Afternoon Tea 50s Style

Having spent a lovely weekend in London celebrating a birthday with the family and partaking of afternoon tea I realised that this is a tradition that all fifties fans should experience.

Tea drinking is a pastime closely associated with the English.

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Tea first arrived in England during Cromwell’s time and soon became the national drink.

Thomas Twining opened the first known tearoom in 1706, which remains at 216 Strand, London today.

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‘Afternoon Tea’ as a concept did not exist before the 19th century.  At that time lunch was eaten quite early in the day and dinner wasn’t served until 8 or 9 o’clock at night.  It wasn’t until Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, asked for tea and light refreshments in her room one afternoon, around 6.30pm that the ritual began. The Duchess enjoyed her ‘taking of tea’ so much that she started inviting her friends to join her.  Before long having elegant tea parties was very fashionable.   Demand for tea wares grew and soon there were tea services in silver and fine bone china, trays, cake stands, servers, tea caddies, tea strainers, teapots, and tea tables.

In the past whether you took ‘afternoon tea’ or ‘high tea’ was a peek into your social standing.  Afternoon Tea was a light elegant meal served between a light lunch and late dinner, usually between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock, and was mainly confined to the aristocracy with their leisurely lifestyle.  High Tea was a more substantial meal, including meat and/or fish, and was really a early dinner which well suited the middle and lower classes after a long day at work.

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In the 1880s, fine hotels in both the United States and England began to offer tea service in tearooms and tea courts, and by 1910 they had begun to host afternoon tea dances as dance crazes swept both the U.S. and the UK. Tearooms of all kinds were widespread in Britain by the 1950s, but in the following decades cafés became more fashionable, and tearooms became less common.

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A tearoom was often a small room or restaurant where beverages and light meals were served, often catering chiefly to women and having a sedate or subdued atmosphere. A customer might expect to receive cream tea or Devonshire tea, often served from a china set, and a scone with jam and clotted cream – alternatively a High tea may be served which included thin savory sandwiches.

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There is a long tradition of tearooms within London hotels. For example, Browns hotel has been serving tea in its tea room for over 170 years. The Ritz, Claridges, The Dorchester and The Savoy are some of the other well-known hotels to serve afternoon tea.

Browns Tea

My experience in the fifties of the tearoom was a good one, maybe because we only ever had afternoon tea on an outing or if we were having visitors.  My memory is of tasty smoked salmon sandwiches and delicious scones with strawberry jam. The tea was incidental to me but I did love the china cups and plates.

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My husband says his afternoon tea at home consisted of Shipham’s fish Paste sandwiches – not pleasant – and Angel Cake.  In fact he insists that it was the dreadful afternoon tea experience that inspired him to cook.

For a Christmas present a few years ago my husband took me for afternoon tea at the Ritz. It was a fantastic room – lovely tea in silver pots, no drips of course, and a huge assortment of dainty sandwiches and cakes. I couldn’t eat again until the following day.

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The tearoom, is becoming fashionable again as everything vintage and retro is in vogue.  So readers you can go out for afternoon tea or you can recreate your own fifties ‘afternoon tea’ at home.

You obviously need lovely vintage china (there are so many lovely designs out there now), a tablecloth (preferably white and lacy) and of course the tea (my tea of choice is always Earl Grey) and the food.

To make proper tea sandwiches the bread must be very thin.  If you are slicing the bread yourself, partially freeze the bread first to make slicing easier.  You can flatten the bread further by using a rolling pin. Favorites include thinly peeled and sliced cucumber on lightly buttered white bread, egg sandwiches, smoked salmon, and thinly sliced baked ham with watercress and cream cheese.  After making the sandwiches, cut the crusts off and cut into triangles, squares, or rounds.

Cakes of course should be homemade and slices small. Add some scones, cream and strawberry jam to complete the fifties experience. Do not forget to don your tea dress!

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Happy eating (and drinking).

Selma x ♥

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