Gwendolyn Discovers Sugar
The above line, from Oscar Wilde's
most popular play, is spoken by Miss Gwendolyn Fairfax to her 'best'
friend, Cecily Cardew. Gwendolyn would speak quietly, with the restraint
befitting a young woman so well-bred that she could raise teacup to
lips with perfect etiquette. Tea rituals are serious business.
The Lifting of the Tea Cup
Gwendolyn would raise cup and saucer
to her mouth with her left hand bearing the weight, and the fingers
of her right hand steadying the cup by its handle. Without any movement
of her head, she would lower her eyes to guide the cup to her mouth,
and then take the most delicate of sips. Only then she would discover
the offending lumps of sugar.
The Importance of Pinkies
Gwendolyn's little finger would be
curled under and away from the heat of the cup which might otherwise inflict
a burn on her delicate skin. The little finger would never be arched upward.
Arching would be deemed a sign of extreme arrogance. Should you know of
moments extreme enough to demand an arched pinkie, contact us immediately. pinky crises
We are delighted to have learned of Melissa Mitchell's pinky crises: please read about tea and crumpets and a woeful pinky situation
High Tea or Low Tea?
As shocking as it might first appear,
the well-bred misses, Gwendolyn and Cecily, would have been enjoying
low tea. The words 'low' and 'high' refer to the tables from which either
tea meal is eaten. Low tea, served in a sitting room, of course, was
a light repast, taken at four in the afternoon when the circadian rhythms
of the body fall to a natural low. At this table, one would find slender
tea sandwiches, which would be followed by fruit or sorbet to clear
the palate, then by sweet scones or pastries. An elegant cake might
be the centerpiece, always standing tall on its pedestal. Since many
of these foods would be eaten with three (and only three) fingers ,
a delicate finger bowl, perhaps with rose petals floating in water,
would be in evidence. The tea pot would be silver, not a casual one
of china, sugar would be served with tongs. This tea was a privilege
of that class of people created by the industrial revolution - the leisure
To not offend the sensibilities
of the two elegant young ladies, we must speak quietly when we talk
of high tea. Again, the word high referred to a table, this one in a
dining room table, and it would be loaded with substantial dinner dishes
- meats, cheese, breads, perhaps the classic shepherd's pie or steak
and kidney pie. This meal would be the one eaten by
-shhh, whisper lest the young ladies are close - the working classes.
From India to China to England
to the Drink of a Nation
Tea probably originated in the area
of the Burma-India border. Legend holds that it was brought to China
by Buddhist monks. Though tea dates back as far as 2700 BC, the real
popularity of tea among the Chinese masses occurred around 618 - 901
AD during the T'ang Dynasty. Lu Yu's Book of Tea (the Ch'a
Ching) dates from the 8th century and is still read today.
Tea may have first reached England
in 1663 when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza. Part of her dowry
was tea which was packed in large chests soon known as tea chests, of
course. Tea drinking became popular at Court quite rapidly. Initially
expensive, a small amount of tea goes a long way and it soon became
popular with everyone, replacing ale as the national quaff.
The origin of the mid-afternoon
tea is credited to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, who conquered the weak
feeling at four in the afternoon by having tea and breadstuffs. In time
she invited friends and the tea party was born. 1840 is the given date
for this historic moment, and by 1880, the country was following the
Duchess' lead, and tea shops were in vogue.
How to Make Tea Sandwiches
There are a few caveats:
Choose thinly sliced, sandwich bread
of a tight grain.
A thin layer of butter is necessary
to seal the bread from the moist ingredients.
No polite member of society should
encounter crusts. Cut away all crusts
Please cut each tea sandwich into
thirds to ensure that fingers alone (only three, remember?) can perform
the task of lifting to mouth. Clutching a sandwich with the entire hand
is unacceptably working class.
Put an unsliced loaf of white or
brown bread (preferably both) bread into the freezer for one hour. This
will make slicing easier. Remove crust from bread and slice very thinly.
Fill with any of the following: egg salad, seafood salad, cream cheese
and cucumber, cream cheese and watercress, turkey or chicken salad.
Cut in diagonals or into various shapes using cookie cutters.
Asparagus rolls: Place a cooked
asparagus on thin, thin slice of buttered brown bread. Roll up.
Smoked salmon rolls: Place slice
of smoked salmon on thin slice of buttered bread. Sprinkle with lemon,
roll and wrap tightly in plastic roll. Before serving, slice into rounds.
Ribbon sandwiches: Layering pieces
of buttered bread, fill each layer with different fillings: egg yolks
for a yellow shade, cream cheese for a white shade, watercress for a
green shade. Wrap in plastic , refrigerate at least three hours. Cut
into slices before serving.
Scones: May be spread with lemon
curd, with jam or "Devonshire" Cream, also called clotted
cream. This is a thick cream made by heating unpasteurized milk and keeping it hot for about an hour. Yellow clots form on the
top. Though we can't have the original, there is a 'mock' clotted cream.
With little finger curled under,
you are now prepared to indulge in that moment best described by Henry
James: "There are few hours more agreeable than the hour dedicated
to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."