The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tea as a "special occasion."

image from Cat-Tea Clips.
In preparing for my tea guild's upcoming meeting this weekend -- a tea picnic and tour at San Jose's History Park -- I have been researching the various foods traditionally associated with tea. Tea's history as a luxury item means that many of the foods enjoyed with it were also luxury items: scones (an everyday quick bread) with lots of jam (requiring lots of fresh fruit and sugar) and thick cream (only available to those who own a cow, or have a country estate with milk cows. Dainty sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Cakes and cookies. These are special-occasion foods for all but the wealthy in the Victorian era. Luckily, eggs, milk, sugar, flour and butter are not as expensive or hard to get as they once were, so those of us who are more ordinary than aristocratic can have tea and treats much oftener than our Victorian counterparts. The great thing is that the "special occasion" aura still remains around tea, and having a tea party -- or "alfresco tea luncheon", otherwise known as a tea picnic -- is an affordable way to entertain friends.

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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)