Did you know that the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell, created the afternoon tea tradition in the early 1800’s in England?
I love looking into the history of traditions. Our country is rich with rituals and customs that too few understand the origin of. With the help of Bruce Richardson, a historian who specializes in British tea, I can share this snapshot in time with you about where it all began.
Two centuries ago, a light lunch was served to the upper class of society around noon each day – but dinner rarely was served before 7:30 p.m.
According to legend, the aforementioned Duchess of Bedford was seriously hungry during the mid afternoon hours one history-changing day, so she ordered afternoon snacks accompanied by tea to tide her over until dinner was served. Satiated, the Duchess moved into the future making this her ‘tea and snacks’ request an everyday habit.
Before long, Russell’s highfalutin, fashionable friends were sitting in fancy airchairs sipping tea and nibbling on crustless sandwiches and confections around 4 p.m. each afternoon.
Eventually, this idea spread to the upper-class circles and became a time for minding your manners by placing your napkin on your lap and stirring your tea gently. The ritual became more and more stuffy. It is said that a suitable mate could be excommunicated if you saw him mishandling how he put his spoon on his saucer after he stirred his cup!
One other detail many are unaware of: there is a difference between “afternoon tea” and “high tea.”
High tea actually originated with the lower classes. The working men were not offered the luxury of a lunch break so they would have a more substantial ‘high’ tea immediately after work, often in place of a later evening dinner.
The names “afternoon tea” and ‘high tea” derive from the height of the furniture on which the meals were served. High tea was served at the dinner table, and afternoon tea was enjoyed on fancy couches and chairs with low tables (coffee tables) of the elite. In England, using the term “high tea” when you really mean “afternoon tea” is a dead giveaway you’re American!
Sadly, afternoon tea is now an occasional luxury. It seems many of our lives have become too busy for regular practice. Luckily, our visitors here at the inn are still able to indulge in a little bit of British tradition and history for themselves.
At The Hartwell House, this service is one of the things that sets us apart from other inns in the Ogunquit, Maine area, and something I would never do away with. Our tea services are – obviously – much more casual and relaxed than the somewhat humorous vintage video above – but it’s interesting how many of the sentiments and thought processes explained by the narrator also enter my mind when setting up the tea service every day.
Today at the inn, my guests enjoyed a key part of the quintessential afternoon tea — a piping hot, fluffy and light scone — with gratitude, likely unknowingly, for Anna Russell.
RECIPE: A ROYAL SCONE DESERVING OF A THRONE
(an Oatmeal and Cinnamon Scone Recipe)
- 1 1/2 Cups uncooked oatmeal
- 1/4 Cup whole milk
- 1/4 Cup heavy cream
- 1 Egg
- 1 1/2 Cups
- 1/3 Cup sugar + 1 Tablespoon
- 2 Teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
- 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces (very cold)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Toast uncooked oatmeal for 15 minutes in the oven. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Put milk, cream, and egg in medium bowl and mix well with a whisk. Remove 1 tablespoon to small bowl and reserve for glazing
- In a food processor, pulse flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt until combined.
- Scatter cold butter pieces evenly over dry ingredients and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
- Place mixture from food processor in a large bowl and add 1 cup of cool oats.
- Fold in liquid ingredients until large clumps form
- Mix dough by hand in the bowl until dough comes together
- Dust work surface with half remaining ½ cup of oats and place dough out onto work surface and create 6-7” circle that is about 1” thick
- Cut dough into 8 wedges with a large knife and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, 3” apart from each other
- Brush surfaces with reserved egg mixture
- Bake 14 minutes
- Cool for 30 minutes
- If you fancy, enjoy with a cup of English Tea. “Scrummy!”
Tip from the New England Innkeeper:
Chilled butter is really important for this recipe! You can’t let it get warm because it melts and mixes into the flour and then the flour becomes too wet.”
Scones were not actually added to the afternoon tea tradition until the 1900’s.