When I was little and I would invite my best friend over for playdates, we would raid my mother's china cabinet for English or Japanese-themed dishes and novelties, and create a tea party with just each other in the playroom. We sipped Coca-Cola out of teacups, and ate Snackwell cookies off of sushi plates under the watchful eyes of a seated Japanese decorative doll at the head of the table.
So I was delighted when my mom surprised me for Christmas with a whole grownup guide to throwing vintage tea parties: The Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree. This 2012 book is like Martha Stewart on Etsy, burlesque style, with adorable illustrations peppered throughout, instructions on twee decorations, and plenty of thought given to pin curls, false eyelashes, and aprons so tiny and cute they barely seem functional.
I loved it.
Still, I wasn't sure exactly how to use it. I'm very much into potlucks these days, but a book full of tea party recipes (and apron sewing patterns, and flower arranging instructions, and step-by-steps on doing your hair 1940s style, and recipes for candies that look like jewelry) sort of demands you do all the cooking and preparing yourself, or else be a dictator about it. I'm not confident enough in my adulting skills to send out invitations to my girlfriends, demand they dress vintage, then put on an elaborate tea party where I cook all the courses and make all the drinks... yet.
Then, my friend Heather asked me if I just wanted to hang out and have tea or a drink, so I asked her if she wanted to come over for tea, and make the recipes with me together! She loved the idea.
For this first test run, I didn't bother with the floral centerpieces, hair, or vintage teacups. The night before I went through all the recipes, which are divided into morning, afternoon, and evening themes, and picked out ones that looked appealing and doable. This is a very British book, so some recipes were out just because of the very English ingredients. (Rarebit?? Where does one find an egg coddler on short notice?) Others I set aside because of the large amount of sugar involved. But I narrowed it down to about seven options.
When Heather arrived this morning (we both stayed in last night because isn't that a luxury these days?) we went through the recipes together, further narrowing them down until we had set upon our beginner tea party menu:
- Fruit Sundae: with berries, greek yogurt, honey and pistachio nuts
- Mushrooms on Homemade Melba Toast
- Plum and Honey Tea Bread
- Athol Brose (a hot, alcoholic morning drink)
- Bourbon Slush
I won't reveal the recipes here, because that would be breaking copyright laws and wouldn't be very nice to the author, who put so much effort and love into this beautiful book. But I can give my review!
Because this book is British, wet measuring cups were essential, as many of the ingredients came in ounces and milliliters. But almost every recipe turned out beautifully. The parfaits were refreshing and simple, yet delicious. The creamy mushroom on melba toast was excellent. (Well, we decided not to make the melba toast, which required cutting off the edges of bread and slicing it longways. Toasty toast is fine.) We couldn't find plums at the grocery store, so we got apricots, which made the tea bread more moist and along the lines of bread pudding, which was just fine with us.
The Athol Brose was our favorite. A deceptively simple yet totally unexpected hot drink we had never heard of before, it paired perfectly with the snow falling outside. We lapped it up and wish we had gotten more light cream so we could have more.
The Bourbon Slush? Well, we think that maybe British lemonade has less sugar than ours, because when we added sugar to the mixture per the recipe, it became almost intolerably sweet. If we were to make it again, we would leave out the sugar entirely. As it was, we cut it with sparkling water. (Yes, I just broke one of my New Year's resolutions... but kept another.)
The afternoon went by quickly in a flurry of grocery shopping, talking, mixing, talking, baking, talking, drinking, and talking. This was very much a seat-of-the-pants tea party, collaborative, casual, easy. I'm not sure if I'll ever go the whole nine yards with it, but I do instead to try out some of the more involved recipes, and perhaps even use the hand-illustrated invitations and thank you cards at some point in the future to get my most adorable girlfriends together.
Wouldn't that be a treat?