Attend a proper English tea at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on July 20

Special to her magazineJune 26, 2013 

When Jean Taylor was growing up in England, her father worked on a farm and they didn't have fancy afternoon tea. There was always tea to drink after school, and there were special teas for birthdays and Christmas, though. She recalled those teas fondly in a recent interview about English tea.

On birthdays, there were small sandwiches, birthday cake, ice cream and a milk pudding called blancmange that was always pink, Taylor recalled. Tea wasn't presented formally, but they heard about those teas.

Tea is traditionally held about 4 p.m., Taylor said, something to tide you over between lunch and dinner.

A longtime transplant to the U.S., Taylor still has tea every afternoon, sometimes with a biscotti or a couple of cookies. And she drinks tea the only way she's ever known -- with milk. "I didn't know you could have it any other way," she recalled of her early tea-drinking years.

We went to the Internet -- where else -- to research the history and etiquette of the English tea and found a website afternoontoremember.com and found an article, "Tea Time Etiquette and the History of Afternoon Tea."

"There are many ideas about tea etiquette and when and how tea was first made popular in England. Charles the II grew up in exile at The Hague and thus was exposed to the custom of drinking tea. He married Catharine of Braganza who was Portuguese and who also enjoyed tea. Catharine had grown up drinking tea -- the preferred beverage of the time -- in Portugal. It is said that when she arrived in England to marry Charles II in 1662, she brought with her a casket of tea. She became known as the tea-drinking queen -- England's first," the article states.

The article explains the "modern" history of the afternoon tea as a social event: "While drinking tea as a fashionable event is credited to Catharine of Braganza, the actual taking of tea in the afternoon developed into a new social event some time in the late 1830's and early 1840's. Jane Austen hints of afternoon tea as early as 1804 in an unfinished novel. It is said that the afternoon tea tradition was established by Anne, Duchess of Bedford. She requested that light sandwiches be brought to her in the late afternoon because she had a "sinking feeling" during that time because of the long gap between meals. She began to invite others to join her and thus became the tradition."

The section on etiquette when attending a tea party is detailed and somewhat quaint. It is as follows:

• "Greeting/handshake

• After sitting down -- put purse on lap or behind you against chair back

• Napkin placement -- unfold napkin on your lap, if you must leave temporarily place napkin on chair.

• Sugar/lemon -- sugar is placed in cup first, then thinly sliced lemon and never milk and lemon together. Milk goes in after tea -- much debate over it, but according to Washington School of Protocol, milk goes in last. The habit of putting milk in tea came from the French. "To put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross the path of love, perhaps never to marry." (Tea superstition)

• The correct order when eating on a tea tray is to eat savories first, scones next and sweets last. We have changed our order somewhat. We like guests to eat the scones first while they are hot, then move to savories, then sweets.

• Scones -- split horizontally with knife, curd and cream is placed on plate. Use the knife to put cream/curd on each bite. Eat with fingers neatly.

• Proper placement of spoon -- the spoon always goes behind cup, also don't leave the spoon in the cup.

• Proper holding of cup -- do not put your pinky "up", this is not correct. A guest should look into the teacup when drinking -- never over it."

However you take your tea, enjoy! We've included a couple of our favorite tea-time recipes provided by Jean Taylor.

Cheese Scones

1 ½ cups self-rising flour

2 tbsp margarine

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

A little milk

Pinch of salt

Pinch of cayenne pepper

A lightly beaten egg

Put flour and margarine into the food processor and process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add cheese, salt and cayenne and process to mix (just a few seconds)

With machine switched on, add the egg with just enough milk to make a soft pliable dough

Roll out on a lightly floured board and cut into rounds using a pastry cutter

Place on a greased baking sheet

Brush with beaten egg and bake for about 20 minutes at 425 degrees.

Victoria Sponge

¾ cup butter

¾ cup superfine sugar

3 eggs

1 ½ cups self-rising flour

A little confectioners sugar for topping

Filling

3 tbsp raspberry jam (or more)

2/3 cup butter

¾ cup confectioners sugar

2 tbsp warm water

Line with parchment and lightly grease 2 x 7 inch round cake pans

Beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and creamy

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon of flour with each egg

Fold in remaining flour

Divide mixture equally between the two pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until well risen, golden brown and firm to touch in the center

Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack

Butter cream filling

To make the butter cream, soften the butter, gradually beat in the sugar, and finally beat in the water.

Spread the base of one cake with the jam then carefully spread the butter cream on top. Place the other cake on top and press down lightly, sprinkle a little more confectioners sugar on top.

St. Stephen's Episcopal Tea

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 45 Lee Road 567, Smiths Station (just off Highway 280) would like to invite you to the 8th Annual Christmas in July Tea.

When: 3:30-5:30 Eastern Saturday July 20

Cost: $15 per ticket includes tea and an abundance of cakes, scones, sandwiches and more. It's not intended as a meal, but there's enough to make a meal. Bring your wallet for raffles and silent auction. There will also be door prizes.

Information: Call Jean Taylor at 334-745-7868 for more information or tickets.

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