Warm a winter afternoon with a pot of hot tea.
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Tea is an enduring imperial tradition.
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- 1 cup butter at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 can of pitted black cherries (save the drained juice)
- 1 tablespoon of the saved cherry juice
- 1⁄2 cup raisins
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Grease and flour a small (8-inch) round tin.Cream butter and sugar, and add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly.Sift the flour and baking powder, and gradually add to the cream mixture.Add vanilla and cherry juice.Last, gently scatter the cherries and raisins into the mixture gently.Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for about 75 minutes or until a testing fork comes out clean.Dust with sugar when cool, and serve as thick wedges.
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Foolproof English Scones
- 1 beaten egg
- 2 heaped teaspoons castor sugar
- 1 level tablespoon butter
- 1 cup milk or buttermilk
- 2 large cups self-rising flour
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Beat the egg and sugar together. Melt the butter and add the milk. Sift the flour with the salt, and combine all of the ingredients together. Mix into a soft dough, using a little more flour if necessary, but don’t let the dough get too dry. Roll out lightly to a 1⁄2-inch thickness and cut into 2-inch circles. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a 370-degree oven.Serve warm or cold with strawberry jam and whipped or clotted cream, available at a well stocked grocery store.
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A loaf of thinly sliced white bread
A stick of salted butter, brought to room temperature
One seedless English cucumber
Cut the ends off the cucumber and peel the skin off. Slice the cucumber into very thin rounds and set aside. Butter a bread slice sparingly and place one layer of cucumber rounds on it. Top with another buttered slice, cut off crusts, and cut the sandwich into four triangles.To keep fresh, wring out a wet cloth napkin and cover the sandwiches with this until you are ready to serve.
Photos by Kip Dawkins; Prop Styling by Bill Sorrell; Food Styling by J Frank.
While tea drinking is popular the world over, with varieties from the the sweet iced tea of the South to the fragrant mint tea of Morocco, the concept of afternoon tea has its roots firmly planted in England. The tradition is so ingrained that former colonies ranging from Ceylon and Malaya to Australia and South Africa still participate in this afternoon ritual with great enthusiasm.
It is said that in the 17th century, the Duchess of Bedford, bored and peckish from long afternoons of inactivity, began sending word to the kitchens for a drink of the brew … and some nibbles. The Duchess so enjoyed this little routine that she began inviting friends to join her. It was not long before fashionable houses all over London were abuzz with hostesses entertaining in the afternoon. So it evolved that the thinnest cucumber sandwiches and hearty slices of fruitcake or hot buttered scones with double cream and jam became standard accompaniments to a cup of hot tea.
The humble tea leaf was first discovered in China about 5,000 years ago, but it was not until the 17th century that traders plying back and forth from the East brought tea to Europe. At first, this new commodity did not take off, as coffee was still the darling new discovery. It took a Royal interest in tea to really establish itself widely among the common people.
If you have grown up in the tradition of drinking hot tea, you will agree that there is no better thirst quencher. Be it the most blazing of hot days, when all is dripping with the humidity of a thick Virginia summer, or a dark and snowy evening with bones feeling chilled, a cup of tea is equally rejuvenating.
Of course, the precise steps that you take to prepare a perfect pot of tea guarantee that you slow your pace and inevitably slip into a lower gear. I find that the mood I’m in when preparing tea is most usually a good one: the anticipation of a truly refreshing drink, the hum of the kettle, the familiar rhythm of a favorite habit, and then usually sharing the pot with people you care about. I also hurry to fill a kettle if any member of the family is blue—there really is nothing better than sorting out a problem over a comforting cup of tea.
Having said that the brewing of tea takes time and precision, let me hasten to reassure the uninitiated that it is also quite straightforward. Follow these steps for your own enjoyable ‘cuppa.’ The instructions are for making a pot of four cups.
Prepare your china pot by filling it with warm tap water. In a kettle, bring fresh water to a rolling boil. Empty the warmed tea pot, add four teaspoons of your favorite leaf tea, and pour in the boiling water. Give it one brisk stir, replace the lid and leave to steep for two to three minutes but no more. Pour the tea through a strainer into a cup and serve with milk and sugar or a lemon slice, according to the drinker’s preference. My favorite drinking tea is an equal portion of orange pekoe and a fine-quality Darjeeling mixed together.
I buy my loose tea leaves in small portions and keep the mixture in an air-tight container. Traditionally, it is the black teas such as Assam, Darjeeling, orange pekoe, Lapsang souchong and Earl Grey that are served at afternoon teatime.
Now, what to accompany your cup of tea? A scone of course, with plenty of clotted cream and jam (this particular combination is referred to as a ‘cream tea’ in parts of Devon). A teacake (in the English sense, this is a pound cake, often with small amounts of fruit in it) and, of course, a few delicate cucumber sandwiches. In our great enthusiasm over food in recent times, the addition of devilled eggs as well as salmon or chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches have slipped onto the menu with no one protesting very much.
In the antipodes (Australia and New Zealand), tea is sometimes served with pikelets, which are miniature pancakes, topped with butter and jam, or the favorite lamingtons—chocolate-and-coconut-covered pound cake squares. In India, where the English left a hearty tea drinking habit, tea is invariably accompanied by an excellent samosa and chutney.
My mother, an expert and prolific cook who never followed any trends but set her own, was well known for her late-afternoon tea parties. Her guests looked forward to her ‘high teas,’ which really meant ‘early supper,’ with sweet and savory treats covering the table. There, you would find a peerless lemon meringue pie, as well as scotch eggs, mini chicken potpies and chocolate éclairs among mounds of scones and towers of cucumber sandwiches.
If you are, however, taking tea at the Palm Court in London’s swanky Ritz Hotel, don’t look for any variations to the theme; here, the excellent English tea is served in the ‘proper’ manner, and you will find no surprises on the menu.
So let’s follow the theme of an English traditional for now, and enjoy some recipes from the mother country. Your long day could take a whimsical turn—call up an old friend you haven’t seen for a while, and share a tranquil moment together over a cup of tea and a batch of hot scones.
Special thanks to Willow Place Antiques Gallery in Richmond for tea services and accessories.