, I had tea at the Goring Hotel in London with one friend, one relative-by-marriage, and her mother. Confidences were exchanged, friendships were deepened, and plots hatched for future fun. SO worth it!

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    1. That does sound worth it. How fun!

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  10. Mr Worthington, don't you have staff? Who's in the kitchen?

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  11. Anonymous7:55 PM

    We have afternoon tea on a regular basis. Shock horror, NO staff! How much effort does it take to make a sandwich or two and a cake. Deidre.

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    1. Deidre, what kinds of sandwiches or cakes do you have with your tea? Now I'm even more inspired to start a new afternoon ritual!

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  12. Anonymous7:50 AM

    I am not sure that the charming lady in the penultimate photograph is Mme Herve Alphand. Nicole Alphand was, I believe, blond - perhaps the photo is of another member of the Alphand family? Love the article and the photos.

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  13. Anon, you are absolutely correct. In my haste, I misidentified the woman in the photo, who was actually Pamela Turnure.

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  14. Anonymous1:35 PM

    Ann Bonfoey Taylor was the *bomb*!

    Google her - her fashion sense was somethin' else.

    Pamela

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  15. Anonymous4:07 PM

    Agree that Mrs. Taylor was one of the all-time style greats, usually turned out in Balenciaga.

    But those two poor women in that grim Early American room!

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    1. Grim indeed! I can't imagine they were very comfortable in those hard chairs.

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  16. I start and finish work early, so I'm generally home by 4 pm and so I have afternoon tea most days.Usually I have coffee rather than tea, and a pastry from the bakery down the road. I sit on my verandah and watch the world go by. I am spoiled.

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    1. Glen, That's a lovely afternoon ritual. I'm envious!

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  17. Anonymous9:04 AM

    Squeal!

    I'd love to take my tea with Nancy Mitford, although maybe a few years later so that we could discuss her book, "Noblesse Oblige". I have so many questions about current U and non-U English word choices.

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