I watched the Downtown Abbey premiere very carefully on Sunday night (Jan. 5) as I was taking notes on all the costumes, interiors, language and social conventions, and looking for all things food, entertaining, traditions, customs and kitchen-related to post about.
Zoinks, those Crawleys certainly do drink a lot of tea. Tea in bed in the morning; tea in the breakfast room; tea in the drawing room; they go out for tea; stay in for tea; and indulge in that 1920’s form of entertainment: thé dansant or tea dance. SPOILER: The tea dance was ruined for Lady Rose and Anna as they fled the dance hall to avoid being arrested in the fist fight over Rose. She’s trouble, that one.
I don’t know why I find the social norms and conventions of proper entertaining of the past so fascinating, but I do. I love the gorgeous interiors and table settings in Downton Abbey as much as the drama and intrigue. I’m so excited to come up with posts for the 8-week Anglophile-Downton Abbey series on Corks & Cake. It fits so well with what I’m interested in writing about: celebrations, traditions, all manner of serving food and offering hospitality, showing children how it’s done, and bringing little niceties back to our everyday, even those as simple as finding great pleasure in using a special spoon to stir your tea.
So let’s talk tea, shall we?
I found an interesting resource in Emily Post’s book, Etiquette, published in 1922 (the same year that the Downton Abbey season 4 story line begins) that outlines all of the proper conventions of the time for hosting various teas in America, including:
THE AFTERNOON TEA WITH DANCING
“The afternoon tea with dancing is usually given to “bring out” a daughter, or to present a new daughter-in-law.
Guests as they arrive are announced either by the hostess’ own butler or a caterer’s “announcer.”
The hostess receives everyone as at a ball; if she and her daughter are for the moment standing alone, the new arrival stands talking with them until a newer arrival takes his or her place.
The younger people, as soon as they have shaken hands with the hostess, dance. The older ones sit about, or talk to friends or take tea.”
I read the whole chapter of Mrs Emily Post’s book on “Teas and Other Afternoon Parties.” Read it if you are so inclined. Even though Mrs. Post is writing about (and for) an American audience, the upper class in America would look to the British aristocrat for their guideline about how to behave in society.
A traditional tea menu for a party would include assorted tea sandwiches, scones, and a rich tart or cake of some kind. Tea sandwiches could include cucumber, sliced radish, cream cheese, spreads of ground meat and cheese, herbed butter and the like. Scones could be plain or include raisins or fruit and would be served with soft butter, jam, and clotted cream. The cakes and tarts would most likely be lemon, vanilla sponge, almond or jam-filled.
They were delicious!
When I was styling the photo and looking for just the right spoon to serve our jam, I found this sweet one from John’s mother, engraved with her first name.
I took a close-up.
For Christmas, we had a wonderful smoked ham delivered from Burgers’ Smokehouse in Missouri (a gift from my favorite auntie), and now was a perfect time to use the last of it for:
Deviled Ham Tea Sandwiches
- 3 cups finely chopped ham (I put my leftover slices in the bowl and ended up with about 3 cups chopped–you will need to measure and adjust according to how much leftover ham you have. Be sure to take off the rind if your ham has the skin on.)
- 1/4 cup onion, scant, grated on a box grater
- 6 T. mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
- 2 T. golden mustard with horseradish (I used Silver Spring brand Beer’n Brat Mustard)
- 1 teaspoon chopped cornichons (the little French kind; you can substitute dill pickle and adjust the amount to your taste)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and black pepper to taste
(NOTE: Our smoked ham was pretty salty so I didn’t use any salt; taste and adjust your seasonings for your ham.)
- Chop the ham in the food processor, until it is a roughly smooth texture.
- Turn the ham into a bowl and add the other ingredients, folding them in with a spatula.
- Taste and adjust any seasoning or add more mayonnaise and mustard if you’d like a wetter mixture.
- Cut thin white or wheat bread into circles with a biscuit cutter (or cut them into triangles or fingers.) Do not forget to cut the crusts off, as Mrs. Post directs! Spread ham on one side of bread and place another bread round on top. Serve on your prettiest plate or cake stand.
Spread keeps in the refrigerator for a few days. You can cover the prepared sandwiches with a lightly damp paper towel to keep them until tea time but really they should be made and eaten right away for the best effect. (The Dowager Countess would certainly raise an eyebrow if your cook served her a stale tea sandwich!)
I’m not sure that Lady Mary or Lady Edith would prefer as much onion in their tea sandwiches (as they ARE both in the market for a new man, hello onion breath), but we liked this deviled ham spread and ate it for days on crackers, on a roll, just plain, in the fancy tea sandwiches…another new definition of ‘forever.’
Cheers all, and tune in next week for my interpretation of what Mrs. Patmore would do with that leftover ham bone.
Ta ta for now!