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English Afternoon Tea
English Tea parties
English High Tea
English tea menus
Tea cakes
American Tea customs
American Tea menus

About English tea time
Food historians generally credit Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, for popularizing afternoon tea in the 1830s. Primary sources reveal this English meal was a byproduct of social economy. As the Industrial Revolution flipped the main meal of the day from noonish to evening, the opportunity for a light, late afternoon repast presented itself. For the English, Afternoon Tea was the perfect answer. Victorian-era teas assumed many forms, according to purpose. Ranging from informal feminine gatherings to elaborate ornate events attended by hundreds, this versatile meal played a unique role in British life, enjoyed throughout the Empire. Our research indicates classic English "tea" was not popular in the USA until the last quarter of the 19th century. Americans embraced coffee as a way forge national beverage identity seperate from England.

"It is impossible to pinpoint exactly when tea was first served as an afternoon event that took place between midday luncheon and evening dinner. Routines varied greatly between city and country, between classes, and depending on each individual day's activities. But there is no doubt that some time in the late 1830s and early 1840s, the taking o tea in the afternoon developed into a new social event. Jane Austen hits at is as early as 1804 in an unfinished novel about a family called the Watsons...The accepted tea legend always attributes the 'invention' of afternoon tea to Anna Maria, wife of the 7th Duke of Bedford, who wrote to her brother-in-law in a letter sent from Windsor Castle in 1841: 'I forgot to name my old friend Prince Esterhazy who drank tea with me the other evening at 5 o'clock...The Duchess is said to have experienced 'a sinking feeling' in the middle of the afternoon, because of the long gap between luncheon and dinner and so asked her maid to bring her all the necessary tea things and something to eat--probably traditional bread and butter--to her private room in order that she might stave off her hunger pangs...Georgiana Sitwell wrote quite categorically of the 1830s, 'There was no gathering for five o'clock afternoon tea in those days, but most ladies to an hour's rest in their rooms before the six or seven o'clock dinner...It was not till about 1849 or 50...that five o'clock tea in the drawing room was made an institution, and then only in a few fashionable houses where the dinner hour was as late as half past seven or eight o'clock.'...Manners of Modern Society, written in 1872, described the way in which afternoon tea had gradually become an established event. 'Little Teas,' it explained, 'take place in the afternoon' and were so-called because of the small amount of food served and the neatness and elegance of the meal. They were also known as 'Low Teas,' because guests were seated in low armchairs with low side-tables on which to place their cups and saucers, 'Handed Teas,' since the hostess handed round the cups, and 'Kettledrums,' presumably because the kettle was a vital piece of equipment involved in the ceremony. The book continued, 'Now that dinners are so late, and that 'teas proper'...are postponed in consequence to such an unnatural hour as ten p.m.; the want is felt of the old-fashioned meal at five, and so it has been reinstated, though not quite in the same form as before. Diaries, journals and memoirs from the second half of the century are full of tea...By the end of the century, afternoon tea had crossed all class barriers...'the table was laid...there were the best things with a fat pink rose on the side of each cup; hearts of lettuce, thin bread and butter, and the crisp little cakes that had been baked in readiness that morning.".'" --- A Social History of Tea, Jane Pettigrew [The National Trust:London] 2001 (p. 102-105) "The growth of business and businesslike habits, steadily justifying the ladies and pressing the dinner-hour farther round the clock, was not well received by the stomach. English internal engines, designed for refueling every four and a half hours, begin to labor when asked to run for six hours at a stretch. Once again wives and mothers took the situation in hand and found the remedy. They invented Afternoon Tea...The English, or at least the London, public was first offered tea in 1657, being advised to drink it for medicinal reasons rather than for pleasure...In private, as well as in the public and popular Tea Gardens, millions of people had drunk tea without inventing afternoon tea. The credit for this innovation has been given to a Duchess of Bedford, and it is true that she seems to have discerned new possibilities in the tea parties held...after dinner; she gave her tea parties earlier and less formally, al fresco. But as an institution in the home, as an occasion not for dressing up and shining but rather for being dull and comfortable by one's own fire, afternoon tea had to wait until...successive Chancellors made it practicable and the domestic time-table made it desirable. It was, at first, an affair of the nursery rather than the boudoir, the good mothers' escape from the dilemma of either sending the children straight to be on top of one of Mrs. Beeton’s family dinners, or keeping them up past their proper bedtime. Afternoon tea provided a meal suitable for children and hour and a half for its digestion."
...Moveable Feasts, Arnold Palmer [Oxford University Press:London] 1952 (p. 97-101)

"The 1879 edition of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household ManagementGood Form explained the organization of a nineteenth-century 'little tea': 'A pretty little afternoon tea service is place upon a small table and there are plates of rolled bread-and-butter, as well as biscuits and cake...'"
--- A Social History of Tea, Jane Pettigrew [The National Trust:London] 2001 (p. 107-108)

British 'High Tea" was not a fancier version of afternoon tea, but a more substantial meal served later in the day, for both sexes. The name was inspired by the actual height of the tables used to serve this meal and a "higher" hour on the clock.

"Traditionally, the upper classes served a "low" or "afternoon" tea around 4:00 pm just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park, at which one might find small, crust less sandwiches, biscuits, and cake. Middle and lower classes had a "high" tea later in the day, at 5:00 or 6:00. It is a more substantial meal, essentially its dinner. A typical menu at high tea would consist of roast pork, stand pie, salmon and salad, trifle, jellies, lemon-cheese tarts, sponge cake, walnut cake, chocolate roll, pound cake, white and brown bread, currant teacake, curd tart and cheeses. The names derive from the height of the tables on which the meals are served. Low tea was served not at a dinner table but on tables, which in the United States would be called "coffee tables," in the withdrawing room. High tea was served on the dinner table."---SOURCE: [NOTE: this web site includes types of tea available, hostesses' duties, & photos of period china/utensils.] In Mrs. Beeton's 1892 edition of her Book of Household Management, she talks not only of 'afternoon tea' but also of 'high tea': 'in some old-fashioned places, whose inhabitants have not moved with the times...a quiet tea where people are invited to partake of such nice things as hot buttered toast, tea cakes, new-laid eggs, and home-fade preserves and cake'. We do not know exactly when the first high tea was eaten. For the working and lower middle classes, it progressed naturally from the fact that tea was served as a standard beverage at mealtimes throughout the day 'Dinner' still book place in the middle of the day. For men there was meat and vegetables, fish, or bread and cheese, depending upon the family budget and the region. In the poorest homes, the women and children made do with tea...For most poor families, however, there was rarely time for tea in the middle of the afternoon. But a large pot of strong tea sitting in the middle of the meal table amidst cold meats, pies, fried bacon and potatoes, cheese, home-baked bread or oatmeal cakes was a welcome sight at 5.30 or 6pm at the end of the working day. A 'high tea' of filling, hearty foods, also known as 'meat tea' or 'great tea' was exactly what mine and factory workers needed as soon as they arrived home hungry and thirsty from a 10-hour shift. Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford gives us all the details of a typical working-class evening tea: 'Here then were the three chief ingredients of the one hot meal a day, bacon from the flitch, vegetables from the garden, and flour for a roly-poly. This meal, called 'tea,' was taken in the evening, when the men were home from the fields and the children from school, for neither could get home at midday. The meal varied from house to house and for tea at a nearby farm, 'there were fried ham and eggs, cakes and scones and stewed plums and cream, jam and jelly and junket.'...Even for the very poor, tea with bread provided the evening's nourishment...High tea was not exclusively a working-class meal. It was adopted by all social groups and adapted to their needs. The 1879 edition of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management explains 'There is Tea and Tea, the substantial family repast in the house of the early dinner, and the afternoon cosy, chatty affairs that late dinners have instituted. The family tea-meal is very like that of breakfast, only that more cakes and knicknackery in the way of sweet eatables are provided. A 'High Tea' is where meat takes a prominent part, and signifies really what it is, a tea-dinner...And there is the mere cup of tea that the lady or ladies of the house take after their afternoon drive as a kind of reviver before dressing for dinner. The afternoon tea signifies little more than tea and bread-and-butter, and a few elegant trifles in the way of cake and fruit. The meal is simply to enable a few friends to meet and talk comfortably and quietly...'...Families who employed servants very often took high tea on a Sunday in order to allow the maids and butler time to go to church and not worry about cooking an evening meal for the family. Nevertheless, there would be a grand array of sweet and savoury dishes to prepare. For high tea in a large country house, Manners of Modern Society recommended 'ripe red strawberries and jugs of rich cream...cakes of various kinds--plum, rice and muffins, crumpets, toast, tea-cakes...The sideboard is the receptacle of the weightier matters, such as cold salmon, pigeon and veal and ham pies, boiled and roast fowls, tongues, ham, veal cake, and should it be a very 'hungry tea,' roast beef and lamb be may be there for the gentlemen of the party.'"
--- A Social History of Tea, Jane Pettigrew [The National Trust:London] 2001(p. 110-112)

What to serve?
Tea cakes daintily arranged on ornate multi-tiered silver trays crafted expressly for this sole purpose.

"In Victorian country houses, preparing recipes for tea was carried out not in the kitchens, but in the stillroom, where the maid was under direct supervision of the housekeeper. The stillroom in previous centuries had been the province of the mistress of the house, where she prepared sweetmeats, confectionery and cordials for the banqueting or dessert course--providing yet another link between luxury food items and tea. Afternoon teas, as Marie Bayard wrote in 1884 in Hints on Etiquette, was 'not supposed to be a substantial meal, merely light refreshment'. The food and drink were then (and still are today) less important than the event itself. 'Cakes...thin bread and butter, and hot buttered scones, muffins, or toast is all the accompaniments strictly necessary.'...Neat, crustless sandwiches were a particularly useful tea-time food, allowing hostesses the possibility of introducing more exciting flavours. More important, perhaps, they could be eaten without risk of soiling gloves and other articles of clothing. Mrs. Beeton told readers in 1892 that sandwiches 'intended for afternoon tea are dainty trifles, pleasing to the eye and palate, but too flimsy to allay hunger where it exists.'"
--- A Social History of Tea, Jane Pettigrew [The National Trust:London] 2001 (p. 117)
[NOTE: this book contains 19th century recipes for: Milk Dough for Children's Cakes, Tea Cakes, Bread for Tea, Seville Orange Biscuits, Ginger Cake, Gingerbread, Buttered Eggs, Soda Cake, Macaroons, Spunge Cake and Cheap Bread.]

Suggeste home tea menus
Much of what we know about the earliest tea menus were not recorded not in cookbooks, but literature. Jane Austen and her contemporaries chronicled the rise this meal with great care and detail.

Kim Wilson's Tea with Jane Austen offers tea notes, menu suggestions and modernized recipes gleaned from this famous author's books.

"2194. As soon as the drawing-room bell rings for tea, the footman enters with the tray, which has been previously prepared; hands the tray round to the company, with cream and sugar, the tea and coffee being generally poured out, while another attendant hands cakes, toast, or biscuits. If it is an ordinary family party, where this social meal is prepared by the mistress, he carries the urn or kettle, as the case may be; hands round the toast, or such other eatable as may be required, removing the whole in the same manner when tea is over."
---"Domestic Servants," Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management

"The ritual of English teatime was perfected by Queen Mary, for whom it was a treasured time of day...Sandwiches, cakes and biscuits were invitingly set out on gleaming silver dishes. The teapot, hot water jug, cream jug and sugar bowl were the same antique silver service that had been the favourite of Queen Victoria."
---Dinner at Buckingham Palace, Paul Fishman and Fiorella Busoni editors [Metro Publishing:London] 2003 (p. 20)
[NOTE: This book offers tea-time recipes for rich fruit cake, ginger cake, sandwiches jambon et langue (ham and tongue), mincemeat puffs, Queen's cakes, scones, lemon curd sponge, currant buns, sables a la poche, pont neuf, eclairs au cafe, small chocolate cakes, Scotch bread, Sandringham Christmas cake, Albert biscuits and Victoria biscuits.]

Suggested home tea menus for a week from: Cookery Illustrated and Household Managment, Elizabeth Craig [Odshams Press:London]

"The very word tea-time has a nostalgic ring for those of us who remember the past with delight...It was not then considered good taste to have too many small things---one good plum cake, one light cake, perhaps of the sponge or sponge-sandwich variety, or an orange cake, iced, might appear, and a hot dish of crumpets or buttered toast, anchovy toast or hot tea-cakes, and, in particular, that admirable hot cake described as Irish Sally Lunn. Even on the most elegant of tea tables it was then, and is now, permissible to leave jam in its pot set on a plate unless you possessed a nice, plain glass jam pot...Recipes suitable for tea-time are to be found in the bread, cake, and cocktail chapters, and I may be allowed to add the following suggestions for good tea-tine food: Home-made crumpets and muffins, Anchovy rolls, Rock, Bath, and Chelsea buns for schoolroom tea, rich chocolate cake, sponge sandwich...spread with rose-petal jam filling, Bun loaf, Gugelhopf, Selkirk bannock, Singin' Hinny, Potato cakes, Sally Lunn, Gallette de Savennieres, Plain sponge cake with a crusty top, orange cake...and an one of the special jams and conserves..."
---Constance Spry Cookery Book, Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume [Pan Books:London] 1956 (p. 1051-1053)
[NOTE: all of these recipes appear in this book.]

Jane Grigson's English Food offers "Teatime" chapter with traditional, modernized recipes.

We Americans are constantly redefining & reinventing national image. Tea is a prickly subject.

"Emigrants from Britain, Holland and Portugal took their customs and equipage with them when they set sail across the Atlantic. When the English captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch and renamed it New York in 1674, tea was already well established as an everyday beverage for the wealthier members of the new society. The city opened its own pleasure gardens and coffee houses like those in England, and with similar names. In 1682, William Penn founded the Quaker city of Philadelphia, advocating tea as the preferred drink because it filled 'the cups that cheer but not inebriate'. By the 1690s apothecaries in Boston were advertising 'Green and Ordinary teas'. Whenever they went out to tea, ladies carried little bags that held a small teacup and saucer of the best china, and a spoon. As in England, tea was not just for ladies. In December 1757 George Washington ordered from England six teapots and 12lb of tea...His breakfast normally consisted of two cups of tea...Inventories from the Washington household lists all the equipage necessary for the serving of tea: caddies, boards, tables, cups and saucers, teaspoons, a copper kettles and a silver-plated urn. But the history of tea drinking in the American colonies was not set to follow such a smooth path as in Britain. In 1767 Charles Townsend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pused an Act through Parliament that allowed the government to raise revenue by taxing tea and other goods being purchased and imported to America for the purpose of maintaining an army and government there. The only way for the Americans to buy tea was through the English East India Company...Parliament then added insult to injury by introducing much stricter law enforcement against smuggling... This monopoly outraged the colonial tea merchants and shippers who quickly realized they would be ruined...In New York and Philadelphia, the [tea] ships were forced back...In Boston, it provoked the famous Tea Party...The young ladies of Boston signed a pledge, 'We the daughters of those patriots who have, and do now appear for the public intrest, and in that principally regard their posterity, as do with pleasure engage with them in denying ourselves the drinking of foreign tea, in hope to frustrate a plan that tends to deprive a whole community of all that is valuable to life.' They were joined by others around the country, drinking instead 'Balsamaic hyperion' made from dried raspberry leaves, or infusions of other herbs. The Boston Tea Party did not destroy the American taste for tea, although few retailers in Boston dared to offer it for sale for a number of years. George and Martha Washington continued to serve the best quality tea and in 1796, the artist Benjamin Henry Latrobe sketched the President taking tea on the porch at Mount Vernon. Others followed suit, drinking tea in the same way as the British, as an after-dinner drink. In 1827 a servant in Boston published a book of instructions on how to conduct formal tea-parties. Tea was poured into cups, which were then handed round on trays with jugs of cream, bowls of sugar, and plates of toast, bread and butter, and cakes. When guests had finished their tea, the cups were collected and washed, before refills were offered."
---A Social History of Tea, Jane Pettigrew [National Trust Enterprises:London] 2001 (p. 48-51)

"A great deal of ceremony has always been attached to tea parties, much of it involving the presentation and handling or elaborate and delicate tea wares. The Dutch in New Amsterdam in the mid-1600s used teapots, silver spoons, and strainers, as well as "bite and stir boxes," which contained partitions for lump and powdered suagr...Tea drinkers in the colonies used porcelain tea wares from China, often blue and white but sometimes red and white or plain white. Chinese export teacups were smaller than coffee cups and had no handles. A full tea set around 1790 contined a teapot, twelve cups, twelve saucers, a milk or cream jug, a sugar bowl, and a slop bowl for pouring out the dregs before refilling a cup...Other equipment devoted to tea in the eighteenth century included wooden tea boards and trays and small tables. The tables were round or square, on four legs or on tripod stands. Often they were collapsible or had leaves that could be extended...Eveining and afternoon tea parties in private homes or public halls were fashionable social affairs during the late eighteenth cnetury and throughout the following century. Often women organized tea parties to raise funds for restoration of patriot properties, such as Mount vernon...Despite the aura of refinement and propriety surrounding some tea parties, they have historically been social occasions in which participants relaxed, shared light gossip, and departed from the formalities of regualr meals or dinner parties. Often they represented a bread, in the ordinary routines of daily terms of the foods consumed as well as the time of day and varied locations."
---Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith editor [Oxford University Press:New York] 2004, Volume 2 (p. 529-532)

"Tea drinking in America had long been associated with the elite. The beverage was imported and thus expensive, both before and after the Boston Tea Party. The tea-drinking custom was also associated with free time during the workday, refined manners, dress-up clothes, delicate food, fine china, and silver tea services and implements. By the mid-nineteenth century, the booming new silver-plating industry, plus the discovery of new silver deposits in Nevada, led to the proliferation of specialized pieces, many of them tea wares such as showy hot-water swing kettles, butter dishes, spoon holders, sugar tongs, cake baskets, and more. Fund-raising tea parties of the nineteenth century, fancy events in which guests wore elaborate historical costumes, had also established an association between upper classes and tea...After the centennial celebration of 1876 Philadelphia, the popularity of tea drinking rose. In the early twentieth century, the very rich continued their love affair with tea, building private tea houses on their estates, in rustic twig cottages, Oriental pagodas with winged roofs, and vine-covered latticework pergolas. The elite fund-raising tradition would live on in some of the public tea rooms and tea houses of the twentieth century...But for most patrons, tea rooms were simply places to relax and have a good time...Afternoon tea was predominately a female affair, but many women were joined by husbands and male friends...Women's exclusion from many public dining rooms in the 1900s and 1910s was undoubtedly a factor in their attraction to female-friendly tea rooms...In the tea room...women were never turned away, at least not because of their gender."
---Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America, Jan Whitaker [St. Martin's Press:New York] 2002 (p. 18-21)

[Colonial Virginia]
"Tea as a meal between dinner and supper was by no means universal even among ladies of the upper class. When afternoon tea was served, the beverage was acccompanied by bread and butter, hot buns or crumpets or muffins, and cake."
---Colonial Virginia Cookery: Procedures, Equipment, and Ingredients in Colonial Cooking, Jane Carson [Colonial Williamsburg Foundation:Williamsburg VA] 1985 (p. 8)

Sarah Rutledge's Carolina Housewife contains an entire chapter devoted to tea cakes (p. 187-213). No menus. This book has recently been reprinted by University of South Carolina Press. Accessible online via GoogleBooks. Google "Carolina Housewife" "Sarah Rutledge"

"High tea...There is no pleasenter way of entertaiing a few friends than to give a 'High Tea;' but, as Mrs. Rorer, the well-known cooking teacher says: 'The hostess should invite but a few friends at a time. It is better to havd a tea every week with a few pleasant people than a large array of uncongenial ones.' The refreshments are very simple for such a tea, and within the eans of almost every one. The invitations are oftentimes simply visiting cards with the date and words, 'high Tea' written below; while some are engraved porposely, and still others are informal notes. If a friend or friends assist in entertaining, cards for them should be inclosed. Invitation should be sent out at least three or four days in advance, but many successful and pleasant teas have been impromptu, and the invitations sent out the day before. Street suits or reception toilets are always appropriate and admissible for such entertainments. The decorations are usually of one particular flower of late, with plenty of smilax festooned from the chandeliers above. Roses, either pink, yellow or the rich velvety Jacqueminots are perhaps the prettiest and most effective decorations. Everything else should be in harmony with the flowers used. A pretty idea is to have a single rose or a corsage bouquet for the ladies and a buttonhole one for the gentlemen at each plate.
Menu for a High Tea, No. 1: Fried Oysters, Chicken Salad, Thin Bread ad Butter, Wafers, Macaroons, Tea.
Menu No. 2: Oyster Patties, Cabbage Salad, Chicken Sandwiches, Olives, Salted Almonds, Wafers, Coffee.
Menu No. 3: Chicken Croquettes, Shrimp Salad, Thin Bread ad Butter, Aardines, Wafers, Russian Tea.
Menu No. 4: Rolled Sandwiches, Escalloped Oysters, Olives, Veal Croquettes, Coconut Balls, Wafers, Coffee."
---Table Talk, January 1890 (p. 35-36)

"Tennis Tea. Sugared Berries, Cold 'Turkish' Tongue, Tomatoes Stuffed with Cress, Rolls, Sweet Sandwiches, Lemonade, Ie Cream. No. 2: Chilled Raspberries, Crab Croquettes, Cream Sauce, Rolls, Ice Cream, Cake." ---Table Talk, August 1890 (p. 299)
[NOTE: Additional tea dishes (p. 304): Lobster Cutlets, Lobster Newburgh, Deviled Lobster, lobster a la Bordelaise, Lobster Croquettes, Ragout of Lobster; Kromeskies of Crabs, Scalloped Crabs, Crab Croquettes, Caviare Toast, Salmon Toast, Egg Sandwiches, Nut Sandwich, Canapes, Rolled Ham, Jellied Chicken, Peanuts Grilled, Cheese Toast, Cheese Straws, Brandy Cheese Crackers.]

"Bridal Party tea...After the table is covered with a heavy piece of Canton flannel, and over this a perfectly white damask tablecloth, put in the centre a square of either embroidered or plain white linen, or a piece of China silk. The silk, however, may be folded around a bowl of roses, or a large, handsome glass dish of fruit. The linen could be put on perfectly plain. In the centre arrange a glass dish of fruit and appropriate flowers, with silk twisted around the base. On the two sides, have white or glass candlesticks, double ones, if you have the, with perfectly white candles and white shades. These may also stand in the folds of silk. On the other two sides have pretty little glass or silver dishes of salted almonds. Small corsage bouquets, or appropriate white and delicate flowers, may be placed at each plate and, with the exception of glass and water bottles, do not have any other decorations on the table. As this tea is for a bridal party, try, as nearly as possible, to have a perfectly white tea, inn dishes, food and decorations. Menu: Shrimp Cutlets, Cream sauce, Parkerhouse Rolls, Coffee, Chicken a a Creme, French Peas, Tomato Salad, Wafters, Brie, Ice Cream, Angel's Food."
---Table Talk,, September 1890 (p. 347)

"The term 'Afternoon Tea,' as it is used in this country refers more especially to the social aspect of tea-drinking rather than the 'Five o'Clock Tea' of the domestic circle. The custom of serving tea between the luncheon and dinner hours is an imported one, coming to America from England, where, among both high and low, rich and poor, the afternoon cup of tea is almost an indispensible part of the domestic routine. In America the six o'clock dinner prevails very generally, and the 'Five-o'Clock Tea' custom has gained comparatively little foothold; it has been adopted by the leisure classes, however, and is popular with the college girl, the bachelor maid, the artist, and the so-called Bohemian circle...The evolution of the simple five-o'clock refreshment into the elaborate entertainment known as 'Tea' has been gradual. Originally the purpose of the 'Afternoon Tea' was practical rather than social. In the country homes of England, during the sporting seasons, a 'bite and sup' were offered to the tired sportsman upon his return from field or wood, in order that he might not perish of starvation before the dinner hour--usually eight o’clock. In America the average citizen has no real need of refreshment between his luncheon and dinner, but the afternoon cup of tea found favor, nevertheless, and has gained rapidly in popularity. A great many hostesses, with an eye to economy...make the formal tea their principal mode of entertaining... Then only necessary accompaniment in the way of solid refreshment is bread and butter,--the bread cut very thin, --dainty wafers, or delicate cakes of some kind... Variation on a more elaborate scale is the weekly 'At Home,' which has grown in popularity with many hostesses...The menu may include both tea and coffee or tea and chocolate. There may be one or two kinds of dainty sandwiches and baskets or plates of fancy cakes...A dish of fine bonbons may also be passed. Do not be tempted, however, in preparing a menu for the regular 'At Home' occasion to extend it beyond the limits here prescribed. Bouillon, oysters, salads, ices, fruit, etc., are not expected, and are certainly not in good taste...The really formal 'Tea' is hardly a 'Tea' at all...The "Tea' of this in reality an afternoon reception... The large number of guests precludes the possibility of pouring and serving tea...and therefore it becomes necessary to lay the table in the dining-room or any other suitable room connected with the drawing-room. The table wears its finest damask; at one end is placed, usually, the tea service, and at the other a chocolate or coffee service. Friends of the hostess preside over these beverages...The menu for a 'Tea' of this kind may include bouillon, two or more kinds of the most delicate sandwiches, cakes, bonbons, such relishes as salted almonds and olives, and tea, coffee, and chocolate. A punch or ice is also permissible...There is still another degree of 'Tea,' but it is so very remotely connected with the idea of tea-drinking that it scarcely deserves a place in this chapter. Properly speaking, it is an afternoon reception on a very elaborate scale...The 'Afternoon Tea' proper is characterized, as has been said before, by an atmosphere of simplicity, informality, and cosiness. A form of 'Tea' in much a favor a few years ago and not yet relegated altogether to the limbo of discarded fads, is the pink, blue, or yellow Tea--or whatever the scheme of decoration may be. There is no reason why the colorscheme 'Tea' should not hold its own so far as the attractiveness of decoration is concerned...One must consider, however, in planning a pink or yellow Tea, not only the table decoration but the harmony of viands in point of color."
---Consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes, Christine Terhune Herrick, editor-in-chief, Volume 1 [R.J. Bodmer:New York] 1905 (p. 53-61)

"J.P. Morgan, Jr., has introduced the custom of taking afternoonn tea at 4 o'clock, or thereabouts, in the office of the banking firm which bears his name. Many members of the big Wall street banking house have taken kindly to the English custom of afternoon tea and wafers, and as a consequence three, and sometimes four, members of the firm adjourn from the outer business office to a priate room, where tea is served.---New York Herald."
---"Wall Street Tea Parties," Wall Street Journal April 18, 1906, (p. 2)
[NOTE: Compare with
Wall Street lunch 1910.]

"The 'afternoon tea' is the least expensive, least troublesome, and one of the most popular forms of social entertainment. Good tea, good sandwiches, and good company make an ideal social combination...An alcohol-lamp keeps the water boiling, and there are cups and saucers, sugar-bowl and cream-jug, to keep it company. What else shall be served is a matter of individual taste. Sometimes there is fresh toast and a dish of marmalade. The English muffin, toasted, is, unhappily, not a thing that we have much success in making, nor is the nice Scotch scones. But, on the other hand, we excel in little cakes. The small scalloped cakes, either sugared or frosted, baked in little tins, and coming on fresh from the oven, are delightful. On the table may be a dish of bonbons, if one likes. Or, better still, a plate of home-made caramels or fudge. There is something cavalier in offering one's friend crackers bought in boxes, as for the sawdusty little bits of sweetness that are often made to answer the place of a bite of nourishment, they are delusions and snares. Anything in the world except stale sweet crackers....As to the refreshments for larger affairs, there should be the inevitable sandwiches, as delicately made as possible. Also, a fresh, homemade sponge-cake cut into squares and served with tea is a welcome dainty. Any cake served with tea should not be too sweet nor too rich. This beverage calls for a light, nourishing accompaniment, just as coffee and chocolate admit the heavier dainties, like fruit and pound-cake...It is not necessary to stay long at an afternoon tea. During the height of the season in a large city, many of these affairs take place on the same afternoon, the guests going from one to another...The pouring of tea is such a characteristic and pleasant feature of these occasions...An assistant hostess usually presides at each end of the table, one pouring coffee, chocolate, or bouillon, the other tea...A 'curate's assistant' is a convenient adjunct for a small tea. Cake, buns, muffins, and buttered toast may be passed on this little three-storied stand."
---A-B-C of Good Form, Anne Seymour [Harper & Brothers:New York] 1915 (p. 33-45)

"For the informal afternoon tea no table is set. The maid brings to the drawing-room, living-room, sun-parlor, or piazza--in fact any place but the dining-room--the tray with the tea-service, which she places on a table previously made ready to receive it...The hostess either makes the tea and pours it or has it made and brought in for her to pour. Of course the former service is more graceful and personal...Cut sugar or rock crystals, a pitcher of cream, a small dish of sliced lemon, and cups and saucers, spoon on saucer, or cups and plates and tea napkins should be in readiness on the tea-tray...Plain bread and butter sandwiches or sandwiches of the simplest kinds--olive, nut, or lettuce--should be served, also small cakes or wafers. Care should be taken not to have anything elaborate...Out of doors, in summer, iced tea, iced chocolate, or punch is more often convenient, as well as more acceptable than hot tea...A tea for which cards are sent out is a formal occasion, really an afternoon reception. Friends of the hostess serve all the refreshments, but maids should be in attendance to remove used cups and plates and to bring fresh ones; also to replenish all dishes of food. The table is laid either with a luncheon cloth or with doilies, and is decorated with flowers and candles...Plates filled with sandwiches, others filled with cakes, and dishes holding candies, with others containing salted nuts, are arranged symmetrically upon the table. Cakes are also disposed upon the frappe table and on serving-table and passed from there...Individual ices are sometimes served, although frappe (or some frozen cream, not too rich) is usually preferred, served in frappe glasses from a frappe bowl by some friend of the hostess...A filled cake basket and dishes of candy may be placed there for convenience in serving."
---Table Service, Lucy G. Allen [Little Brown:Boston] 1927 (p. 73-76)

Liberty tea
Liberty tea was one of several hot beverages brewed with indigenous plants. In this case, loosestrife. Presumably the "recipe" was similar to those for brewing any tea. Not finding actual "recipes" in our early American cookbooks. Notes here:

"An imaginative variety of plants was tried in an effort to find a palatable substitute for China tea...Perhaps the two best-known today, for they were among the most popular during the Revolutionary period, are raspberry leaves the a brew of which was called Hyperion tea, and loosestrife, or Liberty tea."
---Colonial Kitchens, Their Furnishings, and Their Gardens, Frances Phipps [Hawthorn Books:New York] 1972 (p. 106)

"Liberty tea. A loosestrife (here: Lysimachia quadrifolia); also a tea made from this plant. 1837. NH Hist. Soc. Coll. 5.84, Many adopted the use of what was called Liberty tea, as a substitute for the Chinese herb. 'It was made of four-leaved loosestrife.' 1898 Jrl. Amer. Folkl. 11.274 seME, Lysimachia quadrifolio... liberty tea. [Footnotes: used rather than pay the tax on tea.] Torryea 29.150...'liberty-tea.' (we were always told it was so-named because this plant was used to avoid tea-taxes.'"
---Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume III I-O, Frederic G. Cassidy, editor [Belknap Press:Cambridge MA] 1996 (p. 339)

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Research conducted by Lynne Olver, editor The Food Timeline. About this site.
© Lynne Olver 2010
16 April 2014