It’s a cheap and easy way to entertain friends- and raise funds
With most people back from holidays, and winter stretching ahead, inviting friends around for an ‘English Tea’ – or Scottish or Welsh or Irish one (they all have different local recipes) is an easy way to entertain.
Because you aren’t expected to provide alcohol – it’s cheap. And if you are thinking of joining in with the Macmillan coffee parties – historically people tend to be more relaxed (and open the purse strings more readily) in the afternoon!
With Downtown Abbey about to start up again, remember how the family were constantly sitting around sipping tea?
This year, John Lewis has teamed up with Breast Cancer Care to get baking queens across the country to host a Strawberry Tea party to raise money for charity.
The idea’s simple – invite your friends, family or colleagues to a tea party or picnic where they’ll enjoy delicious treats, and in return make a donation to Breast Cancer Care.
It can be as simple or grand as you like. Pop a packet of fancy biscuits on a plate at work or open your home for an afternoon party of home baked cakes, fun games and a raffle. It’s all for a good cause and it would be helping the 50,000 people who are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
What to serve
If you want to serve the ‘correct’ food, there are certain things that are essential.
Much as I love Waitrose (the food store side of John Lewis) – don’t copy the latest advice in their newspaper if you want to be authentic – and anyway what they were talking about is too much trouble.
A recent story talked about Afternoon Tea called this ‘High Tea’. There is a difference, and The Dowager Lady Grantham would have been horrified to be served High Tea – that was only eaten by farmers and servants.
Afternoon tea has
High Tea was more substantial, with almost certainly a meat dish included.
The only time the Crawleys might have eaten High Tea was when they returned from hunting, and having been in the saddle all day, would have asked for a boiled egg with their tea to stave off hunger pangs until dinner.
Sandwiches would definitely include Cucumber – using ‘proper’ bread cut thinly. Usually in fingers, but you could have had triangles, but always with crusts cut off! Egg and Cress would have been another filling, and if men were present, wafer thin ham in some of the sandwiches.
Scones – these could have been plain or with currants, and really very easy to make. If you want them to be light don’t kneed too much. Then cut them in half, with thick cream or clotted cream plonked on top and a spoonful of strawberry jam. I come from the West Country, where kids called these ‘cut-throats’ because of the dash of crimson on top of the pale cream.
Cakes – Victoria sponge, seed cake, chocolate cake, fruit cake, ginger cake, Swiss Roll, etc. – all these recipes are to be found online. You can cheat and buy cake mixes at Waitrose, or have fun with an afternoon cake baking; kids love this.
Lady Grantham’s cook would have wanted to show off by adding tiny chocolate exclairs, or perhaps some biscuits. Not essential, but I have been trying out Heston Blumenthal‘s home baked frozen biscuits, which you just take out of the package and pop in the oven. Simples.
Then – strawberries. Unlike Lady Grantham we can serve these all year round, but sadly they won’t have the flavour those picked in the Downton Abbey kitchen garden would have had. However, take a tip from the Ritz Hotel, Paris, and sprinkle them with Grand Marnier or Cointreau liqueur before arranging (you can often buy miniatures, which contain enough to douse a lot of strawberries).
Portmeirion Secret Garden teapot (see photo above)
And to help support Strawberry Tea, in June, July and August, John Lewis will donate 10 per cent of every sale of their Portmeirion Secret Garden teapot directly to Breast Cancer Care.
For ideas and tips on how to host a Strawberry Tea party, Breast Cancer Care have put together a handy guide to help you. To sign up, visit the Breast Cancer Care website
And to save time, you can make cakes beforehand, and freeze them.
Or if you have made them fresh, and there are left-overs, freeze these for further parties or to serve at a special dinner with lots of whipped cream.
P.S. Does anyone know a manufacturer that still makes Strawberry JAM? Usually what we buy now is a PRESERVE – JAM has individual berries in the contents, and is much more fun to eat! I’ll just have to make my own!