While these associations cater primarily to the trade, contemporary tea culture for ordinary tea lovers offers new and exciting adventures. In some ways, tea has taken on a role similar to wine among those who prefer the hot, non-alcoholic beverage. For example, today it is possible to be trained and certified as a “Tea Sommelier” and work in a restaurant or tea shop to recommend appropriate pairings of tea with various foods such as cheese or chocolate. And many tea shops now offer tea tastings modeled after the wine tastings hosted at wineries and restaurants. This allows guests to sample a variety of different teas and to learn more about the wide choice of tea blends and herbal tisanes that are now available.
Modern Tea also includes information about the health aspects of tea and global issues such as Fair Trade and Ethical Tea Partnerships. And the “Resources” section at the end is a delightful list of tea shops and “reputable online resources” for buying tea and tea equipment. I can certainly recommend one of these resources, Le Palais des Thes, a French company that offers a splendid assortment of teas from all over the world to order on-line as well as multiple retail locations throughout Europe, Japan, Israel and the United States. Another wonderful Christmas gift I received recently was the fabulous Le Palais des Thes Advent Calendar that provided me with a different cup of outstanding tea every night leading up to Christmas.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Lisa Boalt Richardson’s Modern Tea. As a writer she has a friendly, self-deprecating voice and expresses a deep knowledge and genuine love of tea in all its myriad aspects. For used book lovers who prefer to focus more on the menu planning, food preparation and ambience of Afternoon Tea, my favorite is Teatime Celebrations by Patricia Gentry, a California-based college cooking instructor and member of the Southern California Culinary Guild and the International Association of Cooking Professionals. Gentry also has experience managing a tea-room, and the subtitle of her book, “Eighteen Menus for High Tea and Teatime Meals,” tells you everything you need to know about this wonderful, competently written treasure trove of tea menus and recipes. Kathleen and I both rely on Gentry for the accuracy and reliability of her recipes. In fact, the recipe for Cranberry Curd in my November, 2019 blog was inspired by Patricia Gentry’s recipe for Cranberry Curd Tarts.
Our chapters on “Guidelines for the Host or Hostess” and “Guidelines for Guests” offer practical advice on the “etiquette” of tea and suggest ways to create beautiful, comfortable and welcoming settings in which to gather with friends. Other chapters in “The Tea Book” provide you with a detailed checklist for planning a tea party, a survey of tea utensils and equipment and a chapter including recipes for the most basic savories, scones, sweets and condiments that you will need to master the art of offering Afternoon Tea. “The Tea Book” also includes detailed menus and recipes for each of the four seasons, meticulously created by Kathleen based on her years of experience as a caterer, cooking teacher, wedding cake baker, chef and manager of a Bed and Breakfast Inn. Her gifts as a painter, photographer and flower arranger also inspire her vision for menus and table settings. Since spring has arrived and you may be thinking of inviting a few friends over for a small but elegant gathering, I highly recommend the Spring Tea, loaded with luscious savories and sweets that showcase the freshest spring vegetables, herbs and fruits. Our “Calendar of Tea Parties” takes you through the year and provides innovative menus and recipes for all the special holidays including of course a splendid Afternoon Tea menu for St. Patrick’s Day, which we will celebrate this month.
As this haiku, written in Hong Kong, suggests, my favorite section of “The Tea Book” is “A World of Tea Parties,” a trip around the globe with menus and recipes from places where my husband and I have traveled and experienced Afternoon Tea based on local customs and traditions. We start in China where tea originated and move on to Portugal, the first European country to experience tea. Then we visit several other tea-loving countries, including England, France, Italy and Russia, before returning to the USA, where we feature regional menus from California and the American South.
Our “Tea Book” also anticipates special occasions, such as a home-made Wedding Reception Tea, a Vegan Tea or a Tea for Children, several of which include grocery lists and planning guides to help you attend to every detail of these memorable gatherings. We also provide our readers with a Resources section containing a detailed Bibliography, a Menu and Recipe Index, a list of recommended Commercial Food Products and a Glossary of Culinary Terms. Kathleen and I have tried to anticipate everything our readers need to know to create beautiful and unique tea parties in their own homes or gardens with their own friends and loved ones. We also remain open to new possibilities and options in the ever-changing and magical world of Afternoon Tea.
For St. Patrick’s Day
For your St. Patrick’s Day celebration this year, whether it be a family dinner or Afternoon Tea, I offer an elegant and classic cake from Patricia Gentry’s Teatime Celebrations. I have slightly adapted Patricia’s Orange-Glazed Oatmeal Cake to emphasize the Irish connection by suggesting an Irish Whiskey or Bailey’s Irish Cream glaze. This moist and hearty oatmeal cake can also be enjoyed for breakfast or even, as Patricia suggests, on camping or fishing trips, as it keeps and travels well. It is also a “cake for all seasons,” as the basic batter can be adapted for other seasonal holidays and celebrations. I include my suggestions for seasonal adaptations at the end of the recipe. For St. Patrick’s Day, serve this luscious cake with Irish Breakfast Tea.
For the Cake Batter:
- 2 ½ cups boiling water
- 2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened (Use Irish Kerry gold if you can find it.)
- 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 2/3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Cooking spray with flour for the pan
- ½ cup water
- 4 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2-4 tablespoons Irish Whiskey, Bailey’s Irish Cream or Orange Liqueur such as Cointreau
- (If you prefer to avoid alcohol, use 4 tablespoons orange juice.)
- 1 cup freshly whipped heavy cream lightly sweetened with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced in two
- Freshly hulled whole strawberries
- Small bowl of sour cream
- Small flat bowl of brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350° F
- Preheat the oven and spray the Bundt pan with cooking spray with flour. Place the oatmeal in a medium bowl and pour the 2 ½ cups boiling water over. Set aside.
- In an extra-large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time and beat well after each addition. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda.
- Add the flour mixture, oatmeal and vanilla to the creamed butter mixture and mix thoroughly, but do not overmix.
- Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 70 minutes. (Start checking at 60 minutes, as oven temperatures and Bundt pans vary.) Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
- While the cake cools, combine the sugar and water for the glaze in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar (or microwave the sugar and water in a glass measuring cup until boiling, remove and stir to dissolve all the sugar.) Add the whiskey, liqueur or orange juice for flavoring and stir to blend. Use 2-4 tablespoons of the flavoring liquid depending on how strong a flavor you prefer.
- Invert the cake onto a decorative platter or cake pedestal. Poke holes in the cake with a wooden skewer and slowly pour the soaking glaze over the cake. The glaze will disappear and become invisible. To serve, place fresh strawberry halves around the outside of the cake on the platter and offer freshly whipped cream on the side.
- For an alternate garnish which children love, place whole hulled strawberries in an attractive bowl near the cake platter with bowls of sour cream and brown sugar nearby. Let the guests dip their strawberries by hand into the sour cream, then into the brown sugar and eat the dipped strawberries along with the cake.
Seasonal Variations for Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cake:
Summer: Add kirsch or other cherry flavored brandy or cherry juice to the glaze. Serve with Fresh Cherry Sauce and Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Ice Cream or any other summer berries such as raspberries or blueberries and vanilla ice cream. Serve with iced Rooibos tea or hot Japanese green tea.
Autumn: Flavor the glaze with Calvados or apple juice. Serve with Home-Made Apple Butter (recipe in Rose’s November 2020 blog) and Dulce de Leche ice cream. Serve with a strong black tea such as Keemun or warm apple cider.
Winter: Flavor the glaze with rum, an orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Triple Sec, or orange juice. Add to the dry ingredients for the cake: 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg and grated zest of 1 orange. Add to the batter, 1 cup raisins, dried cranberries or chopped candied orange peel or a combination of all three. Serve with hard sauce and cranberry curd or rum raisin ice cream and Earl Grey Tea.