As you may be aware, a British royal baby is due to see the light of day in the middle of July this year, first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Coincidentally, Twinings have brought out a bit of inspiration for anyone wondering how to toast the new infant, in the form of three new caddies featuring their Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Peppermint teabags.
Rather splendidly I’ve received one of each of these delightful caddies, along with a Twinings pinny. The pinny pocket can, at a squeeze, accommodate all three caddies.
You may already know the origins and rituals of afternoon tea, but if you’d like a little education or instruction, Twinings have helpfully devoted a page to the subject, entitled English Afternoon Tea, on their website.
I don’t know what time of day the average aristocrat gets up in the morning these days, but I suspect that in the Victorian era they liked a lie-in. I deduce this from the fact that they took their dinner rather late in the evening, which was what prompted Anne, the 7th Duchess of Bedford to popularise the business of taking afternoon tea.
The Duchess was Queen Victoria’s personal assistant, and I daresay that meant she had to eat her main meals at times dictated by the monarch. However, she found the stretch between lunch and dinner too long to bear without sustenance, and so she came up with the idea of taking tea and a few snacks mid-afternoon to keep the wolf from the door.
I can understand the Duchess’s problem, for I myself begin to get hunger pangs at the traditional afternoon tea stage (between 4pm and 6pm). However, I deal with this by eating my evening meal shortly after 5pm, and getting tucked up in bed nice and early, around the time the Duchess would have been sitting down to her evening repast. Due to dining so early, I don’t often indulge in the tradition that is afternoon tea, but I have a cunning solution that makes sure I don’t miss out, viz. every now and then I take afternoon tea in place of luncheon.
What with getting these lovely tea caddies, and the sun blazing from a blue sky on Saturday, the delightful assistants and I plumped for an afternoon tea picnic in the garden.
We drank our fill of Twinings English Breakfast tea and, not for the first time, it occurred to me that this tea is misnamed. English Breakfast seems to me to be much more an afternoon type beverage than a morning one, and it certainly slipped down a treat with our teatime fare.
It was the perfect opportunity to make use of my tea and toast sets (or, as I like to call them, teacuplates), saucers that merge into plates, providing an ideal afternoon-tea-size treat area.
There are certain things one ought to produce for an afternoon tea, namely tea, dainty crustless sandwiches (I saved the crusts to make breadcrumbs), small scones and nibbles of cake. (Twinings have more afternoon tea ideas on their website.)
Here we have some finger sandwiches made from soya and linseed bread with spinach and roasted ‘chicken’ (actually meat-free Quorn):
Fluffy white bread sandwiches with sliced Quorn cocktail sausages, and cheese scones:
I enjoyed making butter curls for the scones with a clever little metal gadget.
The cheese scones were available in two sizes – small:
My dad perched a blueberry on one half of his tiny scone to give an idea of scale (the cutter I used has a diameter of 3cm):
The reason I made savoury, rather than sweet, scones was because afternoon tea tends to veer towards the sweet and I often find myself craving a bit more savoury to balance all the cakes out.
On the topic of cakes, we had mini raspberry buns (a vanilla cake mix with a blob of raspberry jam in the middle of the bun), topped with whipped cream and a raspberry:
On a few of the buns the jam was visible from the outside, owing to me being somewhat heavy handed with the jam.
There were also chocolate fruit and nut clusters (melted Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with as many currants and chopped nuts as I could squash into a petit fours case),
small slices of Border tart (a rich fruit tart in a pastry-type base, which I discovered is very difficult to cut into thin slices), and my mum’s excellent seed and peel cake.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first developed a taste for tea and small treats, but I feel fairly certain that this somewhat disgruntled photograph was taken when I had been put into my pram for a sleep while my parents were sitting down to afternoon tea without me:
And this one was taken on a far happier occasion, when I was informed that I was to join them in their tea taking:
I hope that the new royal baby will have many happy years ahead of him/her devouring a wide variety of afternoon tea treats, and that he/she will become an excellent ambassador for the institution that is a good British* afternoon tea.
*Great British traditions such as taking afternoon tea, obsessing about the weather, apologising when someone bumps into you in the street and supporting the underdog at Wimbledon are some of the things that might just tip the balance against Scotland becoming an independent country next year. I like being Scottish but equally I like being British and I don’t relish having to choose between the two.