The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Giving a Steampunk Tea.

"A Lady at Her Dressing Table in the Year 2000"
from postcard ca. 1900.  Photo: Denise Tortorici.

Jules Verne, the 19th century science fiction writer and author of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, was born in February of 1828.  He wrote of space and time travel in an era when that was impossible, and used his novels to describe strange lands and technology in a Victorian aesthetic, but with an eye to the possibilities of future scientific and mechanical inventions.  His works were considered strange in their day, but his novels have received an upsurge of attention in the past 30 years, with the development of the “Steampunk” fantasy literary genre.  Steampunk style is created when a person imagines what life would be like in the 1880s and 1890s if Jules Verne’s ideas and contraptions were successfully translated into real technology, using only the energy sources of the 19th century, like steam, fire, gravity, wind, sun, and water.  This is the “steam” part of “Steampunk;” the “punk” part is what happens when a person builds something that brings these Victorian science fiction ideas to life, especially by taking apart real objects of the era and re-fashioning them into the new/old creation.  There is an element of the "mad scientist" in Steampunk! 

Victorian clock.
The Victorian aesthetic ensures that glass, metal, wood, cloth and rubber are the visible elements of any new gadget, and that they are formed into shapes common to the 19th century and decorated with carving, etching, painting and other Victorian style finishes.  Exposed pipes, bolts, wheels, spigots and other functional pieces are incorporated into the “look” of each piece.  The “space and time travel” aspect of the genre means that the finished object represents a real piece of technology that was invented in the 20th or 21st century (like the airplane or computer), something that might become available in the future (like a raygun or jetpack), or something that another historical figure imagined (especially Galileo and his mechanical illustrations), and encompasses all cultures around the world as they existed in the 19th century.  In the Steampunk genre, time travel and international travel – especially in hot-air balloons, Wright Brothers-style biplanes, and dirigibles or “airships” – enables people to bring back ideas and technology from other time periods and places, and “re-create” them at home.
Victorian "modernity": a washing
machine.  Victorian Lace - Victorian
Lifestyles website.
Of course, these gadgets need an appropriately fashioned world to exist and work in, so Steampunk also encompasses artwork, fashion, architecture, and food.  Many Steampunk fans create an “alter ego” – especially an adventurer, explorer or inventor -- with a Victorian or exotic-sounding name and “life story” to fit the Steampunk clothing and equipment they create for themselves.  Several modern writers have published Steampunk adventure novels, to continue Verne’s storytelling.  Considering the fact that a cup of tea and a book go perfectly well together, why not use the anniversary of his birth as an excuse to hold a tea party?  (Because one must have one’s tea, even when one is in an airship over darkest Tasmania!)
To have tea in the best Steampunk style, you first have to decide the location of your party.  In an airship?  At home in your “modern” townhouse, complete with “clockwork automaton” (robot) maids and
Airship.  The Graphics Fairy.
butler?  On an expedition to the Center of the Earth or traveling between centuries?  This will affect the kinds of food you eat and the equipment you use to make and eat it.  In your townhouse, you can indulge in treats brought from around the globe, as well as traditional English afternoon tea fare, prepared by the servants according to 19th century high style.  In an airship, portable equipment – including a small amount of china -- that can be easily and securely packed away, and doesn’t weigh too much, is a necessity, as is ready-to-eat or easy-to-cook food, so you can stay out of the airship’s galley kitchen.  Luckily, Steampunk
Hot-air balloon. 
The Graphics Fairy.
airships are always powered by steam, at least partially, so there is always plenty of hot water for tea, and there might be an iron boilerplate that can be used as a griddle for crumpets, so you don’t have to resort to ship’s biscuit and salt beef!  A hot-air balloon affords much less room for china and silver, although a vacuum flask (Thermos) of water can be heated by the balloon’s flame, to make tea to accompany cold sandwiches, scones and boiled eggs in mid-air.  When on an expedition, whether on foot, boat, elephant, or other vehicle, portability and non-perishability are paramount; you need a Tea and Picnic Field Kit, packed securely in a sturdy case with shoulder straps.  Widen your horizons by trying the local cuisine with your tea, wherever you happen to be.  Imagine the possibilities! 
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

Steampunk Airship Tea from Adagio Teas
Back to the Lab Tea from Adagio Teas
Frontier Foraging tea from Adagio Teas
“Make your tea the steampunk way”
“Google doodle marks writer Jules Verne’s birthday”
“Jules Verne” Wikipedia article
“Steampunk” Wikipedia article
Steampunk tea set
Steampunk tea dueling YouTube video
Local steampunk club St. Clair Aeronauts’ Steampunk Tea Party
“The Steampunk Home: 'Slice of Life' china”
Steampunk Cookery blog
“The Steampunk Empire: Good Hearty Steampunk Meals”
“The Steampunk Empire: Mad Science Breakfast”
“Steampunk Cuisine?”
“Steampunk: The Past and Future of Cooking?” by Wynter Holden
“Steampunk Tribune: Steampunk Gastronomy”
“Time Travel Kitchen: Worm Castles”
Chrononaut Cookery (sans gluten)
“Grim’s opens, offers ‘steampunk’ cuisine” by John Beaton
Fuel For The Boiler: A Steampunk Cookbook by Elizabeth Stockton
Apothecary beverage server (for iced tea)
Apothecary jar with metal lid (for cookies or biscuits)
2” clear glass jars with corks (for tea caddy)
5” clear class bottle with cork and metal holder (for tea or sugar)
Set of 2 leather and wood suitcase boxes (for tea set carrying case)


Colonel Kurtz said...

I prefer coffee myself, but your article is wonderful. Excellent historical and literary references!

Colonel Kurtz said...

For readers in the Northern part of the California Republic, please peruse the Sacramento Steampunk Society:!/groups/169057215417/

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Welcome, Colonel! I'm glad you stopped by. I've met several members of the Sacramento Steampunk Society at various gatherings in the Bay Area, and they are a wonderful bunch of people.

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)