Not deferential enough: Time for tea

Posted Thursday, March 12, 2015 in Features

Not deferential enough: Time for tea

by Gina Hamilton

There are a lot of things that are not particularly pleasant about working at home. Trying to keep up with cleaning, cooking, and laundry, for instance, while trying to write columns, news stories, science lessons, and letters, especially when there always seem to be far too many people about.

It doesn't help that the dryer is not working and that everything needs to be dried on the wooden air dryer in front of the wood stove. It also doesn't help that there are two winter-weary dogs who want to be let out and in constantly, or that the floors are permanently mucked from muck boots that probably should have been taken off at the door after taking said dogs out or going out to tend to the animals, but which invariably get taken off where one can sit down, near the wood stove or the pellet stove, which means the whole house has to be crossed wearing them.

I think I can speak for everyone but die-hard skiers when I say that we are ready for spring. But spring still seems like a long way off, with another snowstorm planning to wreak havoc this weekend and temperatures down below freezing all this week and next.

I don't even have the heart to plan my fields and design my gardens. Usually, by now, I have drawn a map and priced out new perennials and determined which beds will contain what. We need to determine which, if any, of our trees died in the snows, figure out how to replace them, and get the plants in early enough to grow to adulthood in the course of what may be a particularly short summer.

But there is one nice thing about working at home. That is tea.

It was always difficult in the office to make a pot of tea, let alone have a bit of milk to flavor it, and even if by some miracle that could be arranged, did one ever have a few biscuits to go with it? But at home, it's entirely possible to have a nice cuppa any time of night or day, whenever one feels that sinking feeling that suggests a bit of sustenance is necessary.

Tea in the afternoon was one of those odd things that came about because the Duchess of Bedford got a little bit peckish in the afternoon while visiting Belvoir Castle, sometime in the 1800s, and the servants brought her a dish of tea and some tiny crustless sandwiches. However, tea had been introduced to court much earlier, in the 1600s, when Charles II's wife Catherine brought it with her upon her marriage.

By the late 1800s, it was a typical meal for commoner and royalty alike, and there were two types. One was the afternoon tea, including the beverage and a few dainties, including sandwiches of cucumber or cress, fish paste, thin-sliced ham, chicken or egg, scones, with clotted cream and jam, and some sort of cake or pastry to finish, often Battenberg cake, fruit cake, or sponge cake.  The second type was "high" tea, which was less grand and fiddling, but usually contained some hot dish as well as a sweet of some sort. It often took the place of dinner for working class people, and the hot dish might be fairly simple, such as baked beans on toast or a lightly boiled egg with chips (that is, french fries). High tea was typically served later, between 6-7 p.m., and afternoon tea was served between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

In any case, making scones in the morning and having an afternoon tea break is one of the lovely things about having a home office nowadays. And it may be just about time to make certain that I have everything in readiness.

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