Downton Abby, Lord and Lady Grantham, Setting the Tea Table, Sifted Nectarines, Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas, Tea Cakes. Afternoon Tea, Tea Cups and Saucers, Tea Sandwiches, Tea with Milk NOT Cream
Dowtnon Abbey has spoiled us forever. We are clearly addicted. The clothes, the afternoon teas, the hired help. Need we say more?
We are grateful to mythical Lord and Lady Grantham for sharing their daily lives with us. Tradition! Progress! A bygone gentility!
This gave Her Ladyship (that would be me!) pause for thought. What’s a lady without servants to do? This thought triggered a little research and here is a gem gleaned from the 1932 American Cookery, courtesy of the website Food Timeline.
The hostess will choose a firm, steady table, not more than 28 inches high, for convenience in pouring, and her seat will be high enough to dominate this table. Cups, Saucers, Plates, Spoons, Cream jug, (Oh no! Surely not! Her Ladyship is aghast – cream is too heavy for tea – always milk), Sugar and covered Slop Bowls in such a way that the hostess can conveniently reach them. Saucers and plate may be stacked, the plates with napkins between them. Cups should never be stacked. Spoons may lie in a row, or be fitted ‘spoonwise’ into one another. Samovar or teapot towards front.
The victuals would consist of:
Bread, Sandwiches, and Cake may be placed on the farther side of the table, for guests to help themselves. The Tea Wagon, or Cart, or even a small table, may go at the left of the hostess, for extra china. This is better than overloading the table. The Curate, or three-tiered basket or stand, is often used for bread (on its top shelf), sandwiches (on its middle), cake (on its lower compartment), and in this way it may be informally carried round the room and its contents offered to guests. All this preparation should be completed before the guests arrive. (We should hope so!).
And the Bill of Fare comprised of:
There are sometimes hot, buttered rolls, but the thin-slcied English bread-and-butter is preferred, provided there is a skilled cuttter. Assorted Sandwiches. These may be open or closed, toasted or plain, and the shapes and fillings as novel as possible. Examples are: Pimiento Butter and Brie Cheese, Lemon Butter and Fig Paste, Horse-radish and Tongue, Sifted Nectarines, (Her Ladyship must do additional research – sifted nectarines are a sandwich filling? Hmmm); Chicken Livers and Tomato, Maple Cream and Chopped Nuts. Cakes: The most convenient are cookies or very small cakes, richly frosted and in paper cases. Beverages, etc. Tea alone is served at such a simple and homey affair, and choice of weak or strong, with or without cream, etc., provides sufficient variety. Nuts and bonbons may or may not be provided.
And the protocol for guests dictated:
Guests at such an infomral affair enter unannounced and with their outdoor things on. (Her Ladyship wonders how guests are to dispense of their ‘outdoor things’? A maid perhaps lurks by or were guests meant to take tea with their ‘outdoor things’ on?). If the hostess is seated at the tea table (as she usually is), they will advance at once to be greeted by her, and she will at once inquire their preferences as to sugar, lemon, etc. (the spiced syrup is novel and delicious and goes well with lemon), and fill their cups. Guests help themselves to breads and cakes, and sit while enjoying them. There is no limit to the refilling of cups at tea, and a guest may take her ’empty’ to the source of supplies six or more times. Before each refill the hostess will empty the dregs into the covered slop bowl.
And so it was back in the mists of time. Today hip hostesses call on Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas to prepare and serve a proper English afternoon tea.