Sunday, October 25, 2009

The company we keep

The first tearoom I worked in was owned by Mrs. Jones. I grew up going to her restaurant for birthday tea parties. (She would hover over the table, not to serve us, but to make sure the children didn’t break the china.) Despite the fact that there were actual British women working in the tearoom, Mrs. Jones took a liking to me. She would often invite me to have tea with her.
A sweet girl named Becca did the dishes and clean up. One day, Mrs. Jones told Becca to clean the prep kitchen floor by hand. And in the next moment, she gave me my task: “Anna, make us a pot of tea.” To this day, I can feel the awkwardness of that moment, remember the shock on Becca's face, the blush of embarrassment on mine.

Mrs. Jones had a designated table, in the back near the kitchen. From her post, she could see everyone come and go. It was also the only table where smoking was allowed. She would sit there, cigarette in one hand, cup of tea in the other, and instruct me on proper grammar, proper table manners, proper... (I came to realize that behind the accent and genteel fa├žade, Mrs. Jones wasn't all that proper herself.) She was incredibly picky about her tea. Because of her, I learned how to listen for the kettle to boil. I learned how to prepare the tea cup and pour the tea. While I don’t sit down at a table with her anymore, I often think of her when I'm having tea. It is because of her and her strict grooming that I was sometimes mistaken as British when in England; when tea time came around, I knew exactly what to do.

Tea or coffee is a must with some baked goods. If you are unsure how to make a traditional cup of tea, here are some basic guidelines. You will need a tea cup/mug, tea pot, tea kettle, black tea*, milk, and sugar.

1. Put some hot water in your tea pot and set aside. Fittingly, this is called, "warming the pot."

2. Fill your tea kettle with fresh water. Put the kettle on to boil.

3. Pour the hot water out of your tea pot. Add tea to the pot. Usually a tea bag can make ~ 2 cups of tea. If using loose leaf tea, measure 1 teaspoon of tea per cup.

4. Listen to your kettle. You want to take it off the heat source as soon as it comes to a full boil.

5. Pour the boiled water into your tea pot. Let the tea brew for three minutes. (unless your tea blend specifies otherwise)

6. Pour a little milk in the bottom of your tea cup, then pour your brewed tea into the cup. (Use a strainer if using loose leaf tea.) Add sugar to taste. Enjoy.

To some, it is proper to pour the milk into the hot tea. However, it tastes better if you have the milk in the cup first. It's a chemistry thing.

*Some people prefer single origin tea, such as Assam or Ceylon. There are many blends that make a good cup of tea as well. English and Irish Breakfast are examples of popular blends.

Something you might want to eat with your tea... Apple hand pies. I made a cornmeal sweet crust and stuffed with simple cinnamon & sugar apple slices. They would be great for tea time, dessert, or breakfast.

Apple Hand Pies

Peel, core and slice two baking apples. Place slices in bowl and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon to taste.
1 3/4 c. flour
handful cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c. cold butter, cubed
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Measure flour, cornmeal and salt into a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until broken up and shaggy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix. Knead slightly and roll balls (large golf ball size), then roll on a floured surface with a rolling pin until a thin disk. Place apple slices on one half and fold over to form a half-circle. Cinch edges with a fork. Repeat and place pies on a parchment lined baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 until lightly browned.
(The cornmeal adds a crunch, but if you want to forgo, add just a bit more flour. Or you could sub oats.)

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