Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Dish of Tea and the Winners!

Do you know someone who has a birthday today? Perhaps, it is your birthday! Lovely, your birthday is on the same day as Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who was born on September 3, 1783.

Tea Time
M. Dalton King (1992)
The Duchess is credited with the innovation of "afternoon tea." The daughter of an earl and wife to the Seventh Duke of Bedford, Anna had lived her entire life in aristocratic homes. The Duchess was accustomed to a meal structure which dictated that lunch was served around twelve or one, and dinner, six to eight hours later, with nothing in between. Anna lost patience with this custom as she approached middle age. One afternoon, she broke with tradition and requested that a tray of tea and buttered bread be sent up to her. This was unusual, but as a duchess is never refused anything by her servants, it was done.

In youth admired, in age revered,

From life's gay morning to its end; 

By Honor's star his course he steered, 

Nor found a Foe, nor lost a Friend."

Little is know about Anna Maria Russell [Stanhope] before her presentation as Duchess. The selection above is recorded in a memoir written by Anna Maria and a Mr. Henry Tattam in 1858. Lady Anna Marie Stanhope became the Seventh Duchess of Bedford at the young age of twenty-five. The inscription is said to have been engraved on a piece of jewelry she wore as duchess.

The duchess was looked upon with high regard by the many that made her acquaintance. She is said to have been a warm and generous religious woman adored and revered by the masses. These inclinations I discovered in her memoir.

"Welcome to Her Grace"
"Not for the lustre of thy noble name,
Though 'tis emblazoned on the scroll of fame,
Lady! we welcome thee; but that where'er
The orphan's helpless cry, the widow's prayer,
The sad appeal of the distressed is heard,
However poor the tongue, or weak the word,
Thy ' Woman's heart' throbs to the tale of grief,
And thy kind hand brings succour and relief.
More than all this!—when fair Religion calls
For help to widen and extend the walls...

Although quite interesting and perhaps a bit one sided, the memoir makes no mention of tea. The act of sipping and niceties is no where to be found. After reading bits and pieces of the it, I realize why. I suggest you take a quick look at it if you would like to know how I came to this conclusion:) I did however discover, the duchess had a huge fan in Queen Victoria. "On the Queen's accession to the throne in June of 1837, the Queen wrote these words:

Having had the pleasure of knowing you from my earliest youth, and having always had the highest esteem for your character, I should be delighted to appoint you as one of the Ladies of the Bedchamber. Should such an appointment be agreeable to you, I beg to see you at Kensington Palace tomorrow at two o'clock." (yes, she was the first chosen as a Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria:)

With fruition came enchantment. So delighted with her newly found repast, the Duchess of Bedford began to invite others to join her for a spot of tea, afternoon tea that is. Fanny Kemble, a famous actress of the time wrote a recollection of her encounter with "afternoon tea" while visiting Belvoir Castle in March of 1842.

I do not know whether you ever saw Belvoir. It is a beautiful place; the situation is noble, and the views from the windows of the castle, and the terraces and gardens hanging on the steep hill crowned by it, are charming...The interior of the house is handsome, and in good taste; and the whole mode of life stately and splendid, as well as extremely pleasant and comfortable. The people—I mean the Duke and his family—kind and courteous hosts, and the society very easy and free from stiffness or constraint of any sort...We had a large party at Belvoir. The gentlemen of the hunt were all at the castle; and besides the ladies of the family, we had the Duchess of Richmond and her granddaughter, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Lord and Lady Winchelsea, Mademoiselle d'Este, and a whole tribe of others whose names I forget, but which are all duly down in the butler's book...Every morning the duke's band marched round the castle, playing all sorts of sprightly music, to summon us to breakfast, and we had the same agreeable warning that dinner was ready. As soon as the dessert was placed on the table, singers came in, and performed four pieces of music...The whole family were extremely cordial and kind to us; and when we drove away, they all assembled at an upper window, waving hats and handkerchiefs as long as we could see them.

In the postscript she writes;

My first introduction to "afternoon tea" took place during this visit to Belvoir, when I received on several occasions private and rather mysterious invitations to the Duchess of Bedford's room, and found her with a "small and select" circle of female guests of the castle, busily employed in brewing and drinking tea, with her grace's own private tea-kettle. I do not believe that now universally honored and observed institution of " five-o'clock tea" dates farther back in the annals of English civilization than this very private and, I think, rather shamefaced practice of it.

Fanny may have quaffed at the thought of such a "shamefaced pratice" however, afternoon tea quickly became utterly fashionable by other social hostesses. The taking of tea was not a new phenomenon in British society. Tea's journey to England flowed in with the arrival Charles II of England and Catherine of Braganza. What the duchess of Bedford had created, was a timely ritual filled with all sorts of dainties.

Afternoon tea, in accordance with tradition, is served between two and five o'clock and is always an elegant "snack" rather than a complete meal. The menu usually includes tea, finger sandwiches, scones with Devonshire Cream, handcarfted marmalades and preserves, cakes, assorted pastries, and other sweets and savories. and occasionally a more elaborate layer cake or trifle as a finale. Tea is usually served in a drawing room, living room or parlor with the elegant fare presented with lacey linens, fine bone china and silver teapots. (Legendary Rhode Island Tearoom)
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 it's 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)

The Kettledrum

A large social party, originally applied to a military party in India, where drum-heads served for tables. On Tweedside it signifies a "social party," met together to take tea from the same tea-kettle. (Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898)

By chance, you may have visited by other blog which is called Come to a Kettledrum. When I made the decision to dive into the blogosphere back in October of 2007, I had the difficult choice of providing a name. Months of Edible Celebrations actually began as my "kettledrum" in essence, a reason to have a party. Since that time, the Come to a Kettledrum blog has become more of a "springboard" in much need of renovation:) My very first post was an attempt to portray my notion of a kettledrum. Thankfully, I had some help from The American Heritage Cookbook and cookbook author Marion Harland

The progenitor of the cocktail party, a relatively inexpensive method of paying off a great many social debts all at once, was the afternoon tea party, which was called in the 1870's and for several decades after that a kettledrum. All one needed to provide one's guests was sandwiches as thin as tissue paper and as dainty as lace doilie and tea. (The American Heritage Cookbook p.290)
The Ladies Lunch and afternoon Kettle-Drum are social and graceful modern improvements. Marion Harland (Common Sense In The Household) revised ed. 1880 p. 146

A Dish of Tea

The Dish of Tea
Let some in beer place their delight, 

O'er bottled porter waste the night,
Or sip the rosy wine: 

A dish of Tea more pleases me, 

Yields softer joys, provokes less noise,
And breeds no base design.

From China's groves, this present brought, 

Enlivens every power of thought,
Riggs many a ship for sea: 

Old maids it warms, young widows charms; 

And ladies' men, not one in ten
But courts them for their Tea...

Philip Freneau

Did you know, tea cups did not always have handles? A dish of tea was drank out of delicate china saucers in the Chinese style.

Tea cups did not always have handles. Chinese tea bowls influenced the first European teacups. At first, the English made cups without handles in the traditional Chinese style. Not until the mid 1750’s was a handle added to prevent the ladies from burning their fingers. This improvement was copied from a posset cup, used for hot beverages-hot drink made of milk with wine, ale or spirits. The saucer was once a small dish for sauce. In Victorian days, tea drinkers poured their tea into saucers to cool before sipping, this was perfectly acceptable. This is what writers of the period mean by “a dish of tea.” (Tea Time Etiquette & the History of Afternoon Tea)

What does one serve with "a dish of tea?" From an article found in the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal published in October 2007:

Tea Fare: Tea fare can be incorporated with many items. Generally, afternoon tea involves bite-sized sandwiches, followed by a plethora of sweets, pastries and biscuits. For most afternoon tea ceremonies certain foods became popular during each season of the year. Fruit and berries were eaten in the spring and summer, while heavier starchy items were reserved for the colder months.

Placement of these items is also crucial to the construction of the ceremony. Food is generally placed on a three-tier curate stand, as follows, where scones are placed on the top tier, savories and tea sandwiches are placed in the middle and sweets on the bottom.

The protocol of placing scones on the top-tier is due to the fact that during the 1800's when Afternoon Tea first became popular, and modern kitchen conveniences did not exist, a warming dome was placed over the scones. The dome would only fit on the top tier. The savories and tea sandwiches, followed by the sweets, were placed on the middle and bottom tiers respectively. At the progression of each course, service would be provided to remove each tier.

Traditionally, loose tea would be served in a teapot with milk and sugar. This would be accompanied by various sandwiches (customarily cucumber, egg and cress, fish paste (bloater), ham, and smoked salmon), scones (with butter, clotted cream and jam--see cream tea) and usually cakes and pastries (such as Battenberg, fruit cake or Victoria sponge). The food would be often served in a tiered stand.

As much as I don't want to admit it, with the arrival of September comes the preparation of the holiday season. Of all the friendly ways of entertaining, none is as sparkling as a tea party. With that in mind, I have chosen a few "quantity" recipes to share today from a booklet titled Invitation to Tea published by General Foods in 1963. The first, Orange Nut Bread, makes 4 loaves or 9 dozen tea sandwiches and "freezes wonderfully." The recipe for Brownies also freezes well and makes 150 tea-size brownies. (150!!! oh my:) Finally, the notion of grated coconut in the Lemon Sours was just too tempting to resist. The recipe makes 160 2x1 inch bars. (Yummee!!!) Enjoy:) (click to enlarge)

Winner The Best Summer Drinks Give-Away!

Thank you to everyone who participated in The Best Summer Drinks give-away. It was so much fun reading all of your "tasteful" comments:) Let's see who won.

We Have Two Winners! drum roll please...1 6 5 7 8 9 10 3 2 4
(Random numbers generated Sep 3 2009 at 16:39:1 by www.psychicscience.org.
Free educational resources for parapsychology, psychical research & mind magic.)

Congratulations to T. W. of Culinary Types and Natashya's Kitchen Puppies. Visit their delicious blogs. I promise, you won't be disappointed! Okay T.W. and Natashya send me some info and I'll be mailing off your new recipe books!

1. Belvoir Castle
2. Records of later life (By Fanny Kemble @ google books 1882)
3. Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
4. A Memoir of her Grace the Late Duchess of Bedford  (1858 @ google books)
5. Tea Time Etiquette & History of Afternoon Tea (Tea shop website)
6. The Best Summer Drinks Give-Away


  1. Wow, I am so excited! My birthday is this month too, so timing is excellent.
    I loved your piece on tea, we have our herbal tea in the evening (as well as some afternoons) - very good for bringing our energy down nicely for sleeping.
    Thanks again!
    I will look for your contact info, but if I don't find it - I am at

    ps word verification today is "cosynit", how cute is that!

  2. I love herbal tea as well. This post was fun as always. Thanks Louise!.

  3. I haven't won anything this week! Or this month ... or ...

    Thank you, Louise! Delivery information forthcoming.

  4. Wow, what a delightful and enlightening piece on the concept of afternoon tea and the accompanying tea fare! Now, I understand why we call it "high tea" here, and how to arrange the snacks/finger foods on the 3-tier server.

    Malaysia was colonised by the British until the 1950's and we still adopt some of their customs, especially the high teas.

    Thank you for sharing this information, dear Louise.

    With best wishes,

    choesf :D

  5. Congratulations to all the winners of the give-away book :)

  6. I do not like dinner before dark or 8PM, whichever is later. I should institute low tea in my house. I have china tea cups, after all!

  7. I do hope you will do a post for cheese pizza day! This one is great.

  8. Please invite me for your next tea party ! Look forward to it !

  9. There's nothing I love more than tea or having an afternoon tea so I was excited to see your post for today :)

  10. Great post, very fascinating...


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise