Afternoon Tea, Anyone?

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Anna Maria Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is said to have started afternoon tea in 1830. She complained about “a sinking feeling” between lunch and dinner and began having tea with bread and butter served mid-afternoon. Teatime became more elaborate as she invited her friends and the dishes increased: crustless sandwiches, pastries, crumpets, and scones with jam. It wasn’t until the price of tea came down that everyone began drinking it and it became part of the working class high tea, or supper, a meal served with eggs and ham around 6 pm.

We associate tea with scones and jam, but Devonshire cream teas may have started centuries before tea was introduced to Britain. As far as we know, scones, jam and clotted cream originated in Tavistock, Devon in the early 11th century. Monks served scones to the labourers who helped them restore the monastery after a Viking raid in 997 AD. Apparently they had no difficulty finding volunteers!

This recipe makes 8 scones (no raisins originally):

225g / 9oz flour

4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

50g / 2oz butter

25g / 1oz caster (berry) sugar

150ml (1/2 cup) milk

1 medium egg
Preheat oven to 450°F. Grease baking tray.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter to breadcrumb texture.

Stir in sugar. Add milk. Mix lightly into a soft dough.

Scoop dough onto a floured board and knead briefly.

Roll dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut into circles. Put on baking tray.

Brush the tops with beaten egg.

Bake for 7-10 minutes or until well-risen and golden brown.

Cool on wire rack.

Tea was drunk only by the wealthy in the 1600s and it was highly taxed. Even in the early 1800s ships could take a year to transport loose tea from China to Europe, making transport expensive. The East India Company had a monopoly on the tea trade in 1832 and began to reduce the journey by building light, fast ships called clippers. We now use the expression “at a good clip,” which comes from the ships. They were streamlined square-riggers and could make 15-22 knots under full sail. The most famous was the Cutty Sark, built in 1868. It made the tea run only eight times (clippers rarely lasted 20 years) and can be seen at Greenwich, London.

We use tea bags without thinking, but they were invented only about 100 years ago. The first tea bags were hand-sewn silk-muslin sample bags. By 1904, Thomas Sullivan of New York was shipping tea bags around the world. A machine was soon invented to replace the hand sewing.

The Empress Hotel, Victoria BC, used to serve tea and crumpets with honey for 35 cents but even that price became too high during the Depression, when many of the Empress residents lost fortunes in the crash. One lady made economies by ordering hot water at teatime because it was free. She then slipped a teabag surreptitiously into the pot while the staff looked the other way.

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Chocolate Fudge Cake – forget the other stuff

This brilliant cake recipe was given to me by my sister. I have loved her ever since. It is our standard family birthday cake. That’s not my sister up there, they’re just trading cacao beans ready for someone’s birthday cake.

They say:

“There is no doubt that chocolate beats kissing hands down when it comes to providing a long-lasting body and brain buzz; a buzz that, in many cases, lasted four times as long as the most passionate kiss.” Heartbeats go from 60 to 140 beats per minute, according to a study carried out by Dr. David Lewis of Mind Lab. No wonder the Aztecs thought cacao beans were valuable as currency. A turkey was worth 100 beans and an avocado was a bargain at three beans. Taxes were paid in cacao beans. This is powerful stuff.

Two-thirds of the chocolate people eat today comes from West Africa. The variety of tree is Forastero and originated in the Amazon Basin. In Central America, cacao has been grown and processed for over three millennia but wasn’t available in Europe until the 1500s when it was introduced by the Spanish. The drink was an expensive delicacy for a century until plantations were established in Mesoamerica with an African workforce.

The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657. In 1689, Dr. Hans Sloane invented a milk chocolate drink that was used by apothecaries and later sold to the Cadbury brothers in 1897. The Industrial Revolution stimulated the invention of machines to process chocolate, which made it more accessible. In 1847, Joseph Fry & Son discovered how to make solid chocolate and the chocolate bar was born.

Call it what you like, xocolatl contains alkaloids such as theobromine and phenylethylamine, which affect the body, fight fatigue, raise serotonin levels and even lower blood pressure; dark chocolate may benefit circulation. It may fight cancer, stimulate the brain and reduce coughing. But do we need these reasons to eat it? The most reliable way of absorbing chocolate is by mouth. This cake will increase your heartbeat and give you a buzz you won’t regret.

CHOCOLATE FUDGE CAKE

1/2 cup (4 oz) butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla essence

2/3 cup cocoa

1/2 cup water

2 tsp. vinegar

1 cup milk

1 3/4 cup flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

pinch of salt

In a medium or large bowl, melt butter in microwave. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla and beat. In a small bowl, blend cocoa and water. Add to creamed mixture. In 1-cup glass jug, add vinegar to milk to sour. In large glass jug, add flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture with sour milk. Pour into two greased and floured 8-inch (20-centimetre) round cake tins or 9 x 13” (23 x 33 cm) pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool slightly before turning out onto wire rack. Ice with Chocolate Vienna Icing.

CHOCOLATE VIENNA ICING

1/2 cup butter (4 oz)

3 Tbsp. cocoa

3 Tbsp. water

2 1/2 cups icing sugar

1 tsp. vanilla essence

In a medium bowl, melt 1/2 cup butter until creamy. In a small bowl, blend 3 Tbsp. cocoa with 3 Tbsp. water until smooth. Add 2 1/2 cups icing sugar to butter alternately with cocoa mixture. Optional: vanilla essence.