Great British Afternoon Tea Tradition (Guest Blog)
I’m delighted to post a guest blog from our afternoon tea caterer, Julie Philpot of Plan To Cook about the history of the Great British afternoon tea and her catering take on this tradition.
Recently we had National Afternoon Tea Week and the ever-increasing popularity of this pastime was again pushed to the forefront of everyone’s minds. To think that this fashion only came about because, in the 1840s, the 7th Duchess of Bedford was feeling hungry in the afternoon and dinner would not be served until around 8.30 to 9pm. She asked her servant to bring her a cup of tea and perhaps a sandwich and something sweet to stave off the hunger pangs. And so the first afternoon tea was served. She enjoyed it so much she invited her female friends to join her and so the fashion began.
I think afternoon tea has now taken over from the coffee morning as an excuse for a get-together and catching up on each other’s busy lives. It’s an ideal event for hen parties especially when you have several generations all wanting to celebrate with the Bride-to-be. There are so many varieties and styles you can cater for, from traditional to individually themed (for instance, I most recently did a Disney-themed afternoon tea for a hen party).
Regardless of the approach, one thing definitely features in every afternoon tea – freshly baked scones, homemade jam and a generous dollop of clotted cream. Even the thought of it gets your mouth watering. After that, all things are possible – both sweet and savory. For instance, French patisserie is a specialty of mine and is always a very popular request. Dainty fruit charlottes, tiny tartlets and melt-in-the-mouth macarons all take pride of place in the centre of the table on tiered cake stands. For me, these are the opportunities where a little attention to detail can move the experience from being a routine one to something that surprises and delights the guests. And we all appreciate the chance to show off some skills occasionally! I spent a month in France learning the craft from chefs who had worked in Michelin star restaurants and that was a wonderful experience. Then you have to have delicate finger sandwiches (crusts removed of course) with some mouthwatering fillings, all washed down with English tea served in bone china vintage crockery.
National Afternoon Tea week is the time when we can marvel at just how far the state of the art has moved on. The Duchess of Bedford would probably be astonished to learn just what she’d started.
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