|Image Credit: Benson Kua|
The quintessential English ritual that is Afternoon Tea is thought to have been invented by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the early 1800’s. She was inclined to get a bit peckish mid to late afternoon, she described it as “having that sinking feeling”. When it got to around 3pm she just couldn’t wait until the customary 8 or 9pm for Dinner, so got into the habit of ordering tea, bread, butter and cakes to be served in her room. This was seen to be a splendid idea and it soon caught on, very soon it was deemed respectable enough for all fashionable society to indulge in Afternoon Tea.
This evolved into the “At Home”, which if you were the hostess involved receiving invited guests at your home and serving them with tea, cakes and sandwiches. Sometimes there would be entertainment, but mainly it was an opportunity to gossip. It was seen as the height of bad manners if you were invited and didn’t turn up. In etiquette ridden Victorian England the potential social pitfalls and need to try and outdo one another must have been a minefield to navigate. With this being a new social arena, the rules of engagement must have been very confusing, even the name wasn’t simple. The upper classes would have served a “Low” or “Afternoon tea” at around 3 to 4 pm just before it was fashionable to promenade in Hyde Park. The middle or lower classes would have eaten a more robust “High tea” at around 5pm in place of a late dinner. The names derive from how high your table was that you ate from – high tea being served at a proper dinner table.
A traditional afternoon tea consists of a selection of small finger size sandwiches to start, such as smoked salmon with lemon and black pepper, egg and cress and thinly sliced cucumber with cream cheese, all crusts removed please!
The second course is where your scones come in; scones are at their best freshly eaten on the day they are made, as they don’t keep very well. If serving with cream and jam you will need to let them cool down sufficiently in order for everything not to melt in a runny mess.
The final course would be a selection of gorgeous cakes .If you are going all out for the Victorian Afternoon Tea then a Victoria Sandwich is the way to go and if made well takes some beating. I’m a bit of a purest when it comes to a Victoria Sandwich, just a top quality homemade jam in the centre and a sprinkle of caster sugar on top; a good one doesn’t need anything else really.
In keeping with the Victorian theme you could perhaps go for having your own tea party next Wednesday 6th August to celebrate the Birthday of Lincolnshire’s world famous Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
He was born in the Rectory at Somersby on the Wolds in 1809 .Two of his most famous poems “The Miller’s Daughter” and “The Brook” are said to be connected to Stockwith Water Mill, which is a 17th Century Water Mill situated near Hagworthingham. The Millers Daughter is of special significance as it was this poem that first brought Tennyson to the attention of Queen Victoria, who later made him Poet Laureate after Wordsworth died. The Brook was inspired by the stream that starts in Holywell Wood on a hill above Somersby and meanders its way down past the Mill. He was so captivated by the sight and the sound of it that “The Brook” is forever immortalised in his poem.
I think it is remarkable that this man who grew up in a little rural hamlet in the Wolds went on to be the most notable poet of the Victorian era. There is actually a Tennyson Trail you can follow around the Wolds that takes in lots of local places of interest that are connected to him and his poetry. Local tourist information centres can give you information about it or search on the internet. www.lincstothepast.com is a really interesting website. We are so fortunate to have a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in our county. I think that living here we sometimes just need reminding of what’s on our doorstep.
Sadie’s Summer Scones
Equipment – You will need a baking tray lined with baking parchment, a large mixing bowl, a broad bladed knife, 2 inch metal cutter, a pastry brush, measuring spoons, measuring jug, fork, rolling pin, scales, oven preheated to 220c
I use Bicarbonate of Soda and Cream of Tartar, rather than baking powder or self-raising flour, it gives a much better rise, but you must make sure that these are fresh for the best results.
- 8oz/225g Plain Flour
- 1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
- 2 tsp Cream of Tartar
- 1 ½ oz /40g Block Stork Margarine (cut into small cubes)
- 1 oz/ 25g Caster Sugar
- Pinch salt
- ¼ pint/150ml buttermilk (you may need more depending on your flour)
- Extra buttermilk for glazing
- Put the lined tray into the oven to heat up as your oven is preheating
- Sieve together the flour, bicarb and cream of tartar
- Rub in the margarine until mixture resembles breadcrumbs
- Stir in the sugar, salt and buttermilk
- Work together with the broad bladed knife until the mixture is soft but not overly sticky. If you need to add a little bit more buttermilk do so, but only a little bit at a time.
- When you are happy with your dough, sprinkle your hands with some flour and your work top and put the dough there, very lightly knead it to bring it together and make it smooth. Do not overwork the dough, it is the exact opposite of bread, handle it as little as possible.
- Roll out to ¾ inch thick, don’t be tempted to do them any shallower as you won’t get a good rise.
- I use a 2” metal cutter, try not to twist the cutter as you cut them out as that distorts how they rise.
- Glaze carefully with your left over buttermilk, try not to get it down the sides as again it stops them rising so well.
- Take out your preheated tray, pop your scones on, I put mine on quite close together. Put straight in the oven just above the centre tray. Bake for 7 to ten minutes, cool on a wire rack.
- When cool enough, spread with jam and top with whipped cream, or the other way around, I’m not getting into that debate! Serve as part of a Summer Afternoon tea or on their own with a lovely pot of Ceylon.