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You Are Cordially Invited …

by Margaret Powling-

Photo Credit: Afternoon Tea Parties by Susanna Blake, photos by Martin Brigdale (Ryland, Peters and Small)

 

On the occasion of my 150th post, I would like to thank you all for your kind and generous comments since I started this blog last August.  When I started it I had only vague ideas what I would write about, but it would seem that those of you who read my blog regularly enjoy the topics I choose.  So here’s to the next 150 posts!

It would be impossible to visit each and every one of you to thank you personally, and so for this post I thought it would be nice to invite you all to a virtual afternoon tea party!  Furthermore, I would like to present each of you with a virtual bouquet, it’s no less than readers who call here regularly deserve!

Afternoon tea is a lovely English tradition.  It says in my book Afternoon Tea by Jane Pettigrew, “The innovation of the mid-afternoon indulgence called ‘afternoon tea’ is accredited to Anna Maria, 7th Duchess of Bedford. In fact, she did not ‘invent’ the ceremony, but simply gave it a name that settled it as a four o’clock social occasion at a time when the pattern of mealtimes was changing. 

When tea first arrived in England in the mid-17th century, it was taken as a settler at the end of dinner, a large, heavy meal that lasted four or five hours from noon to late afternoon.  By the early  years of the 19th century, this huge meal had shifted to around 7.30pm or even later, leaving a long gap between breakfast and the evening repast.  Only light refreshment was provided at midday by the newly invented luncheon, or ‘noonshine’. 

And so the Duchess found it pleasing and convenient to serve two or three hours before dinner, as well as (or instead of) after the meal.  Indeed, Anna Maria found ‘afternoon tea’ so essential to her daily routine that when she visited friends in their castles and palaces, she took with her a silver kettle and other tea equipage along with her trunks and hat boxes.”

Well, friends, I don’t expect you to bring along your trunks and hat boxes, but to come virtually prepared for an afternoon feast.  The cups and saucers are ready, and some glasses for some sparkling wine to add a little fizz to the proceedings or elderflower cordial if you would prefer …

Afternoon tea should always start with the tea itself, and it’s nice to serve at least two kinds – I serve Earl Grey and a light Indian blend, and offer slices of lemon and a jug of milk.  

Once the tea has been handed around, for we are seated on low chairs and sofas (high tea is a different meal entirely, but I might write about that another time) I will hand you a small plate and a napkin(never to be referred to as a ‘serviette’ in my hearing, please!)  I sometimes have white cotton ones, but more often I use paper tea napkins, which are so pretty.  Paper napkins are socially acceptable.

Here come the sandwiches …

Photo credit:  Afternoon Tea by Susannah Blake, photographs by Martin Brigdale (Ryland, Peters and Small)

 

This is an occasion – we are not having a bite to eat while doing the gardening – and so you won’t be served ‘doorstep’ sandwiches.  I prefer to cut the sandwiches into ‘fingers’ with all the crusts removed. Finger sandwiches are elegant and the sandwiches should be large enough for two or three bites; not so small they are insignificant, nor so large they require a knife to cut them. 

Traditional fillings are combinations of cream cheese & smoked salmon; smoked or unsmoked ham and mustard of chutney; egg & cress and, of course, cucumber. 

Cucumber needs preparation.  I peel and slice it finely early in the morning and then lay the slices on thick layers of paper kitchen towels and sprinkle with some salt, and then sandwich together with another thick layer of kitchen paper.  You will need to change the towel fairly regularly throughout the morning as they will become soaked with the water from the cucumber, but doing this certainly improves the sandwiches and prevents the water that was in the cucumber from making the bread (white bread for cucumber sandwiches) soggy. 

Sometimes it’s nice to serve something savoury, especially in autumn or winter, say anchovy toast or small cheese scones filled with watercress …

Having enjoyed your sandwiches, here are the scones, with blackcurrant or strawberry jam.  In Devon we put the clotted cream on the split scone first and then top it with jam. In Cornwall they reverse this, putting the jam on first.

Photo Credit:  Afternoon Tea by Susanna Blake, photographs by Martin Brigdale (Ryland, Peters and Small)

 

If you have room, I now have cake for you.  How about lemon sponge?

Or perhaps a Victoria sponge filled with raspberries and cream?

 

Or a slice of fruit cake?

I hope you are all seated comfortably?  I’m sorry I wasn’t able to invite you to the Ritz …

Afternoon Tea by Jane Pettigrew (The Ritz Hotel, London; Victoria & Albert Museum) (Pitkin)

 

But I hope you have enjoyed your afternoon tea and will return home, to all corners of the globe, whether you live in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America or from wherever you have virtually travelled today.  I wish you a safe journey home and perhaps you might wish now to have an afternoon tea party of your own, a real one, to which you invite your friends from your own neighbourhood.  There are wonderful books available on the subject of afternoon tea and here are mine …

Keep the food simple, you don’t need to serve astonishingly intricate cupcakes, indeed the more traditional the better (and cupcakes are not an English tradition.) 

Thank you so much for coming, I hope you have enjoyed virtual visit!

Speak again soon.

Margaret Powling

31 Comments

  1. Marlene Stevens

    I enjoyed the tea party, congratulations on your 150th post.

    30 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Marlene! I’ve just been vacuuming up the crumbs and husband is doing the washing up!

      30 . Apr . 2017
  2. Gloria

    Thank You for the lovely tea and delicious treats! You took me away for awhile and inspired me! Enjoy your wonderful sharing!

    30 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Gloria, so glad you could come to tea! I’m delighted I’ve inspired you, even if it’s just to make a few scones and have those with a cup of tea!

      30 . Apr . 2017
  3. Eloise at thisissixty.blog

    Well. What a treat! Thank you so much, Margaret. My apologies for arriving so late; I’ve had a very busy day!
    So pleased that you offered blackcurrant jam with the scones. It is my favourite. I love cheese scones too and I have a penchant for lemon cake. In fact the cakes all look delicious. I had no idea that I should be preparing cucumber in that way. I shall be sure to do so in future.
    I did an afternoon tea for my daughter’s hen party (the one for the more mature ladies who declined the invitation to a weekend at Centre-Parcs. It was a great success.
    I have taken afternoon tea in some delightful places, and one or two which were exceptional. But a virtual tea is a first and what a delight it was. My only concern is that you will now have to eat all the leftovers!
    You have a lot of books on the subject. I love the picture on the cover of the Michael Smith one.
    I had fully intended writing an afternoon tea post at some point in the future, but I hadn’t thought to present it in such a creative way. Congranulations on your marvellous idea, and on your milestone post.
    Off now to write about my busy day!

    30 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      I learned how to prepare cucumber like that from someone who used to have a restaurant and, indeed,you wouldn’t believe the amount of liquid that comes out of the sliced cucumber and even then the sandwiches aren’t dry. I love blackcurrant jam and the nicest commercially produced one I know is that bought in Lidl’s (for readers not in the UK, this is one of our discount supermarkets).
      As for the leftovers, well I am sure my family can munch on those! Husband helped with the washing up!
      Thank you again, Eloise, for your kind comments. I was wondering what I could post for my 150th post and I had this little Thank You card sitting on my desk in a letter rack which was a gift from Farrow & Ball, the paint and paper company; they sometimes send gifts to those, such as myself, i.e. journalists and writers who have written about their company, and suddenly I hit on the idea of saying thank you to the readers of my blog and inviting them one to a virtual afternoon tea, and the idea sort of mushroomed – if you’ll pardon the pun! Thank you for your virtual company today.

      30 . Apr . 2017
  4. Jeannine

    How lovely.

    30 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Glad you could come to the virtual party, Jeannine!

      30 . Apr . 2017
  5. jane

    Thank you for inviting me to tea. I enjoyed the Earl Grey, cucumber sandwich ( you took so much time with) and especially the victoria sponge with raspberries and cream. Yum, Yum ?

    30 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      So glad you enjoyed the tea party, Jane. It was fun making all those things!

      01 . May . 2017
  6. Rosemary

    Congratulations on your 150th blog Margaret – I am now drooling at all the good things you have on offer, but a cheese scone would be lovely with a cup of refreshing tea – thank you.

    30 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Those posts have passed by in a flash, all 150 of them! I thought, though, a little party to celebrate was appropriate and so glad you could come!

      01 . May . 2017
  7. Pieta

    Thank you for the invitation to afternoon tea and congratulations on your milestone. I do enjoy reading all your posts even if I don’t always comment. Your cups and saucers are beautiful and I should love to drink a cup of Earl Grey and partake of a cucumber sandwich. I look forward to your next 150 posts.

    30 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Pieta. Some of the photos I took from my afternoon tea books, but most are my own, the table laid with the cups, saucers and glasses and the tea trolley with cups. It seems from reading replies that Earl Grey tea is universally popular and I love it too. Thank you for coming to the party!

      01 . May . 2017
  8. Alison

    It all looks so lovely and colourful. Pity it’s not teatime here yet!

    01 . May . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Never mind, if you turn up a little late we will have saved some food for you and I’ll make a fresh pot of tea!

      01 . May . 2017
  9. Sarah

    Afternoon tea with you Margaret? Yes please! Many years ago there was an exhibition in London (possibly at the V&A?) called “The Discovery of the Lake District” and the poster used the same painting that illustrates the front cover of Michael Smith’s book. I bought one of the posters, framed it and hung it in above the table in my kitchen. Once upon a time I was the girl sitting on the window seat sipping tea after an energetic game of tennis. My poster is long gone but if you have time to check and reply I would love to know the name of the artist if your edition of the book credits him or her. I’ve often thought that choosing artwork for book covers would be my ideal job. I’ve just discovered that it is called “Summer in Cumberland” by James Durden (1925) and the exhibition did indeed run at the V&A 1984/85. I’m now feeling very guilty about selling my mother’s silver tea set!

    01 . May . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      I love that painting, too, Sarah, and would love a reproduction of it on my kitchen wall! I have seen it reproduced on greetings cards and also in other books, and yes, it is indeed Summer in Cumberland by James Durden (1925).
      It is nice to think you might’ve kept your mother’s silver tea set, but realistically, how often would you have used it, and think of all the polishing involved. Furthermore, tea tastes better when brewed in ceramic (pottery or porcelain) than in metal. If we had a home as in this lovely painting with, no doubt, ‘staff’ to serve the tea, then yes, a silver tea service would’ve been the order of the day! So glad you could join us all for the virtual tea party, Sarah!

      02 . May . 2017
  10. Susan

    Thank you, Margaret! That was interesting, informative and lovely to see!

    01 . May . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Susan, delighted you could join us all for a virtual tea party!

      01 . May . 2017
  11. ratnamurti

    I loved having afternoon tea during my teen years with my posh English Nanna. We talked about things, and laughed. Wonderful memories. With my youngest, when she returned home to go University, she asked for rice crackers, brie, mandarins, etc, for afternoon tea. Times had changed!

    I wonder if you could share your recipe please for proper scones? And do a post sometime on High Tea? xxxxx

    02 . May . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Ratnamurti, so glad you could join us all at the virtual afternoon tea party! However, I don’t think rice crackers would originally have been served, or brie, or mandarins (I presume the small citrus fruit?) but they would certainly make a lovely afternoon tea today, something a bit less traditional than sandwiches, scones and cakes or pastries.
      Yes, I will post a recipe for traditional scones and make a note to write about High Tea, too, before too long.

      02 . May . 2017
  12. Mary, The Pouting Pensioner

    Congrats! A slice of lemon sponge, please.

    02 . May . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, you may certainly have a slice of lemon sponge! I was going to make lemon drizzle cake for the virtual tea, but instead it’s a lemon sponge with lemon butter cream filling and icing. (The only photos I borrowed from a book on afternoon tea were the scones, the sandwiches, the first photo of the two tea cups, and the photo inside the Ritz Hotel, all the rest were my own, including the lemon sponge cake which was one I baked.)

      02 . May . 2017
  13. Jo

    Here’s to the next 150 posts. I don’t mind if I do have a slice of that beautiful lemon sponge please, yum yum. Oh, and jam and then cream on my scone please.

    02 . May . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      OK, Jo, a slice coming up … it’s nice and light, baked it myself (of course!), the lemon butter cream is delicious, too. And it will be clotted cream with your scone and jam (only clotted cream is good enough for a lovely light fruit scone.)
      When we had afternoon tea at Combe House when our friends owned this lovely hotel in Devon – now one of a small Pig chain of hotels and totally different from when our friends owned it – the chef made us a lovely winter afternoon tea and baked cinnamon scones. They were scrumptious!
      Soon I will do a post on High Tea and the difference between that and Afternoon Tea, and also post my recipe for fruit scones.

      02 . May . 2017
  14. Pam

    I’ve only recently discovered your blog and enjoy it so much. Always beautiful and inspiring. I was fortunate to visit England for the first time last year and enjoyed two English teas while there. Lovely! Scones have become a family favorite!

    03 . May . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Welcome, Pam, to a very English blog, and I’m so pleased you enjoy my posts. Yes, scones are a staple of English afternoon tea, but they are often chosen to accompany morning coffee, too. I love cheese scones when husband and I have morning coffee in one of the many coffee/tea shops in our local towns, while he prefers fruit scones with butter and jam. Cream is for treats only.
      I will be posting again before too long on a lovely recipe for scones and also on High Tea, another typically English meal, but one taken around 6 pm rather than in the late afternoon.

      03 . May . 2017
  15. Lara

    Congratulations on your 150th post !!!

    I really enjoyed our virtual celebration. Again, your photographs and descriptions are stunning – and I echo one of the above comments about salivating as I read !

    The tea cups in the photo with the tea trolley were my favourite, I think, so I would definitely choose one of those…. English Breakfast tea for me, please, no sugar or milk …. and as I’m using my imagination I can ignore my gluten free and dairy free diet restrictions imposed by my grinch – oops doctor – and enjoy the sandwiches ( at this point I moan slightly as I haven’t had ‘proper bread’ in too long), followed by a savoury scone. I enjoy a break whilst we all chat (and let my food go down) and then I ask for a small slice of the beautiful lemon cake. Then half of one of the non-savoury scones with a dollop of jam and cream (another moan of delight at the cream)….. I have a strategy, you see, small bits of each offering so that I can try everything. I’m also wearing trousers with a bit of ‘give’ in the waist ha ha. I enjoy the company and the stimulating conversation and thank you for your hospitality as I leave, clutching my beautiful flowers and with many phone numbers and email addresses from the rest of the group as we all agree what fun it’s been and promise to do it again ….. somewhere else, of course so that you’re not doing all of the hard work 😉
    Congratulations again on your 150th post xx

    04 . May . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you so much, Lara, all your wishes have been granted! Husband and I are just off out shopping now, but I might add to my response later. Yes, we all need waistbands with a bit of give if we’re to eat afternoon tea!

      04 . May . 2017
  16. Lara

    Glad to see you’re back up after your recent computer glitches 🙂

    07 . May . 2017

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