Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Tea & Sympathy


Inside the Tea Garden in Holyrood.

Maybe it’s a peculiarly feminine rite, but there’s something about afternoon tea that sets the world to rights. I don’t often get the chance to indulge in this ritual, but when I do, I grab onto it with both hands so to speak and bask in the pouring of the tea, the selection of the goodies, the clotted cream, the preserves, the linens, the china and that peculiar triple cake rack that used to be de rigeur in the old days (i.e. my time) as a wedding gift. It would sit in the middle of the tea wagon, or the round occasional table in the parlour with little triangular sandwiches, scones and fairy cakes on each plate.

You wouldn’t often catch a man at these afternoon tea occasions, the odd reluctant one dragged by a spouse, perhaps, but on the whole it is an event populated solely by females.

There was a time, in my first job in my home city of Cork, where the afternoon tea was wheeled around on a wagon by the charlady. Her other duties included wheeling around the elevenses in the morning and cleaning the offices after we had gone home or fetching us office supplies from the cabinet during the day, or bandaging our paper cuts (seriously!). We all took afternoon tea complete with a tea cake or a bun. China was always used.

There is a place in Newfoundland, called The Tea Garden in a little town in Holyrood that specializes in this old fashioned ritual of afternoon tea.

The gardens, done in an English style, are a delight unto themselves. Inside there are embroidered tablecloths and napkins, bone china and food that is consistently out of this world, down to the double devon cream for the scones.

I’ve had a few long lunches with both friends and clients over the last few days, which got me to thinking of this old ritual which is dying fast and should by law, be revived. I was reminded of my mother’s and aunts’ and grandmothers’ afternoon teas. When all the men were at work and the children at school and they could sit down for a couple of hours and indulge the chat to their hearts’ content.

There's something so downright civilized about it all. And it should be ground rule one for conducting any kind of business transactions. For instance: how easy would tax return season be over a cup of tea, a watercress sandwich and a three inch scone topped with raspberry comfit and clotted cream, I ask you?

21 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to spoil your 'all ladies' ritual, but my wife and I always take afternoon tea at 3.30 prompt every Saturday and Sunday (we're not home through the week) along with a scone, with strawberry or raspberry jam.
    Being an American, my wife dislikes tea, so drinks coffee instead. Still, I suppose nobody's perfect. I introduced her to scones, and always bake them myself, every Saturday morning.
    Sadly, there's nowhere in this Godforsaken land one can actually go and take afternoon tea. It's a Big Mac, or nothing.
    Philistines!

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  2. Good for you, maybe you can offer us all your scone recipe some time?
    I think, perhaps, you might be living in the wrong state, RJA. I recall my dad and I sitting down to quite a spread of afternoon tea in Camden, Maine one time. Though I agree these places are few and far between particularly in the U.S. There are a few such places in Toronto and B.C. is quite littered with them, particularly Victoria which is Suffolk rafted and floated West.
    Wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone stopped for tea in the afternoon? I must write to Mr. Obama, Mr. Harper wouldn't know what I was talking about being chief of the Philistines since Bush disappeared.
    XO
    WWW

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  3. When we vacationed on Vancouver Island, we couldn't wait for it to be the proper time so we could take our afternoon tea. Even the kids loved it. It should be a ritual the world over, I'm serious!

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  4. I have a lemon sultana scone recipe which is worthy of the most upmarket of afternoon teas. I will give it to you, if you wish.

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  5. The only time I take afternoon tea is when Jenny and I visit her aunt on the other side of Belfast. I guess the ritual has been replaced here by the coffee-shop chat which everyone indulges in.

    Afternoon tea was actually served in your workplace? How amazing, and how very civilised. Nowadays you're lucky even to get a tea break.

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  6. Oh yes, I remember it well! :-)

    All those lovely cakes....Battenberg, meringues, maids of honor, Swiss roll, Eccles cakes, Victoria sponge, chocolate eclairs......sigh!

    We should be a leaner, meaner species with the disappearance of that tradition, but we ain't! Well... maybe we're meaner.

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  7. Irene:
    I hope you had it at the Empress Hotel in the conservatory?
    We need to set the world to rights, don't we, let's start a movement!
    XO
    WWW

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  8. Hull:
    Oh yes please, it sounds to die!
    XO
    WWW

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  9. Nick:
    I wouldn't like to tell you the number of years ago that was!! The only breaks now are offered to the smokers which has always frosted my smokefree a**.
    Aunties and tea, was there ever a better combo?
    XO
    WWW

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  10. T:
    Battenberg was my very favourite, I'm not familiar with maids of honour though the rest for sure.
    There was also a thinly sliced confection, very rich, called Donkey's Wedding Cake. I think it was made from leftover fruit cake mixed up fresh in a sponge batter and rebaked. It was incredibly good.
    XO
    WWW

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  11. Best afternoon tea I ever came across was in Harrogate at Betty's - http://www.bettys.co.uk/

    I actually have a Country Rose teaset like the one in your graphic. It lives on the top shelf of a cupboard since I am not a flowery person.

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  12. You're right, Mary, and do let us start a movement. Should I open a tea shop?

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  13. GM:
    I always like that: when we get to know a blog bud a little better, you're not a flowery person.
    And Betty's looks divine!
    One of our most memorable (daughter, gdaughter and me) was at Harrod's at 3 when the piper came through. Gdaughter was spellbound and quite forgot her milky well-sugared tea!!
    XO
    WWW

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  14. My Mum and I still indulge in afternoon tea every day. A nice cuppa (or mug as it seems to be these days) and something homemade by my fair hands. This week an aptly named Tea Bread where the dried fruit is soaked in hot black tea (I use Lady Grey) before mixing with the other ingredients.

    This weekend for Easter I'm treating my Mum to Religieuse the Sunday treat in France. A choux bun filled with Creme Patissiere topped with a "profiterole" all smothered in chocolate icing. Looks a bit like a cottage loaf for those who know about those things...lol

    Also on the menu is a sticky triple gingerbread with fresh, ground and stem ginger. A Nigella Lawson recipe with dark muscovado sugar, golden syrup and treacle in the recipe.

    For those that don't know me I used to be a Pastry Chef so this is my speciality. I had a bakery and 2 shops for 5 years...those were the days. We had some tables and chairs outside one of my shops and afternoon tea was a ritual. Men went to the pub, the women did tea....

    The most lavish tea I've ever had was at Raffles Hotel in Singapore. A mix of English finger sandwiches, cakes and scones and Far Eastern delicacies. Only hiccup for me was that in a so called 6 star hotel they didn't have Lapsang Souchong, my afternoon tea choice and the waiter had never heard of it! Apart from that, I can highly recommend their tea in lovely surroundings, fabulous tea buffet and white coated waiters with white gloves to put your napkin on your knee and answer to any whim...apart from your choice of tea...lol (you only get 3-4 choices anyway)

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  15. Why not Irene:
    A few good china cups, a bit of baking and you're there.
    And perhaps Uberhound could wear a sandwich board to advertise it all?
    XO
    WWW

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  16. Oh Rossa:
    What have you done to me?
    I'm literally salivating, it's disgusting!
    I adore choux, my mother was such an expert at it and hard to believe, I've never tried making it.
    As to Raffles: I've harboured a dream of going there, I just knew it would be exactly like you say!
    You are elected the resident expert on all things afternoon tea!!
    XO
    WWW

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  17. What wonderful pictures you girls make with your words. Yummy.
    Happy Easter!

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  18. When I was a kid my grandother and aunt often had afternoon tea, with the trimmings, but not too many sweets, often with parsley paste sandwiches. I was allowed something referred to as cambrick tea (I have never seen it spelled), which consisted of hot water with mild and sugar in a china cup. I loved it.

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  19. 20:
    I've never had parsley paste sandwiches, do you have the recipe by any chance?
    Cambric tea, I've heard of it, called after the light cotton fabric, white.
    XO
    WWW

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