I did some research for our Romancing the home High Tea challenge this week, and came across these interesting facts:
The British tradition of High Tea began in the mid 1700’s as an afternoon meal usually served between 3 and 4 o’clock. Initially, it was a meal for the working man, taken standing up or sitting on tall stools, thus ‘high’. Tea with cakes, scones, even cheese on toast would have been served.
Gradually, this afternoon meal became more known as an important event on the social calendars of Ladies and Gentlemen, rather than a meal for the working man.
For the ‘Leisure Classes’, High Tea served a practical purpose, allowing Ladies and Gentleman the opportunity of a substantial meal before attending the theatre, or playing cards. It might be a long time before Evening Supper could be taken.
So while Afternoon Tea was largely a social event for their upper class counterparts, High Tea was a necessary meal in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This traditional High Tea still exists for some parts of the North and Scotland.
The Afternoon Tea menu served in the UK today is often referred to as High Tea in many other parts of the world. Because of this some hotels, such as The Ritz in London, use the term ‘High Tea in London’ to advertise their Afternoon Tea because a large proportion of their customers are from overseas.
The traditional time for afternoon tea is any time between three and five o’clock.
Here is what you will need for your High Tea:
On the Tea Tray: The teapot, a sugar bowl with sugar cubes and sugar tongs, a milk pitcher, a tea strainer, a bowl for the used tea leaves, a pitcher of hot water if necessary to dilute tea to a guest’s liking, and a small dish for the lemon wedges and lemon fork.
On the Tea Table: Teacups and saucers; forks and spoons; small plates, linen napkins, and plates filled with tea sandwiches, warm scones, and small cakes. Plus a pot of jam and another one of thickly whipped cream for the scones.
The tea tray should be placed at one end of the table. On one side, set out the teacups, saucers, and teaspoons. On the other side place the stacked plates, forks, and napkins. Plates of food go in the middle of the table.
The Do’s & Don’ts of Afternoon Tea according to Lisa Mirza Grotts of the Huffington Post:
DO start with the savories and then the sweets.
DO spread a scone with cream first, then jam.
DO wait until you have swallowed your food before you take a sip of tea. The rule is one or the other, please!
DO look into—not over—your teacup when sipping. It’s polite!
DO place your napkin on the chair if you must leave the table during the event.
DON’T place items that are not part of the tea service, such as keys, sunglasses, or phones, on the table.
DON’T use milk and lemon together in tea. The citric acid of the lemon will cause the milk to curdle.
DON’T place lemon in the teacup before adding tea. The tea is always poured first.
DON’T tip your teacup too much when drinking—keep it slightly tipped.
DON’T leave your spoon in the cup. Place it on your saucer instead.
DON’T move your plate more than 1 inch from the edge of the table, and don’t push your plate away from the edge of the table when you’re done eating.
DON’T place your napkin on the table until you are ready to leave the table.
I serve savories first. That is followed by scones. Then lastly sweets in the form of small cakes and tarts or slices thereof. When I use a tier stand I serve the savories on the bottom tier, the scones on the middle tier and the sweets on the top tier.
On my High Tea menu today:
For savories I made asparagus and coppa ham bundles and cocktail chicken pastries. For a twist on the traditional cucumber sandwiches, I made Nigella’s whipped feta toasts with cucumber and radish.
Home baked scones with strawberry jam and whipped cream.
For sweets I bought custard slices, chocolate brownies, lemon meringue slices and “koeksister” twists from Old Town Italy. The macaroons are the best I have tasted in South Africa and are from La Vie Lente Urban Farm.
Nigella’s whipped feta toasts
100g feta cheese at room temperature
60ml greek yogurt at room temperature
¼ tsp ground cumin
1 lemon, grated zest
2tsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes to taste
8 slices sourdough bread, toasted and cooled a little
cucumber thinly sliced
radish thinly sliced
Crumble the feta into a bowl, add the yogurt, cumin, lemon zest, honey and oil and beat with a wooden spoon. Then whip with an electric hand whisk till creamy. Add salt to taste.
When the toast has cooled, spread generously with the whipped feta, slice in half and top with the thinly sliced cucumber and radish.
When you are in the Umhlanga region again, do yourself a favour and book High Tea at the Oyster Box. It is a visual and taste spectacle and not to be missed!