In the nineteenth century the Duchess of Bedford got a bit peckish one afternoon. She realized she would never make it until late supper. So she invited some friends over for tea and cakes. Hungry Victorians loved the idea, and the custom of tea was born.
This afternoon tea soon became formalized, with hand-written invitations, lovely centerpieces with fresh flowers, and the best china and silverware. There was a lot of flexibility in the practice, though. The hostess could invite just her lady friends, or the tea could be for both men and women. If both sexes were invited, it was a good opportunity for some match-making.
The guests were seated at a low table, called a tea table, which was more suitable for the rather small ladies of the era. So the afternoon tea was called low tea, or just tea. The late supper was eaten at the dining room table, which was higher, so it was sometimes called high tea. It was also often a more substantial meal than the afternoon tea.
There were plenty of treats at the afternoon tea, though. There were bonbons, candied fruit, and salted nuts. There were plenty of cakes and pastries. They included puff pastries lightly baked with almonds on top, and lady-fingers, a delicate Twinky-like cookie. Little cakes very much like our cupcakes were served, covered with frosting that was colored with oranges, lemons, or pistachios.
There were also plenty of sandwiches. The bread was cut into shapes such as circles or hearts. A popular filling was shredded chicken or turkey mixed with mayonnaise, very much like our chicken or turkey salad, and usually a piece of lettuce was added. Other sandwich favorites were nuts in cream cheese, chopped olives in mayonnaise, and cucumber slices with French dressing.
The Victorians had a big sweet tooth, and a lot of the sandwiches were really more like desserts. Boston brown bread was filled with orange marmalade, or whipped cream containing chopped nuts, raisins, or dates. Ice cream sandwiches were made by putting ice cream between sugar wafers or macaroons.
As well as tea and snacks, coffee, lemonade, and hot chocolate were often served. The proper way to serve hot chocolate was with a dollop of whipped cream.
After the meal it was time for parlor games. Victorians loved games, and charades was popular. Another game they enjoyed was Forfeits. In Forfeits, everyone had to give up an item that they had, then do something to entertain the group, such as sing, recite, or play the piano, in order to get it back.
Another favorite game was called You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile. One person was It, and was the only one allowed to smile. He or she could do anything (anything?) to make the others smile. Anyone who smiled was eliminated, and the last person left was the winner.
We think of the Victorians as pretty rigid and formal, but it’s fair to say that they did have a great deal of fun in their way.
1. Tea in the United Kingdom
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3. The Victorian Era-Tea Time-Victoria Days- Tea Time – angelpig.net