One of the pleasures of visiting a British Commonwealth country, like Australia, is afternoon tea. There are few things I enjoy more than a leisurely tea with a friend (or in my case recently, a daughter and granddaughter) with its delicate sandwiches, small cakes, cups of tea filled with lemon slices and, best of all, scones slathered in strawberry jam and cream. All of which is made even better by a quiet walk along the Swan River to a Tea Room bathed in the brilliant sunshine of Perth, the sunniest city in Australia, with cool breezes and a temperature of about 70 degrees. For me, it just doesn’t get any better than that, although from the many times I caught the weekend train with folks returning from Australian football games, I know that it may not be everyone’s favorite activity but that’s a whole other column.
We can enjoy many aspects of afternoon tea right here in one of the few former British colonies that is not a member of the Commonwealth (we left the Empire about 150 years too early for that).
After scones, the treat most associated with afternoon tea is the cucumber sandwich. Like all tea sandwiches, it should be made with a high quality thinly sliced bread, typically a white bread. The bread is coated with a thin layer of butter or cream cheese, either of which could be flavored with a bit of chopped herbs like dill or chives. The cucumbers should be thinly sliced and you can also add a bit of watercress or sprouts if you like. Other favorite sandwiches use thin slices of salmon or ham and cheese. Ironic, isn’t it that “thin” is a key word when making tea sandwiches – since that is the only connection thin has to afternoon tea? A low calorie meal, it is not!
The crust is removed from the sandwich and it is then cut into “fingers”, four to a sandwich.
The scone recipe I always use is from the Joy of Cooking book.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cut into these ingredients, until the butter is of the size of a small pea, using a pastry blender or 2 knives:
1/4 cup butter
Beat in a separate bowl:
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the egg mixture. Add to the remaining eggs and beat:
Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour the liquid into it. Combine with a few swift strokes. Handle the dough as little as possible. Place it on a lightly floured board. Pat until 3/4 inch thick (I make them over 1 inch because I like a high scone). Cut into rounds (I use a glass which I first dip in flour.). Brush with the reserved egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are browned.
The standard finish to a scone is to cut it in half, spread strawberry jam, then top with a generous serving of heavily whipped cream.
A litle trivia about afternoon tea:
Afternoon tea is a leisurely meal of elegant delicacies served on a low table. Tea lore tells us that it first developed among aristocratic English women who felt “faint” between lunch and dinner.
High tea refers to the height of the table on which tea is served, in other words, it is served on a regular table like a kitchen table. “High” makes it sounds like an elegant meal, but it actually was an evening meal originally enjoyed by labors and miners when they returned home at about 6 pm. Rather than delicacies, it is hardier fare such as meat and potatoes or egg dishes.
Both afternoon and high teas, along with “elevensies” - a morning tea or coffee break, are still popular throughout the countries associated with the British Empire.
How to pronounce scone depends on where you are. Most of England pronounces it with a long “o” as in bone, while in Scotland pretty much everyone says it to rhyme with gone. Either way, it’s a treat!
Today at the market, lunch is baked chicken, stuffing with gravy, mixed vegetables with cheese, banana pudding and drink for $6. The Tri-State Kokopelli Flute Circle makes their market debut today from 11 to 1.
Tomorrow, the Carl Junction Order of the Eastern Star serves breakfast and the Green Earth Band plays. Daniel Sherman will be at the market with his birdhouses and crosses made from debris salvaged from the tornado fields. Twenty percent of his sales go to the Salvation Army.
I want to say a big thank you to Carolyn Foat who so capably filled in as the column writer while I was in Australia and all the wonderful volunteers, both vendors and community members, who pitched in during my absence. I look forward to seeing you this weekend – I have baby pictures to show you!!