The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, September 7, 2009

Having tea parties is easy if you have a tea pantry!

image from ClipartETC.
This is an article I wrote for another website, but it answers a question that several people have asked me: "Isn't it a lot of work to put on a tea party?" Not if you keep it simple and prepare in advance; while it is a lot of fun to put on a big, fancy, to-do, it is also easy to get carried away! In order to be able to pull together a simple tea party with minimal stress and planning -- even at the last minute -- it’s a good idea to keep certain items and products in the house, set aside in what some people call a “tea party pantry” so that they don’t get used for anything else and are there when you need them. Keep them wherever you have space, but label them and make sure you can find them at a moment's notice. Apart from tea, a kettle, tea pot, mugs or cups and saucers, and a tea strainer, your tea party supply collection can contain any or all of the following:

1. some bottled water, if your tap water is full of minerals or bad-tasting (it will affect the flavor of the tea)
2. sugar cubes
3. packaged fancy cookies
4. store-bought jam and lemon curd
5. imported clotted cream, or Mexican crema or table cream (in the International food section in some grocery stores)
6. packaged scone mixes
7. dried cherries, cranberries, currants and/or apricots
8. store-bought chutney, tapenade, and gourmet spreads or sauces
9. boxed cake mixes, pudding mixes, and canned pie filling
10. confections like chocolate chips and candied ginger
11. cream cheese and unsalted butter, which you can store in the freezer
12. loaf of pound cake or fruit cake, sliced, which you can store in the freezer
13. frozen appetizers like mini quiches, mini veggie turnovers, rolled sandwiches, and turkey sausage
14. frozen puff pastry, pie dough, crumpets and tart shells
15. frozen desserts like mini cream puffs, mini eclairs, and ice cream bonbons

With all of these things, you only have to buy fresh sandwich bread, cucumber, milk (to put in the tea), and some seasonal fruit and flowers, and you're ready for tea! For a traditional afternoon tea, you’ll need bread (scones or crumpets) with jam and cream, savories (tea sandwiches and other savory bites), and sweets (desserts). For a cream tea, you’ll only need scones with cream and jam, and maybe one small dessert. Keep everything small and dainty in size, trim the crusts off of all bread slices for toast and tea sandwiches, and avoid overly messy finger food. (Hot wings are too messy for a tea party!) Here are some suggestions using items from the above list:

Bread: scones (from a mix), frozen or packaged crumpets (heat in the toaster) or toast – trim off the crusts and cut into triangles. You can add dried fruit, chocolate chips, or chopped candied ginger to the scone mix before baking. Serve with clotted cream, table cream or whipped unsalted butter, jam and/or lemon curd.

Savories: cucumber sandwiches, sausage rolls (puff pastry strips filled with sausage and baked), chutney or tapenade spread on toast rounds or squares, frozen mini appetizers (defrost and bake as needed), or cream cheese mixed with some spicy gourmet sauce and used as a sandwich spread.

Sweets: packaged cookies, cupcakes (boxed cake mix), tart shells filled with pie filling or pudding, sliced pound cake or mini desserts (thaw as needed), pie dough or puff pastry turnovers filled with jam or pie filling (bake as needed), or frozen ice cream bonbons.


Mrs. Bee said...

Thank you so much for that wonderful list! It is always a help to have these things written down instead of relying on one's memory! I shall print this out to keep in my recipe book as a check off when I go to the market :)

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

I'm glad to help, Mrs. Bee! I find that I can keep a good variety of things in my tea pantry by keeping an eye out for suitable items year-round. I can buy things when they go on sale, even, and keep costs down. Plus, I have a use for those little packages of sausage, cheese or gourmet chutney that I sometimes get in gift baskets -- I add them to my tea pantry and make tea table savories out of them!

Jason Witt said...

I'm pleased to see there are some ideas here for appetizers and their ingredients that aren't the common "traditional" snacks that tend to be so unhealthy. Why can't food that's good for you be associated with tea? And since compromise is probably necessary, food that's less bad for you would be welcome. --Spirituality of Tea

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

My tea party menus got a lot easier to put together when I discovered that the "savory" category could include more than just cucumber and egg salad sandwiches! I still love traditional tea sandwiches, but they take a lot more work to put together, and they don't make it easy to throw a tea party at the last minute if you have to make a couple kinds of sandwiches. The other savory ideas go together much quicker.

As for unhealthy foods at the tea table, remember that Americans see tea time as an indulgence, a treat, something out of the ordinary. "Healthy food" is too ordinary! Plus, most of us eat healthier food because we feel like we have to -- it's almost our duty to society -- but not because we actually like the way it tastes. We do it under compulsion, most of the time! Tea time is an event to look forward to, not a regular old meal.

I do agree that healthier options should be included on the tea table in order to make a tea party a more appropriate thing to indulge in more frequently, but I have to say that I don't want to see carrot and celery sticks on the tea table! And although I apologize to my vegan friends, even savories with tofu in them don't seem appropriate; tofu doesn't taste good enough! I'd rather have fresh veggie sandwiches than anything with tofu on the tea table!

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)