The who, where and when of high tea

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In anticipation of Mother’s Day – and the fact that many of you are probably planning on spoiling your mom with a tea-fuelled treat of some sort – we take a look at the origins of high tea and suggest a few tasty tidbits to make if you want to put together one of your own

High tea, afternoon tea, cream tea… it’s all a bit confusing isn’t it? In South Africa we associate high tea with hotels serving dainty finger sandwiches, mini quiches and pretty petit-fours all beautifully arranged on a tiered cake stand, but high tea is known as a far humbler occasion in the UK.

There, high tea is synonymous with the evening meal, typically consumed between 5 and 7 pm. It is said that the term was coined early in the 19th century in newly industrialised Britain when workers needed a good square meal after a hard day of labour, washed down with a pot of strong tea, of course. The adjective “high” can refer to the advanced time of the day, or the fact that the meal was served on high tables, depending on which source you wish to believe.

Afternoon tea, the crustless cucumber sarmie-studded shindig we’ve come to call high tea here in SA, is believed by many to have been initiated by Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, in around 1840. Typically taken between 4 and 6 pm, it was seen as a stopgap between lunch and dinner for the upper classes of England. In addition to the aforementioned cucumber, smoked salmon, egg and ham were also favourite sandwich fillings. Other treats included scones with jam and clotted cream (which could also be served on their own with tea and called a cream tea), Victoria sponge, crumpets and tiny meat pies.

Now that we have the semantics straight, let’s get down to business and round up a range of delicious tried-and-tested treats you can whip up for your mom this Mother’s Day – provided of course that you haven’t booked a table at a swanky hotel. Remember, presentation is key, so if you don’t have a cake stand to hand, use your nicest plates and platters!

For something savoury, why not try cream cheese and prawn finger sandwiches, roast butternut quiche, sweet onion marmalade and goat’s cheese tartlets or chicken and mushroom turnovers. If you’re a dab hand at baking, what about sticky caramel Swiss roll, petit fours or classic vanilla cupcakes. If you’re a bit of a novice in the kitchen, these coconut and white chocolate lamingtons take merely five minutes to put together. Lastly, scones are always a surefire tea-time winner. Try Siba Mtongana’s version with lime curd. Of course, these are merely a few of our favourites, but there’s a whole host of other suggestions on TASTE’s brand new website that are sure to tickle Mom’s fancy. Now all that’s left to organise is the tea – make sure yours is served piping hot in a proper teapot for good measure.

Annette Klinger Article by: Annette Klinger

Woolworths TASTE’s features writer maintains that almost any dish can be improved with butter and cream. She’s a stickler for comfort food, especially German treats that remind her of her late grandmother, such as pork schnitzel with sauerkraut and spätzlen. She is a voracious reader of food magazines and recipe books, and instinctively switches over to the cooking channel whenever she checks into a hotel or guesthouse.

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