Here at The Homestead, we host an authentic English tea each month.
Enjoy reading the information below in preparation for attendance at our Tea.
To reserve a spot, click the link at the bottom of the page with the schedule or register here if you already know you'd like to attend:
On the left, you see the Short family from Gloucester, England. Our paternal great-grandfather, James, is standing in the back as the oldest son. The family immigrated to Maryland when he was 15 years old. As an excellent tenor, he sang at the memorial service of President William McKinley.
Great-Grandpa found Great-Grandma in Ohio, where they married and had our grandmother, Dorothy.
Dorothy loved family history and made connections with our family in Gloucester in the 1970s. We have a beloved cousin, still in Gloucester, that has been a fixture in our family all these years.
Grandma collected china tea cups from many sources. When I was a young girl, she taught my cousin and me etiquette over homegrown mint tea and crust-less cucumber sandwiches while we donned her hats, gloves, and purses from the 1940s.
After inheriting china from both grandmothers, it was only natural to have tea as a family, honor our family history, and practice our tea time manners.
Being avid Jane Austen fans doesn't hurt, either.
We are excited to share this experience with you!
Tea was consumed for centuries in China before it was introduced in Europe in the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife.
However, it was Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) who is attributed with the introduction of afternoon Tea Time as we know it. The evening meal would be served fashionably late in her household, around eight o'clock, which left a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked for a tray of tea with cake, bread, and butter to be brought to her bedchamber around four o'clock to avoid the "sinking feeling" that came between meals.
At first, she had her afternoon tea alone, but later began inviting friends to join her. Soon, afternoon tea had become a fashionable social event with women inviting their friends, and in turn being invited, for tea. During the 1800s, upper class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves, and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served between four and five o'clock.
In China, tea was brewed and served in small bowls. When it was introduced in Europe, the bowls were found to be too hot for the hostess to hold. Ingenuity from Roman potters brought about the solution: a handle for the tea cup.
Similarly, Chinese tea was originally brewed and served in the same cup. Later, however, larger amounts of tea being brewed at one time gave rise to the creation of the tea pot.
Saucers have an interesting history, too! Originally used for sauce in China, it was adapted to Victorian tables. It is said that many would pour their hot tea into the saucer, allowing it to cool, then drink it from the saucer itself. Literature often refers to this as "taking a dish of tea". After the tea was consumed, the cup was put back on the saucer and the set was removed to be washed.
Many Americans incorrectly refer to Afternoon Tea as "High Tea". However, there is a great difference between a high tea or a low, or afternoon, tea.
Historically, high tea was actually consumed by the working class while low tea, or afternoon tea, was enjoyed by the upper class and high society.
The working class would require a significant meal around 5pm and likely not eat again until the next day. This meal required a much more substantial menu of meat, potatoes, vegetables, and breads along with their tea. They sat at a high table and ate what we would consider "dinner" today.
The upper class, however, had much more time on their hands and enjoyed fashionably late dinners with more substantial menus. Tea, therefore, was more of a "snack" to tide them over as well as an opportunity to socialize, which was the focus of the upper class.
Afternoon Tea is served on lower tables, thus the term "low tea". The lower tables are used as a place to set your equipage (plates, tea cups, napkin) so you are free to stand up and move about the room.
One of the questions most of us have about tea parties is whether or not we are supposed to have our pinky up while drinking from the tea cup.
Holding the pinky up is considered to be presumptuous and rude; as if you are looking down on others in the room and consider yourself more important than the other guests. The pinky is always to be tucked near the cup with the other fingers.
Historians suggest that the "pinky issue" was created by a few possible cultural issues:
At one point in history, the upper class ate with three fingers while the lower class ate with all five. When we put three fingers together, the other two automatically pop out a bit. Try it! During this time, the social class was shown by how the hand was held during food consumption.
Another possible contributor to the pinky issue is the fact that when hot tea was served in bowls without handles, the consumer would hold the hot bowl with as few fingers as possible, giving "rise" to the pinky.
A traditional English tea table displays the food at different heights, often with a cake stand three tiers tall. On a cake plate like this, the top layer is reserved for scones, the middle layer for cakes, and the bottom layer for crust-less sandwiches. The layers add interest and beauty to the table.
A tea table also displays flowers (preferably fresh, if they are available) and a three-tiered cake stand Traditionally, each tier of the cake stand has an assignment. We eat from the bottom first and move up. The lowest layer is for savory foods such as sandwiches, the middle layer is reserved for scones, and the top tier is for sweets.
Tea attire is optional, but encouraged for the experience! However, if your attire would keep you from attending, please don't let it! Here is some history, as well as a few suggestions, if you'd like to "dress for tea":
Since Afternoon Tea became a tradition, it has offered an opportunity for women to dress in their best clothes for a time of feminine company, lovely food, and delightful conversation. At its genesis in the 1800s, women would be seen with hair styled up, empire waist long dresses; lace shawls, and a simple necklace. By the 1940s, Tea called for hats, gloves, and jewelry to honor the occasion. When you attend Tea at Mountain Prairie Homestead, a long skirt or dress will do. Hats, gloves, shawls, up-styled hair, and jewelry are all welcome!
Conversation is an art that is all but lost in our digital world. With a lack of person-to-person interaction, thanks to texting and social media, we seem to have forgotten that conversing with another human being is an act of selfless behavior. It is an art that requires give and take, listening and consideration, thought and attention.
With our world so focused on fast-paced and immediate information and bits of knowledge about another's life gleaned in seconds while scrolling through social media, the patience required for uplifting conversation is quickly becoming archaic.
When you come for tea, be ready to converse! Ask questions, listen thoughtfully, speak carefully and upliftingly. In former times, refined people chose their written and spoken words with great care, making sure to show proper respect and friendship in their manners.
Equipage is the "tools" of your tea. They include your cup, saucer, spoon, and fork with a plate, when applicable. How we handle our equipage is of utmost importance in our Tea Time manners!
The tea cup is made of fine china, which is easily broken or chipped. This is a great reminder to us to be very careful when setting the cup down on the saucer and the set back onto a table after drinking from it. We should try to avoid "clinking" our cup to our saucer, or our spoon to our cup while stirring our tea.
Always handle the tea cup and saucer very, very carefully, keeping it as silent as possible.
The refreshment plate is taken to the tea table without the tea cup and saucer. Unlike a buffet restaurant, we would never carry around too many things at an afternoon tea, nor do we fill our plate.
After setting your tea cup and saucer at your chosen seat, go to the tea table and use one hand for holding your refreshment plate and the other hand for carefully choosing your food.
When the table is heavy with choices, start with savory foods and go back later for desserts. If your tea table has a majority of sweets, make sure to choose a savory refreshment prior to choosing a dessert.
Be modest in your food selections. Never fill your plate. It can be tempting when beautiful food is in front of us to want to pile our plate high. But, English Tea is all about refinement, manners, and polite conversation. If our food is the center of our attention, we have forgotten to focus on the art of friendship.
We have become a little lax in our table manners these days. Afternoon tea, dressed in our lovely clothes at lovely tables, reminds us to eat as carefully as we have dressed and prepared.
In the Victorian Era, the rule of thumb was to never put enough food in your mouth to "fill your cheeks". At afternoon tea, we can practice modest eating. This includes not speaking until your mouth is empty.
Grandma always taught me to politely put my finger to my mouth (as if to say "shhh") while I finished chewing but let those in my conversation know I would be speaking as soon as it was polite.
This allows us all to practice that "patience in conversation" described above
When we are seated at a dinner, it is polite to wait to eat until all are seated. At an afternoon tea, it is unnecessary to wait for other guests as the entire environment is about conversation and enjoyment.
However, other general table manners still apply:
We place our napkin on our lap, never on the table. If we get up from the table, the napkin is either in our hand or placed on our seat. Again, never on the table.
We keep our voices low, never shouting across the room or laughing or speaking too loudly as it might interrupt other conversations.
We never take over the conversation. We look for ways to allow others to talk. The best way to do this is to ask questions of the other people near us.
When you arrive, always greet everyone you know with a smile and, at the very least, a "hello". If you do not know someone, introduce yourself if no one has been able to do that for you.
In former times, it was considered impolite to introduce yourself to someone you didn't know. It was customary to have a common friend or family member make appropriate introductions.
In our day, it is not only polite but extremely helpful to take on the introduction of yourself to others.
After greeting other guests and making conversation, watch the hostess for a signal that it is time to choose refreshments. This signal may be as obvious as a public invitation for all guests to begin at the tea table. Or it may be as subtle as an invitation she makes to a few other guests. When others have gone to the table, it is time for all to go to the table.
If there are many others at the tea table, we don't wait in line like we do at a buffet or a neighborhood barbeque. We sit politely, making conversation, waiting for an opening at the tea table.
Traditional little tea buns with cream and preserves, Devonshire Splits got their name from the town that is home to the famous Devonshire Cream Tea.
Named for the famous Queen Victoria, of whom this recipe was a favorite, this sponge has become a tradition at English Tea. Cream and preserves are sandwiched between two light sponges. Cake stands became a necessity for the tea table to display this very cake.
Touted as Jane Austen's favorite, Bath Buns are still being served in the Pump Room in Bath, England. The recipe dates back to 1679 and is known for the distinctive sugared top.
A sweet, simple biscuit-type British dessert is known for its lumpy shape.
Light and healthy foods at tea are just as welcome as the sweet or savory treats.
An easy American recipe that is a great savory dish for Tea. There are similar recipes that will fit the easy-to-eat-in-one-or-two-bites-with-the-fingers Tea requirement!
If there is a recipe that is quintessentially for an English afternoon tea, it is the crustless cucumber sandwich. There are many adaptations to this recipe, but the simplest form is thinly sliced cucumber between two buttered (or mayo-ed) pieces of bread. Cut the crusts off, cut into triangles and they're done!
As long as the crusts are cut off and the pieces are small enough to be eaten in a few bites, sandwiches of all kinds can be served at afternoon tea.
Egg salad, cucumber & salmon, cream cheese & pickle, and chicken salad are among the favorite but get creative and you're set!
American scones are very different from English scones. There is nothing to replace the scone at an English Tea, however! With clotted cream and strawberry preserves, they are like enjoying a piece of history.
Below are some options for plant-based sandwiches that can be adapted to Afternoon Tea. Of course, the internet is full of other options, too!
Scones are a staple at Afternoon Tea. This is an authentically English recipe with the flavors of lemon and lavender, but without the butter and other fats of a traditional scone.
Instead of deviled eggs, these are deviled potatoes! There are many other options for healthy finger foods for tea available on the internet.
Each month, we host an authentic English Afternoon Tea for 15 guests.
(Ages 8 and up are welcome. Young guests should come ready to use their best manners and handle china carefully.)
This is an immersive experience to allow you to enjoy the conversation, dress, food, and equipage of a former time.
Make sure to study the information above to come prepared to appreciate the nuances and tradition of the Tea.
In order to help us provide this experience, please consider assisting in one of the following ways:
At the bottom of this page, you will find a link to reserve a spot on your chosen date and select your contribution choice.
Thank you for joining us!
Current available dates for 2022:
Wednesday, August 17
(15 seats available)
Saturday, September 17
(15 seats available)
Thursday, October 13
(15 seats available)
Saturday, November 19
(12 seats available)
Saturday, December 10
(15 seats available)
Tea begins promptly at 1pm or 2pm, depending on the date.
Please register at the link below to reserve your spot(s).