The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

French Toast: a dish for breakfast or tea!

image from
Although I always think of French Toast as a breakfast item, apparently it is more versatile. I love to look through old cookbooks and women's magazines, because they have so many "new" ideas that deserve to be re-visited again! I am really starting to research recipes that are meant to use up leftovers or things that might otherwise be wasted, like the heels of bread. French toast has been around for a longer time than I thought; it seems to be Victorian! Imagine French Toast on the 19th century tea table: this recipe for French Toast is from Peterson's Magazine, from the year 1867.

French Toast.

Beat four eggs very light, and stir with them a pint of milk; slice some baker's bread, dip the pieces into the egg, then lay them in a pan of hot lard, and fry brown; sprinkle a little powdered-sugar and cinnamon on each piece, and serve hot. If nicely prepared, this is an excellent dish for breakfast or tea.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Recipe from March 1860: A dish of spinach on toast.

Often, the recipes I find in my vintage and antique cookery books seem heavy and unpalatable, especially without a wood fireplace to roast and bake in! The following recipe, however, sounds as tasty made with modern appliances as with 19th century ones, and I may well try to make it one of these days! It is from the March 1860 issue of Godey's Lady's Book:

A Spring Dish. -- Upon a toasted bread place a layer of well-boiled spinach about an inch thick; upon this place at equal distances poached eggs. This forms a pretty, light, and nourishing dish; but be careful that the yellow of the egg is not broken, or the appearance will be lost, and the eggs not worth eating.

I think this would make a good breakfast or lunch dish for this time of year. It's nice to see in the spring and summer issues of ladies' magazines, many fruit and vegetable recipes; it is a myth that the Victorians only ate bland, heavy food! They ate what was available in season, and many people are in agreement with this idea, although we have so many more fruits and vegetables available year-round, both fresh and frozen or canned. Frozen spinach would work well for this recipe, I think!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lemon Curd recipes (part 2)

Unfortunately, while updating this blog today, Blogger deleted my earlier post about lemon curd, which has been a popular post with readers! I will attempt to re-create it here:

The traditional English tea fare tends to be slightly different from the menu that has become traditional on American tea tables. When I was a student in the south of England in 2000, I indulged my love of tea with good old PG Tips with milk and sugar, and a digestive biscuit on the side. In tea shops, where I loved to stop when it rained (even for 5 minutes), the usual offering was a pot of tea and a plain (unflavored) scone served with Devon cream and strawberry preserves. A variety of cakes and sandwiches were available, as well, but my English friends said that cakes and things were for holidays and other special occasions. Tea (as in, the everyday mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack) was a simple affair: a pot or cup of tea and a biscuit or two, or a piece of toast. The combination of tea, scone, cream and jam comprise the traditional English Cream Tea. The addition of egg and cress, and cucumber sandwiches, with perhaps some biscuits and one kind of cake, made the menu into a traditional English Afternoon Tea.

In the United States, however, Tea has taken on another dimension. For many people, Tea is more of a special occasion than a part of everyday life. American tea tables tend to be well-filled with a variety of foods, under the misnomer "High Tea:" tea shops and individual tea hostesses usually offer a variety of teas -- especially flavored teas and "herbal teas" or tisanes -- to accompany the scones -- also often flavored or filled with dried fruit, chocolate bits or topped with thin icing -- and the most common toppings, which are whipped cream or "mock clotted cream" and lemon curd. Several kinds of sandwiches and savories (formerly known as canapes or mini finger foods), including cucumber sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, mini quiches and sausage rolls, and even, on occasion, bowls of soup, are served with cookies or pastries, and bon-bons, cakes, miniature tarts, and other tempting desserts.

While the traditional English tea table is characterized by elegance, quality, and comfort, the American tea table is an example of variety and abundant luxury, as well as practicality, oddly enough! Americans, in general, don't like to put a lot of effort or money into something if it's too simple; we like to get our money's worth, especially when we splurge on something special!

When I was in England, however -- and according to my English friends -- I hardly ever saw lemon curd, which I happen to love. When I did encounter lemon curd, it was used as a filling for tarts, but not served with scones at the tea table. Knowing that the traditional English Tea descends from the menu popularized by Anna, Duchess of Bedford, in 1840 or thereabouts, I began to wonder how lemon curd came to replace strawberry preserves as the preferred companion to scones, in the United States. Is lemon curd a 20th century delicacy, or did the Victorians know and enjoy it? I looked through my collection of vintage and antique reproduction cookbooks and found little to no mention of lemon curd, but the use of lemons as a flavoring for cakes, puddings, custards, beverages and desserts of all sorts was evident. Then I came upon some of Jane Austen's reprinted letters, which mention "lemon cheesecakes", and a recipe for something called "lemon cheese" and I wondered, is this the same thing as "lemon curd"?

Perhaps the following reciept is what Jane Austen and her friends enjoyed. It is from a Scottish cookbook from 1820, called _The Practice of Cookery, etc._

Lemon and Orange Cheese-cakes.
Grate four lemons or oranges, scrape out the pulp, boil the skins till they are very tender, then take them out and beat them fine in a mortar with four ounces of sweet butter and the grate [grated zest]. Cast [beat] six eggs (keeping out four of the whites) with six ounces of sugar beat and sifted until it is light and white; then mix the whole well together, with two-ounces of orange-peel cut in small pieces. Line some patty-pans with paste; fill them with the meat, and glaze them as before.

Here is another similar recipe, American, this time, from Godey's Lady's Book, May 1860:

Lemon Cheesecakes.--The rind of a large lemon; squeeze half of the juice, three eggs, half a pound of lump-sugar, quarter of a pound of butter, to be melted.

And here is a modern recipe from my friend Helen:

Lemon Curd
Grated rind and juice of 4 medium lemons
4 eggs
100g (4 oz/ ½ cup) butter
350g (12 oz/ 1 ½ cups) caster sugar
1. Place all the ingredients in the top of a double saucepan or in a bowl standing over a pan of simmering water
2. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and continue heating gently for about 20 minutes until the curd thickens
3. Strain into jars and cover (I just prepare the jars by heating them in the microwave and dropping the lids into the simmering water as I am straining the curd.)
Makes about 700 g (1 ½ lb)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Tea Traditions for St. Patrick's Day!

"St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time -- a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic."-- Adrienne Cook

Which country consumes the most tea in the world? Did you guess China or Japan? Actually, it’s Ireland! According to Barry’s Tea company at, Ireland consumes more tea per capita than any other nation in the world, each person averaging 4 to 6 cups of tea per day, or 7 pounds a year. In Ireland, tea’s only challenger in popularity is Guinness ale.

Tea was first introduced to Ireland around 1835, where it became popular with the upper classes, but it had become more affordable by the mid-19th century, and its use spread to all social classes, in the country as well as the cities. Tea was available in rural areas from small groceries, and could be bartered for as well as purchased with money. This tea was entirely in loose leaf form.

Ireland imported its tea through British merchants until World War 2, when Britain sharply reduced the amount of tea it imported, for political and strategic reasons. When Ireland declared itself politically neutral regarding Britain’s war efforts, tea shipments to Ireland through British merchants ceased almost immediately. In return, the Irish government founded its own private company, Tea Importers (Eire) Ltd., and stipulated, after the war ended, that all tea imported into Ireland be bought directly from the country of origin. Irish law required all Irish tea companies to be operated through Tea Importers Ltd. until 1973, when Ireland joined the European Economic Community, which does not allow such monopolies.

The Irish prefer their tea strong with lots of milk, and there are three traditional times each day when it is served, in addition to breakfast, lunch, and in the evening after supper: for Elevenses at 11 a.m. or so, Afternoon Tea at 3 p.m. or so, and High Tea at 5 p.m. or so. High Tea, as many are discovering, is not an extra-fancy tea time with lots of pastries and delicate dishes; it is a hearty supper for the working classes, accompanied by many pots of strong tea, and this is especially true in Irish tradition.

The traditional Irish tea blends, known as Irish Breakfast blends in this country, include Assam Tea as a prominent ingredient, sometimes combined with Ceylon but often alone. Black tea from the Assam region in India has a robust flavor that takes well to a good amount of milk in the cup; some tea-lovers have been known to prefer as much as 1 part milk to 2 parts tea. In recent years, teas from East Africa have joined Ceylon or Sri Lankan tea in the most popular tea blends. Often the tea is served in a heated pot with the milk and sugar already added. Food traditionally eaten with tea includes a variety of savory and sweet dishes, like shortbread. So, instead of celebrating with a bunch of green beer and other strange foods, why not make yourself a nice cuppa, and some shortbread, and enjoy a more civilized St. Patrick's Day?

Irish Shortbread
1 cup butter
1/2 cup caster sugar (superfine/baking sugar)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the flour and cornstarch. Roll out and cut into squares or rounds and bake in a slow (300 degree) oven until done.
--recipe from Brenda Hyde,

Source List:
Barry’s Tea,
Hyde, Brenda, "Irish Tea Traditions"
Irish Culture and Customs,

Photos from the Cat Rescue Tea party this weekend.

This is the literature table (to the left of the photo) in the front hall of the Victorian house where we held the tea party.

This is the brochure that we put at each place setting.

This is the largest table in the dining room, all set and ready for guests. All the seats at this table were sold out each day!
These are the two tables in the back parlor. You can just see the china on the low tea table between the yellow and striped sofas to the left! The windows to the far left of the picture are the original stained glass on top. They are beautiful.

Here is another view of the low tea table between the couches.

And here is another view of the other table by the fireplace. That is the original mantel, with lovely tile work and carving decorating all the niches for bric-a-brac. Very High Victorian.
Here are the four small tables in the front parlor. The window that is visible in the upper left corner of the picture is a small bay window, that had a small table for two placed in it. Those were some of the best seats in the house!

Altogether, the event was a success. We helped to raise about $2500 for the 13th Street Cats (, and there has been talk of doing it again next year!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A tea party for cats!

image from
I've been keeping busy lately getting ready for a tea party fundraiser that I'm helping a friend put on, for the benefit of a local non-profit organization that rescues stray and abandoned cats, and gets the kittens socialized and adopted. It's a homegrown, grass-roots group, and I'm happy to help!
The benefit organization, based in downtown San Jose, is called 13th Street Cats, and they rescue stray and abandoned cats in their neighborhood. Comprised of a dedicated group of regular San Jose residents, 13th Street Cats members utilize the T-N-R approach, trapping the cats and kittens, neutering them, and releasing the adults back in the same area where they were trapped. The kittens are then housed in foster homes, where they are nurtured and socialized, and then adopted out to loving families who give them permanent homes.

Realizing that all of the medical care, food, cat toys and other supplies were purchased by the individual 13th Street Cats volunteers, and that costs could run into the thousands, a support group – Friends of 13th St. Cats – was formed, to plan and put on a fund-raising event for them. The event format we chose was a tea party, hosted in a lovely Victorian home in San Jose’s Historic Hensley District.

Here’s how we did it: in January, we began our planning meetings. We made lists of the things we needed, selected the date for the event, and started approaching local businesses for donations and help. We searched our own homes for things like folding tables, chairs, tablecloths, cups and saucers, silverware, napkins, and teapots, as well as items to donate to the silent auction and raffle. We started to spread the word among our friends and acquaintances, and asked them for in-kind donations as well. We paid for the printing of our event program and flyers. We were able to secure donations of food from Trader Joe’s, and tea from Peet’s Coffee and Tea in San Jose.

Through February and into March we sold tickets to the event and finalized the menu, delegated responsibilities like marketing, food prep, flower arranging, set-up and clean-up, serving, picking up donated and loaned items, and bookkeeping.

Event Dates: Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15, 2009, one seating at 2 p.m. each day.
Tickets: $25 per person. Raffle tickets are 10 for $10, and you can put as many tickets as you wanted, in the raffle for each item. There will also be a silent auction.
Location: a private home in the Hensley District, San Jose.

It's been a lot of work. I've been put in charge of making sandwich fillings for 75 tea sandwiches! I also made 4 batches of lemon curd and got Peet's Coffee & Tea to donate all of the tea that we will serve. All of us on the planning committee have done the same amount of work and we have collectively donated or loaned all of the china, silverware, tables, chairs, linens and many of the raffle and silent auction items that are needed. We only have to buy the food and a few other things, which means more of the proceeds go to the cat rescue group! This is a quick update before I head off to my friend's house where the tea party will be held, to help set up. I expect to be in the kitchen much of the day, coordinating the sandwich-making, tea-making, and things like that, but I'm bringing my new camera (woohoo!) and I'll be taking as many pictures as I can, without being obnoxious! I'll post some of them in the next week or so ...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A tempest in a teapot ...

photo of Susan B. Anthony is from Designed to a T.
Some Internet friends just reminded me that March is Women's History Month, with posts about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and it made me think about the Woman's Suffrage Tea that I gave back in 2007. Did you know that the battle for women's rights -- especially voting rights -- in the United States began at a tea party in New York in 1848? That meeting led to the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, NY, on July 19, 1848.

I wanted to honor Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and the other ladies who saw the need and led the struggle to do something about it, by hosting my own tea party in their memory. If you wanted to do the same thing, here are some notes I made from my tea, for your inspiration:

Decor and colors for the table and the food: Red, white and blue; Suffragist colors -- green, purple and white. Small American flags on the table, plain white cups, saucers and plates. Favor: a homemade “Votes for Women” badge?

Cottage Cheese and Green Onion in Green Pepper cups
Peas, Onions and Prosciutto Turnovers
Basil-Lavender Egg Salad Sandwiches
Cold Chicken Sandwiches with Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions

Cream Scones
Strawberry Preserves
Clotted Cream
Blueberry Toast Rounds with Blueberry Cream Cheese
Grape Jelly
Lime Curd

Toasted Pound Cake with Rose Cream
Lavender Shortbread
Lime Bars or Lime cookies
Japanese Green Tea Cookies
Blackberry Custard tarts
Green Tea ice cream
Lime Sherbet

Also, PBS put out a documentary about the lives of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and their involvement with the Women's Rights movement; it has been released on DVD, and it's really interesting. You could watch it as you drink your tea!
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)