Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Taking Tea

Those Brits were on to something when 4 o'clock tea became a nationally recognized pasttime/meal/repose back in 1840. Here in our home, we suffer from something I like to call the 3 o'clock slump, which really covers the hours between 3pm and 5:30pm, otherwise known as the witching hour, otherwise known as "partner, please come home because I'm pooped out and the kids are cranky". I suspect that Anna, the seventh duchess of Bedford, suffered a similar challenge because it was she who introduced the custom known charmingly as "afternoon tea". In her home, the evening meal was served fashionably late at eight in the evening, a scenario that must have rendered the fainting couch quite useful, until one afternoon when she requested a tray of tea, bread, butter and cake be brought up to her room (where doubtless she had locked herself in for a break from little Timmy and Bess who were whining in the nursery). Soon she began inviting her friends, and one of them, the Earl of Sandwich of course gets the credit for suggesting something more substantial than butter be placed between the layers of bread, thus creating the world's first sandwich. Pretty soon, afternoon tea became a fashionable social event where ladies and gents would meet to talk over the latest drawing room scandal while stuffing their faces.
Nowadays, afternoon tea is still served in venerable hotels such as Claridges, the Ritz, Savoy and Fortnum & Mason department store in London and is likely to include what we Baughns consider sheer necessity when it comes to the art of taking tea: Devonshire Clotted Cream. If it sounds like a blocked artery that's because eating too much of it will probably result in the former, but nothing says teatime like scones fresh from the oven smothered with clotted cream and fresh jam.
Half the fun of taking tea is the ritual. I rinse the teapot with hot water while the boys get out all the china from the cabinet. Some of it is chipped or handle-less and there are a few less service pieces than we had last year, but nothing gives me more pleasure than watching the boys drink from the same tea cups my great-grandmother used.
The boys delight in the antique monogrammed demi-tasse spoon with the large scrolled "B" as much as I do, so much so that they can't stop dipping them in the sugar bowl. The latter was given to me one Christmas when I was still a girl by my mother. It has lost a handle but it's a survivor and sometimes we use the matching cream pitcher when we can find it.
On this particular day, this was just the pause we all needed, to settle down and be a little quieter. The use of the china requires care and the boys slow down enough to respect their cups and saucers and we find ourselves discussing the merits of the day. Ryan pulled in the driveway just as the scones were coming out of the oven; supposedly he had left a part at home but I suspect he needed the break as much as we did!


  1. Ack! Three in one day! Of course I love the object-ness of this post. Challah if you'd like me to pick up some antique tea cups on my various thrift-shop runs (just had to write that for the pun). My friend Adam showed me his silver spoon collection the other day (his mom's, actually), and I was beside myself, because one was from Snoqualmie Falls, important to you perhaps because of Washington, important to me because of, um, Twin Peaks.

  2. Twin peaks is that I have that out of the way I will post my comment:

    We take tea almost every day. Pretty sure I have you to thank for that. Not always with fresh from the oven scones...more often than not it is Ack Mack smothered in butter or just a slice of bread but the ritual is exactly what makes it just right.
    Thanks for the history lesson too...silly that for a girl who has taken tea for years now I knew none of what you shared.
    Now I shall be going to bed dreaming of your scones with clotted cream and jam...sigh...a good dream for sure.

  3. completely perfect. tea time is just about my fave thing. i try to slow down in that slump period and have a snacky & some tea as well. i adore that you let them have at the china, i would too if i had kiddos!

  4. this is soo sweet!! I love those afternoon teas in a tea house, I should do them more at home! There's nothing like homemade scones!! :)

  5. My friend Hansi adds dried lavender and lemon zest to hers and they are amazing.