This is one of the most enjoyable rituals women can take time for. The opportunity to hostess such a delight is something worth doing and making the task fun. While it isn't necessary to entertain on a large scale, often Tea’s are given for bride’s to be; or a special function for Mother’s Day. It can always be a time between you and a close friend, or with several women, who enjoy the ceremony of an afternoon Tea.
An invitation to an afternoon Tea should be hand written on any variety of special, whimsical or elegant stationary. Store bought packets of written invitations should be avoided. It is a request from you as the hostess to your friend(s) and should be simple, in tune with the type of tea you are having. Since teas are an elegant affair, the invitation should be. I realize in our new world of technology and instant communications, this may not be as popular, but it’s so nice to receive regular “snail” mail. Your guests will appreciate the time you took, and hopefully respond with a written response.
Although a hand written invitation tells guests this is a special occasion. It does not have to be an expensive event. A small table maybe used, or a larger one, depending upon the number of women. It is always more comfortable if you can sit at the table and have a place setting prepared for each guest. But keep in mind, tea time can be as simple as a china cup and small bread plate, with a cannoli, crepe, or other delightful sweets, and a cup of tea.
Any type of table cloth maybe used, but remember you’ll want to put a special white linen or lace cloth over it. Each lady’s place setting should include: luncheon plate, tea cup and saucer, cloth napkin, small spoon, fork and knife. If you wish to put a special gift at each place setting, that’s up to the hostess. A center piece can simply be a floral arrangement from your yard, or from the grocery store. The main thing to remember is to make your centerpiece attractive, but low enough, so that it is below eye level and your friends can enjoy talking and seeing one another around the table. (I learned this the hard way). I had a tea and placed the guest of honor at the end seat, and two women on each side, and I faced the lady who we were having the tea for. Everything was lovely, the flowers were centered and we took photos. Sadly, when I got them back I couldn't even see my guest. The flowers took over center stage.
Along with a favorite china pattern, you can use a variety of patterns at your party. I've collected teacups and saucers over the years; as well as luncheon plates. Some match and some don’t. I usually try to give everyone a different luncheon plate that doesn't match their cup and saucer. I also enjoy collecting small silver tea spoons, and I polish those and use them on the table. If you don’t have china, use whatever dishes you have. The idea is to make something simple, elegant, and you can do that by setting the mood.
I use candles on the table and instrumental music playing in the background. I try to wear something that will not out shine my guest, but will be comfortable to serve in. Usually, I wear a long skirt and blouse, with appropriate jewelry. My guests often wear hats, and dress up in attire that makes them feel they are going to the Astor’s. Even with one or two friends, the procedure is the same, just on a smaller scale. And the fellowship is sweet.
Another idea is for each woman to bring a favorite tea cup and saucer. You might go around the room and have them tell the history of the teacup; place of purchase, or if it was gift, etc. I've also had Storybook Tea’s for children…young girls. They are theme teas and I've collected hats, gloves, purses and jewelry for them to wear. Some themes include “Little House on the Prairie", and fun mop hats are used, "American Girl Doll", a story read aloud about a certain girl from the selection. The list is endless with story theme teas. And the food choices for sandwiches are geared towards a child’s taste. Cucumber sandwiches with cream cheese isn't the best choice, they enjoy cinnamon bread with honey and peanut butter, and egg salad much better. And be sure to stock up on sugar cubes…ages 4-10 seem to enjoy their tea with lots of sugar. I think it's the fun of placing the cubes into the tea they like:)
Here are some standard items that you will need to make your Tea Time sheer enjoyment:
Teacups/Saucers, English bone china is especially nice, but use whatever you have.
Teapots, depending on the number of guests, can be china or silver; mix and use a little of each. Remember, silver has to be polished!
Luncheon plates, (larger than a bread plate, smaller than your dinner plate) these don’t have to match your teacups. It looks attractive to use different teacups/saucers with various patterns.
Cream and Sugars, either English bone china or a silver set, and with several women you'll want a few on the table.
Silver small spoons (used to stir your cream and sugar)
Silver or Gold tongs (to use for sugar cubes)
White linen tablecloth
White lace tablecloth
White linen napkins for each guest
Center piece of fresh flowers.
I love antiques and over the years I've collected as well as inherited a number of cups and saucers, small silver spoons, and tea pots. I use a linen table cloth over my table, and then use a smaller lace cloth over that. You can do this the night before, and have your table set for your Tea the next day. Whatever style of cloth is fine; fabric colors and accents are fairly inexpensive at the discount stores.
The menu you use may be as little as tea, and a few store bought items on a plate, or as nice as what is considered for an Afternoon Tea. Some of the following foods can be made a head of time, which allows you to simply take them from storage and place them on your doilies and pretty serving plates. Usually, the menu will consist of scones, first. You serve each lady a scone, along with a bowl of lemon curd and or Devonshire cream for the table, and with their own spoons they take what they desire. The finger sandwiches are served next, and last the tea cakes; a variety and selection of small desserts.
English Scones, with lemon curd and Devonshire cream
Dainty Tea Sandwiches
Luscious Tea Cakes
1 ½ Cups Self Rising Flour (a little extra for dusting)
1 tsp. cream of tarter
½ tsp. salt
3-4 T of butter or shortening
¾ Cup buttermilk (or sour milk)
¼ Cup white sugar
Lightly butter a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 375’
Sift flour, cream of tarter and salt into a bowl. Rub or cut in butter with fork, or finger, until mixture is like large flaky crumbs. Stir to soft dough consistency, by adding milk to mixture with a knife. Roll out to a thickness of ½ inches, or just over, and cut into rounds with a pastry cutter. (2 ½ inches in diameter) Arrange on baking sheet fairly close together and powder their faces with flour. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden. Serve hot or cold, makes one dozen.
(Use for scones, tarts, tea breads or ice cream)
4 Large lemons
2 Cups white sugar
¾ Cup, one and half sticks butter, softened
4 Large eggs, well beaten
Grate just the rind from the lemons, avoid the bitter white pith. Squeeze juice, and strain, pressing well. In a double boiler melt the butter. Add lemon juice, rind and sugar. Mix with a wire whisk until sugar is dissolved. Gradually add the well beaten eggs and stir slowly. Thoroughly stir until mixture is thick and ribbons or trails well when whisk is drawn through. (Takes about 20 minutes) Pour into small sterile jars. This makes about three pint jars, or gift jars maybe used. This keeps well in refrigerator for two weeks. And very good.
Mock Devonshire Cream
½ C heavy cream
2 T of confectioner’s sugar
½ C sour cream
In a chilled bowl mix cream until a medium stiff peak forms, adding sugar during the last few minutes of beating. Fold in the sour cream and blend. This makes 1½ Cups.
(You may find a traditional Devonshire cream recipe, but this is very good, and it won’t take the time to hunt for clotted cream) Place the cream in a small bowl and allow your guest to put a small amount on their luncheon plate to go with the scones and lemon curd.
These delicate sandwiches are made with thin bread and crusts removed. You may use butter, mayonnaise, or cream cheese. I find cream cheese works as a good base for a number of various sandwiches.
Egg Salad: Boil eggs, let cool, peal and chop eggs. Add mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Place on a thin slice of bread which has been spread with mayonnaise and cut edges. Then cut the sandwich into quarters or rectangles.Cover and refrigerate.
Cucumber Sandwiches: These are some of the most popular sandwiches used for Afternoon Tea Time. They are easy and delicious. Today you can purchase English cucumbers which are grown without the pithy seeds. They are long and green, and readily available in your fresh vegetable section at the store. You do not have to take the skin off, as it is soft and easy to digest. Simply select your bread, and cover both pieces with cream cheese, which has been softened in a bowl. Slice cucumbers thin, and salt. Let set to drain on a paper towel. Carefully place on slices of bread with cream cheese, not more than ¼ inches high. Cut into desired shapes, cover and refrigerate.
Other Sandwiches might include: Apples sliced thinly, mixed with finely chopped celery and diced walnuts, on a cream cheese base. Smoked salmon, or thinly sliced chicken breast mixed with water crest and mayonnaise, and served on buttered bread. Tomato slices sprinkled with freshly chopped basil on rye bread, spread with mayonnaise. Any variety of sandwiches may be used for an Afternoon Tea. After arranging them on an attractive platter, place a damp cloth over the sandwiches and refrigerate. Just before serving, garnish with sprigs of parsley.
Tea Cakes, any kind of cake can be made and dressed up. Little tarts can be made or fruit breads. Cut into a bite size and use cream cheese, jams and frosting for fillings or on top. Tea cakes maybe placed on paper doilies and served on an attractive platter. Be sure to garnish with fruit pieces, allowing guests to choose if they prefer something less sweet. Our granddaughters enjoy strawberries that have been dipped in chocolate, and it adds to the color. Hint, Nutella is a popular chocolate spread today, and is wonderful to dip strawberries in. Then refrigerate and take out just before serving.
The following recipe can be used to serve guests after they have had scones, finger sandwiches and are ready for their dessert. This is one idea, but there are many nice sweets that can be used after finger sandwiches.The idea is to cut them into small pieces so they can enjoy a variety. Do as much as you can and be open to others who may want to bring something special. This is a special time and you want to enjoy it along with your guest! Happy Tea Time!
1 small pkg. chocolate pudding
1 box (dry) chocolate cake mix
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Cook pudding as directed on package, and blend dry cake
mix into hot pudding. (Mixture will be thick) Pour into a prepared
oblong pan, 13 x 9 x 2 inches, and sprinkle with chocolate pieces and
nuts. In a preheated oven bake 30-35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes
and cut into 2" squares. Serve on white paper doilies, along
with other assorted tea cakes. May serve with whipped cream.