Afternoon tea is a beloved tradition in England, and though not practiced very often in the States, I was recently invited to tea with a group of friends, catered by High Tea with Gerri of Riverwoods.
I realized not long into the affair that afternoon tea is just an excuse for ladies to eat sweets before dinner. Of four courses, two were decidedly dessert and one was borderline, depending on which side of the pond you reside. One of these courses was pie. This ritual, I decided, was brilliant.
Tea flowed like water, poured by primly dressed servers into a flowered china cup through a tiny sieve that fit right over the rim. Cream is traditionally poured into the cup first to temper the boiling hot tea and avoid cracking the china. I never had cream in my tea before, but together they mixed into a delicious velvety potion.
The first course consisted of seven teensy sandwiches per person: smoked salmon, egg salad, roast beef, turkey, creamed avocado and crab, greens and asparagus, Roquefort and pear, and the ubiquitous watercress and cucumber. I believe someone declined their portion of salmon and I swooped in and snatched it up. Uncouth, sure. But I ate it with my pinky out.
The second course was raisin scones served with tart lemon curd, rich Devonshire cream, and thick strawberry preserves. I have never been a fan of scones; they’re almost always dry and rather heavy, and they quickly get stale. But I discovered their one saving grace: They are the perfect delivery systems for Devonshire cream. I decided that I would put a tin of cream on my next grocery list and worry later about what to use it on.
Finally we could dig into the rhubarb-apple pie that had been sitting there mocking us this whole time. As lovely as it was with a flaky, brittle crust and a dollop of cream, the pie was subtly sweet, maybe even a tad bland.
Despite the small size of everything offered, teas are unexpectedly filling and I was fully sated. But then the tiered tray was refilled with an array of mignardises—raspberry bombes, brownies, miniature éclairs, petit fours, fruit tarts—and I was suddenly peckish. I realized I simply must have a bite to eat.