Here’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while: indulge in a proper afternoon tea for two, complete with pretty little teapots, finger sandwiches, sweets, and great company. I finally did it, last night–for dinner!
My friend Maria and I found ourselves atÂ Tea and Sympathy, a proper British tea room (their motto is “If you’re looking for anything British, you’re in the right place) in the West Village around supper time, and though I started out eyeing plates such as welsh rarebit and shepherd’s pie, my focus quickly shifted when the two ladies near us received their tea service for two. There’s something about the silver tower piled with sweet and savory tidbits …. it makes me feel like a prim and proper lady and a little kid all at once.
My teapot wasÂ short and stout, an olde world map laid out lovingly on her, a little panda in sunglasses sitting atop her lid. Steeping inside were white tea leaves and rose petals. And, on our tea tower were vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and an array of bite-sized sandwiches. We got the vegetarian tea platter which came with cream cheese and cucumber, cheese and branston pickle sandwiches, egg salad with watercress, and tomato and cream cheese sandwiches, all on some type of amazing whole grain bread, except for the egg salad ones.
I’m not sure how delicious everything actually was or whether my imagination’s so enamored with the idea of this combination that anything served up on a dainty tower would taste just as wonderful.Â Â Like many Indian children, I grew up on a steady diet of children’s books and adventures by Enid Blyton, all of which were replete with midnight feasts and picnic lunches that spoke of foods that were unfamiliar to my palate. My mouth would water as I read about ginger beer, bangers, smoked trout, scones, macaroons, cucumber sandwiches, crumpets, deviled eggs, and treacle pudding; all culinary possibilities that were far away from my reality (with the exception of cucumber sandwiches and deviled eggs!).
Last night, I was not only reminded of my love affair with the food in my favorite childhood stories, but also of a special little book I received not too long ago from one of my favorite food bloggers,Â The Gourmet Cartographer. The book, Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, by British author Jane Brocket, is a treasury of memories and recipes of “foodstuffs and food occasions in children’s literature.” (A mini-review follows below the fold.)
In the introduction, Brocket rightly points out that “children’s literature contains a feast, a banquet, a menu gastronomiqueÂ of treats and lovely foodstuffs.” Brocket makes sure to not only select recipes that conjured up her favorite childhood reading memories but that could also be recreated in an ordinary home kitchen. The result: a scrumptious cookbook stocked with recipes from “the best of a century of children’s literature … titles that are most likely to be found on bookshelves, in libraries, and attics” including, Anne of Green Gables, A Bear Called Paddington, Little Women, Mary Poppins, Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte’s Web, and a number of Enid Blyton classics.
Some of the foods are simple. Take “Pursey’s Comforting Boiled Eggs” for instance.Â The recipe is inspired by Noel Streatfeild’s Dancing Shoes where the author describes a breakfast made by a nurse for a sad, orphaned girl:
Â There were eggs to follow, nice brown ones, with knitted cosies to keep them warm, in the shape of chicken’s heads, and dear little bone spoons to eat them with. Served with them was brown bread and butter.
Others are classic tea time treats. Take afternoon tea picnic cress sandwiches inspired by Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows where a river picnic from a “fat, wicker luncheonbasket” prompts Mole to ask Rat what’s inside.
“There’s cold chicken inside,” replied the Rat briefly: ‘colttonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledherkinssaladfrench-
“O stop, stop,”Â cried the Mole in ecstasie: “This is too much.”
No matter what the type of food–whether it’s Mary Poppins; Strike-Me-Pink Raspberry Jam Cakes, Pippi Longstocking’s Heart-Shaped Swedish Ginger Snaps, or Swallows and Amazons Seed Cake–really it’s the recollections these foods carry and the new memories that they are capable of creating that is the important thing here.
I’m glad summer’s almost here because I can finally organize my very own “Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer”-inspired picnic!
Note: Some of the recipes from the book are available at Jane Brocket’s website.