Monday, January 23, 2006

# 102 TEA TIME ELEGANCE

I’ve only been to ‘High Tea’ on one occasion, and that was at the Grand Empress in Victoria, BC while holidaying there. But I have been to so many teas that surpassed the elegance of the Grand Empress. Many tea-times over the years with fine china, much linen and lace, fresh cut flowers, fresh scones from the oven, and plenty of farm butter and thick cream. Precious tea-times where I was greeted so warmly, treated with such appreciation, with all the protocol and calming bliss of any royal tea-party.

The hostess for these special events was Hub’s Mother. She treasured company. And she particularly enjoyed socializing over a tray of dainties and a fine cup of tea. And of course when Grandmother served tea, all were included, even the little ones. On days when the children were driving Hub and I crazy and ripping around the house like little heathens, their Grandmother would say, “Let them be. They’ll be fine. I’m serving tea very soon.”

And when tea was served, after the children had chosen a beautiful china cup and saucer from their Grandmother’s collection and she had poured them milk with the tiniest hint of tea, a most astonishing thing happened. My children immediately became models of good behavior. All horse-play immediately halted. There was an abrupt end to silliness, giddiness, and raucous behavior when tea was served. A transformation beyond comprehension suddenly happened.

When ‘tea’ was announced they climbed on their chairs, crossed their ankles, straightened their little backs, held heads high, feet and arms calm and still and then began softly spoken funny and delightful interchanges that mimicked adults in such a comical way. Stuff like – “How was your trip today?” “These biscuits are so delightful.” “May I please have a bit more tea?” “That is a beautiful cup.” And so they dallied over these special tea-times with displays of patience that I have never seen before or since.

Hub’s Mother honored tea time with her grandchildren in such a special way. So maybe it is not so surprising that since her passing YD has a passion for tea time and all its trappings. I can only think this passion has descended on YD by way of copied links in her DNA coupled with a wish to hold close forever the memory of special times with her dear Grandma. And so, in the past year or so, YD has begun feverishly collecting tiered platters, bone china, silver spoons, doilies, and lace and linen tablecloths.

As for me, I find this new passion fascinating. In fact, I find myself quite caught up in her passion and why wouldn’t I be after the last tea party where we shared light-hearted conversation amid the gracious delights of fancy bite-size sandwiches, cakes, wafers, chocolate truffles and other assorted morsels served on her special three-tiered platter?

So now I find myself browsing the net looking for recipes for Devonshire cream, Lemon Curd, Scones, and other things related historically to the proper form and substance of tea-time. But in my research I find that some of the tea traditions so fundamental to her Grandmother’s tea presentation are missing. Things like:

1. A fine hand-embroidered linen and lace-trimmed tablecloth (flawlessly pressed).
2. A centerpiece of fresh-cut flowers or a vigorously blooming house plant.
3. Special silver spoons with a variety of decorative handles that had a unique story behind each of them.
4. Always sandwich plates even if the only dainties are two kinds of store-bought cookies (though of course Gram always had a grand selection).
5. Loose tea leaves with a special little tea strainer. Grandma was right – leaves do make better tea.
6. A hostess with a steady warm smile uniformed in a lovely fresh ruffled apron as cheery and bright as the flowers in the center of the table.
7. Everything arranged and presented with the utmost care and attention. And just in case there wasn’t enough beauty in Grandma’s lace and china, she always had a few special photos within reach on a side-board. Or special cards, poems, inspirational thoughts, or letters from distant friends to share with guests.
8. Light-hearted, upbeat, conversations about only nature or things you love that can love you back.
9. And finally, a special little guest book for signatures and brief notations about the occasion.

Now the thought that occurred to me is this year for YD’s Birthday I would like to give her a special handmade scrapbook of ‘Tea-Time Protocol’ so I need to know if you have any other suggestions to add to the tea-time list. I might wrap her gift in a hand-made brilliantly flowered ruffled apron. Wonder if she’ll wear it. Who knows? More unexpected things have happened.

I was certainly surprised to find that she carries the silly multi-colored hat I made of yarn scraps with her at all times and always puts it on before entering a Tea House. She calls it her Tea Hat.

I laughed the day she went to an expensive Tea House that promised to be one of grand finesse and was carelessly served tea in a mug. “What’s with that?” she asked me later with such dismay. “I couldn’t believe such a thing could happen. Did they NOT notice that I was wearing my tea hat!”

5 Comments:

Blogger Eliz said...

High tea is a lovely thing. YD needs to go with me and my daughter to our favorite tea places.

My daughter's fascination with high tea started at the age of 4 when we took her to a place where she could dress in high style for tea -- with hats and heels and gloves. She even elected to wrap a feather boa around her shoulders.

I have lots of scone recipes if you ever are searching for one. Oh, and a recipe for "devonshire cream" which of course is not quite as good as the real thing.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Aurora said...

Just within the last year or so I have been introduced to the wonders and joy of whole leaf, loose tea. Of course, at this point, I have a collection of tins of many varieties (black and herbal and green and oolong and white), and some rather modern ways of making it. At some point in time, when I have the money and the room for it, I'd like to get a lovely bone china teapot in the grand English tradition, with cups and saucers, etc. I'd feel like a bull in a china shop, though, with all the lace and three tiered serving trays, etc. I'm just not that dainty. :)

2:47 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

eliz, guess I have a bit to learn yet. When it comes to "devonshire cream", what is the real thing? Is it just fresh rich farm cream or something else? And, by the way, we'd love to be able to join you and your daughter on your 'high tea' escapades.

aurora, I certainly like the idea of all those wonderful varieties of loose tea. You can't feel anymore like a bull in a china shop than we do. But this is a new passion and I'm not going to let anyone make me think we don't have enough polish and grace for it. Mind you, I shudder with fear and get huge butterflies in my stomach when we are cleaning up after tea. I'm so afraid that I will drop YD's teapot or a plate from her tiered platter. But I guess it's supposed to be that way. It's all part of the adrenaline rush after a fabulous affair (no pun intended).

6:54 PM  
Blogger Me said...

Ooooh. Americans don't do tea. By missing out on such traditions, we miss out on bonding moments just like you described. I'm young enough. Maybe I will start a new tradition in our house! Thanks for sharing your memories.j

4:21 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi me, glad you stopped in. It is a shame if you don't do tea as you not only miss out on those bonding moments, but if you happen to be a harried mother with kids you also miss out on those civilized moments when the kids magically turn into incredibly fine models of good behavior.

8:00 AM  

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