When in England, do as the English do. Accordingly, when I was in London, I went to formal afternoon tea with two lovely girls, one an old friend and one a new friend. I wish the only picture of us three wasn’t so blurry, but I’m putting it on this blog anyway so that you can see exactly how much food is served with afternoon tea.
You see, in England, afternoon tea isn’t just having a cuppa tea. Au contraire, afternoon tea is a ‘light’ meal that usually takes place between 3-5 pm. The tea drinking tradition in the afternoons was brought to France by one Catherine of Barganca of Portugal (she married Charles II in the 1600s). Our English Breakfast tea came out, followed by an assortment of finger foods served on a 3-tiered stand. The bottom tier had the sandwiches, the middle tier contained the scones, and the top tier had the desserts.
How does one enjoy this afternoon delight? First, pour the tea. English breakfast tea (belowleft) is a black tea traditionally drunk with milk and/or sugar. It’s the most common tea in England.
Then, start from the bottom of the tray and work your way up. Dive in and tackle the sandwiches (below, left). There were four kinds and I love how they coordinated what types of bread went with each sandwich:
- Cucumber & butter on white
- Egg salad on white
- Tomato and cheese on whole wheat
- Smoked salmon and butter on whole wheat
Then, it was onto the scones (below right). In England, scones are eaten with clotted cream and jam. Clotted cream is a thick English staple at teatime; it’s made with unpasteurized cow’s milk using steam and then left to cool slowly. The name clotted comes from the fact that the cream content rises to the surface during cooling, thus forming clots. Clotted cream also happens to have a very high saturated fat content, go figure. The proper way to eat a scone is to cut it in half, cover both halves with clotted cream, and then spread the red fruit jam on top of the cream.
If you can still eat after those sandwiches and scones, it’s onto dessert. At this point we were getting pretty full but we had to at least try our plate of desserts. We had a cake with chocolate frosting, another cake with melted chocolate stuffed inside it, gingerbread cake, and also the English version of a red fruits tart!
Don’t worry. The British don’t actually eat this much at low tea on an day-to-day basis. Nowadays, they just take their tea with some biscuits (cookies in American-ese) during the afternoon. I believe that only hotels and restaurants go all out like this one – figures, how could anyone eat this much between lunch and dinner every day?