I always enjoy doing my Heritage Baking talk about the History of Afternoon Tea. There are key components to consider as well as some historical characters who shaped the story and make it the tradition we so much enjoy today. We’ve certainly missed having the experience of Afternoon Tea over the past eighteen months or so, whether it be for a birthday, anniversary, wedding or many other celebrations with family and friends.
According to some, there aren't any rules but Mrs Beeton did leave a mountain of instructions about how to serve Afternoon tea in her book entitled ‘Household Management’. She stipulated that when a Victorian hostess invited guests to partake of this experience at their home “Afternoon tea should be provided, fresh supplies, with thin bread-and-butter, fancy pastries, cakes, etc., being brought in as guests arrive.” And when it comes to the order of the food on the famous 3 tiered cake stand, it should comprise a bottom tier of sandwiches with crusts cut off, a middle tier of scones or teabreads and a top tier of exquisite cakes, pastries, petits fours or biscuits.
The historical characters in the story include Catherine of Braganza, whom it is alleged brought a chest of tea as a dowry when she married Charles II; the Earl of Sandwich who spent much of his time at the gambling table so didn’t have time to eat a proper meal; and Anna Maria, Duchess of Bedford who had a ‘sinking feeling’ about 5 o’clock one afternoon and called for something to assuage her pangs of hunger. Hence the tradition started which we recognise today.
I’ve delivered this talk so many times now and have had so much fun telling the anecdotes about it all. The talks have often been linked to fundraising events so I have very fond memories of some amazing people who set them up. Since March 2020, I’ve also put on my posh frock, hat and gloves and done this talk on Zoom to the delight of even more groups. I really hope it’s not too long before I can do it ‘live’ again, Covid safety regulations permitting.
This week in mid-August is Afternoon Tea week so I hope you can enjoy your version of Afternoon tea during August and if you can join one of the fundraising campaigns that would be perfect. Stay safe!