TIPS ON SERVING AN ELEGANT AFTERNOON TEA…

A traditional afternoon tea has been something enjoyed by countless people over the last two centuries. It was created by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who used to enjoy an afternoon snack in her bedroom, to see her through from lunch until dinner. Eventually, she decided to invite some friends to dine with her, and so the afternoon tea was invented. 

The idea soon spread, and within no time all of England was enjoying afternoon tea (not to be confused with high tea, which is something entirely different). 

Although this mealtime did fall out of favour, particularly because of the ravages of the First and Second World Wars, there has lately been something of a resurgence, and many people are discovering just how enjoyable afternoon tea really is. 

Even if you can’t go out and enjoy an afternoon tea somewhere special, you can make an excellent version at home if you plan in advance and think things through carefully. Read on for some tips on how to do it and treat yourself when you really need to.

What Type Of Afternoon Tea?…

There are several different types of afternoon tea, so before you can buy the ingredients you’re going to need, you should decide which one to enjoy. The different types include: 

  • Cream tea: if you are eating scones with clotted cream and jam (and no other food or cakes), your afternoon tea becomes a cream tea instead. 
  • Light tea: a light tea consists of a cream tea with added pastries, cakes, biscuits, and even individual fruit tarts. 
  • Afternoon tea: the full afternoon tea is the same as a light tea, only there are also savoury sandwiches to add to the mix. Although these can contain anything, salmon and cucumber, beef and horseradish, and egg mayonnaise are particularly popular. These sandwiches will be cut into fingers and there will be no crusts. 
  • Champagne tea: as above, but with a glass of champagne or sparkling wine to make the occasion a real celebration. 

Although in the past, a pot of freshly brewed tea might have made the entire treat a complete one, today that isn’t necessarily the case. Enjoying a fresh coffee made from Horsham Coffee Roaster is perfectly acceptable if that’s your preference. 

Serving Your Tea…

Although no one is going to complain if you serve your afternoon tea on a selection of small plates laid out on a coffee table (for example), there is a traditional method, and it’s what really makes this meal stand out and become recognisable, so it’s worth investigating and going the full way if you can. 

In the traditional method of serving afternoon tea, you will have a teapot (or coffee pot) brewing your favourite hot beverage (in other words you wouldn’t use a tea bag or instant coffee, at least not if you’re going by the book). But it’s how the food is served that is really important; you’ll need a tiered set of serving plates, ideally in a floral pattern (rose chintz is particularly attractive). These plates will be stacked one on top of the other, and at the bottom you’ll have sandwiches, above that will be scones, and then above that it will be all the other pastries and cakes (you may need two layers for this option). 

Work from the bottom up when eating and you’ll get the best flavours in the right order.

3 OF THE BEST WI BOOKS FOR WI LADIES…

When my WI Country Woman’s Year 1960 by Shirley Paget book popped through my door I was so excited to open it and even more thrilled when I saw that the cover was a special retro cloth one.

I love anything WI (although not a member) and this book covers it all. From cider-making and hedgerow basketry to public speaking and committee-meeting protocol and of course, not forgetting the jam making.

If you can’t get inspired to have a go at smocking, upholstery repairs, bread making, lampshade, Christmas wreaths, wallpapering, corn dollies, Welsh quilting or crystallized flowers then I will eat my hat. It’s right up my street and I can’t wait to give one of the crafts a go.

Inside the book it says that a great deal has happened to change the lives of women living in the countryside since 1960 when this book was last published, and it is fascinating to note these changes. But we have since lost or forgotten so many rural skills and pleasures. Following the four seasons, here are dozens of different tasks and hobbies re-discovered in this WI Country Woman’s Year: Six decades on, modern readers may no longer wish to live like their countryside sisters of two generations ago, but they will be struck by the happy gusto with which the then-450,000 members of the WI went about enjoying their busy country lives throughout the year.

The WI Country Woman’s Year 1960 by Shirley Paget is available from Amazon and other good book stores at £15.99

The WI Cookbook : The First 100 Years Hardcover by Mary Gwynn, available from Amazon and other good bookshops from £11.22

This beautifully packaged book, curated by food journalist Mary Gwynn, brings together the 100 best loved members’ recipes nationwide. Organised decade by decade, and setting each recipe in its historical and social context, it spans everything from jams and preserves to main courses, puddings and bakes. Nostalgic favourites like Toad in the Hole and Kedgeree feature alongside contemporary hits such as Lamb Pot Roast with Nettle Champ and Italian Lamb with Roasted Sweet Peppers.

Here are recipes created during the war to make the most of limited supplies (like Stuffed Cod Steak and Apple and Fig Roll) and ideas to overcome the challenges of food rationing (like Elderberry and Apple Jelly and Corned Beef Hash) to current day recipes such as Venison Steaks with Quick Bearnaise Sauce and finally the WI’s own signature cake: The Centenary Fruit Cake from North Yorkshire. Fully illustrated from the archives of the WI, alongside beautiful food photography, this gorgeous cookbook will prove a firm favourite with keen cooks of all ages.

The WI Big Book of Baking Hardcover by Liz Herbert available from Amazon and other good book shops.

With over 200 recipes, the Big Book of Baking will guide you effortlessly through all the stages of bread-making as well as giving advice on how to bake the perfect cake. Suitable for beginners and experienced bakers alike, there is something here for everyone: all types of loaves, pastries, rolls and buns; sweet and savoury breads plus yeast, gluten and wheat free options; muffins and cup cakes, sponges and chocolate cakes; suggestions for cake toppings and finishes Tempting treats for every day and delicious ideas for a festive flourish – all the inspiration you need to hone your baking skills and produce impressive results every time.