While English cuisine still gets some bad press, taking tea is still revered as one of the pinnacles of social grace and civility. Today we are going to focus on the social graces of taking tea. Our recipe today is Clotted Cream, an essential part of Afternoon and Cream Tea.
Tea is for Sharing Confidences
While the grand dining scenes at Downton provide opportunity for the Crawleys to showcase their status in society, tea is perfect for intimate conversations, scheming and such. Even below stairs, gathering for tea in the Servant’s Hall (or in private quarters) provides opportunity to talk about life, love, and politics. While you may summon a friend or 2 for tea with a topic in mind to discuss in confidence, you can simply just want to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy a scone or two. But what to talk about? What about:
Sharing Downton Abbey News
Q: did you hear:
- Cara Theobald will play Ivy, a kitchen maid
- Lucille Sharp has joined as Martha Levinson’s lady’s maid Miss Reid
- Matt Milne of War Horse fame, has signed up to play a footman named Alfred
- Shirley MacLaine will portray Martha Levinson, Lady Grantham’s Mother.
Comment on your hosts’ tea service
Q: Where ever did you get such a lovely service?
A: Why thank you. I actually found all these pieces at Goodwill.
Engage in a lively debate: cleaning silver with polish vs. baking soda/tin foil
- silver polish method from our Goodwill friends
- baking soda and tin foil method from a guy with an accent
Displaying acceptable manners is a way of fitting in with a certain class. Pay attention to the “tea scene” (S1 E2), which will be broadcast in Canada tomorrow on Vision TV. Matthew comes home to find visitors, and decides to help himself to tea and madeleines to the horror of Molesley, the butler, and embarrassment of his mother, the Dowager and Cora. Yes, it is evident that this middle class lawyer is a diamond in the rough, and has a long way to go before he will become worthy of the title of Earl.
London is likely to be a very popular vacation destination this year, drawing crowds for the summer Olympics, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. If you are taking the trip, and plan to enjoy the tea ritual, book an Afternoon Tea (not High Tea), and do take note of proper manners to fully enjoy the experience. You may recall I had dress code challenges when I tried to have tea with the girls at The Ritz, so book early and ask questions. In London, they do try to do things properly, which is why we adore Downton Abbey in the first place, right?
Tea Etiquette Tips
Some notes from A Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew:
- Begin with a greeting/handshake
- After sitting down — put purse on lap or behind you against chair back
- Napkin placement — unfold napkin on your lap, if you must leave temporarily place napkin on chair.
- Sugar/lemon — sugar is placed in cup first, then thinly sliced lemon and never milk and lemon together. Milk goes in after tea — much debate over it, but according to Washington School of Protocol, milk goes in last. The habit of putting milk in tea came from the French. “To put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross the path of love, perhaps never to marry.” (Tea superstition)
- The correct order when eating on a tea tray is to eat savouries first, scones next and sweets last. We have changed our order somewhat. We like guests to eat the scones first while they are hot, then move to savouries, then sweets.
- Scones — split horizontally with knife, curd and cream is placed on plate. Use the knife to put cream/curd on each bite. Eat with fingers neatly.
- Proper placement of spoon — the spoon always goes behind cup, also don’t leave the spoon in the cup.
- Proper holding of cup — do not put your pinky “up”*, this is not correct. A guest should look into the teacup when drinking — never over it.*
*Since ancient Rome, a cultured person ate with 3 fingers, a commoner with five. Thus, the birth of the raised pinkie as a sign of elitism. This 3 fingers etiquette rule is still correct when picking up food with the fingers and handling various pieces of flatware. The pinky “up” rule is actually a misinterpretation of the 3 fingers vs 5 fingers dining etiquette in the 11th century, but we won’t judge…much.
Easy to Make Clotted Cream