“There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Aunt Jane wasn’t really my aunt. Actually, she was my mother’s dear friend – but I claimed her as mine. She was a warm, wonderful, talented and eccentric lady. I referred to her as Aunt Jane, because, at that particular time in history, children never addressed an elder by their first name – I still don’t. Anyway, I loved to visit with her. She told me I was someone special. And, I believed her. I loved her and will always cherish how she made me feel. She would drop whatever she was doing, and we would talk. Often, she would read out loud from one of her many volumes of old and impressive books. And, she always, always, made me tea.
Tea from her little black tea pot was magical, and I thought my Aunt Jane was magical too. I watched her warm the pot for a moment or two with hot water and then add the tea. As the tea was steeping, she would prepare cinnamon toast or her famous lemon bread. She would cut the bread or toast in small pieces and place it on a pretty plate for us to enjoy with our tea. Next, she selected our cups and saucers, placed the sugar cubes (yes, cubes) and a little pitcher of milk on the table. Then, at last, she poured the beautiful golden tea into our cups. I never doubted for a moment I was a princess.
Going forward, roughly 40 years. The school division where I had the good fortune to be employed for 32 years, had a marvelous adult education program. They taught classes ranging from cooking to conversational Spanish and everything in between. And, one very special class was titled, “Preparing and Serving a Formal Tea.” When I saw this class listed, my heart pounded. I had to take this class. One huge problem, the class was taught during the day – I worked. For well over a year, I watched this class continue to appear on the course listings and it continued to be taught during the day. But, finally I had an “Aha Moment” – I have annual leave, tons of it. So, I completed the required form, requesting 2 hours of leave for 4 days, and submitted it to my boss. Aunt Jane would have been proud.
The first day of class, I was so excited one would have thought it was my first day of school. I even had my hat (wear a proper hat was in the course outline). However, when our instructor walked in, I became quite nervous. The little woman (a tad over 5 feet tall and weighed at best, 110 pounds) was intimidating. Why intimidating? First, she was from England with a strong English accent. Second, she was an Admiral’s wife. My goodness – I was quite certain she had forgotten the numerous tea parties she had hosted, completing to perfection every tiny detail. My thoughts were confirmed, as she began to talk and explain how the ritual of tea was a thing of beauty and was not to be taken lightly. Followed by her words, “Ladies, in this class we will not hear the clinking of spoons on our cups.” My intimidation soared.
The Admiral’s wife turned out to be an excellent teacher with a charming personality. She gave me an appreciation of the many aspects of tea. She taught me there is an “art to taking tea.” I learned things such as: How to place items on a tea tray, where to place the tray on the table, what type of food to serve, a proper tea cup has a foot, types of tea and how many to serve, how to properly eat a scone and much more. Most importantly, I learned tea time is a time to slow down, enjoy the beverage, the food, and especially the company of your friends. It is an intimate celebration. Taking the class was eight hours of my annual leave well used.
Splendid things came into my life through this great class. I was one of the founders of a local tea society. We met at a historic home and when the home was opened for public tours, our society served tea. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the society, made many like-minded friends and my knowledge of tea and the tea experience continued to grow through guest speakers, visits to tea rooms and wonderful books. It also led to a treasured Christmas gift from my dear husband, a complete tea service of Royal Albert, Lilac Lane.
The act of preparing for tea is, by itself, creating beauty. And, you well know how I feel about beauty. People do not flourish when their lives are void of beauty. There is beauty to a tea tray or a table set for tea. Placing something as simple as chive blossoms in a sparkling glass, arranging fruit and treats just so on a platter, all creates a lovely stage. There are tea rooms and tea societies springing up all across the country. There are courses being taught, just like the one I was privileged to take. There are a multitude of books written on the subject and corporations are sending their young executives to Tea and Etiquette classes. In Japan, tea is a ceremony. One of reverence and beauty.
As for my Aunt Jane and the little black teapot, at ninety-eight years of age she left her home in West Virginia for a new home with her daughter in Texas. When she said her goodbyes to mom, she handed her “the teapot,” with the instructions, “Give this to Sandra.” Truly, it is lovely, hand painted with tiny flowers and has markings on the bottom I cannot identify. It could have a monetary value of zero or hundreds, either way, it is my treasure. Mom always said, “Honey, you can’t love things that can’t love you back.” Not true with my little black teapot. You see, I know it loves me. It has and continues to brew incredible tea, and it inspired me to meet the Admiral’s wife. Who, as all great teachers do – opened my eyes to a new world. One of beauty and grace.
So, brighten a winter day for yourself and others. Make Aunt Jane’s lemon bread (recipe below) and invite a friend or friends for tea. It doesn’t have to be formal – just pretty. Who knows, you may decide to form a tea society.
See you soon,
“The Little Black Teapot”
Photo by Michael Lambiotte
Aunt Jane’s Lemon Bread
½ cup butter, softened
1 ¼ cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. double-acting baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup whole milk
1 tsp. lemon zest
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan. (I use baking spray with flour)
In a large bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar at medium speed with electric mixer until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour and beating just until mixture is combined. Stir in lemon zest, and pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the middle of the oven until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 1 hour. Place pan on a cooling rack. Using a wooden skewer, poke holes in bread. In a small bowl, combine remaining ¼ cup sugar and lemon juice. Pour mixture over hot bread. Let bread cool completely before removing from pan.
Notes: I bake this 40 minutes. The bread needs to be completely cool before you remove it – not warm in any way to the touch.
A nice tea to serve with this bread is: Twinings, Lady Grey (available locally, at Kroger and Food Lion)
Lovely and Informative Reading
The Art of Taking Tea, by The Editors of Victoria Magazine
The Charms of Tea, by The Editors of Victoria Magazine
The Pleasures of Tea, by The Editors of Victoria Magazine
Children’s Tea and Etiquette, by Dorothea Johnson
The New Tea Companion, by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson
Tea Celebrations, by Alexandra Stoddard
Tea Time Magazine
Taught by Tea Maestro, Bruce Richardson at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Go to: www.store.elmwoodinn.com or phone 1.800.765.2139. This is also a wonderful source for teas, books and teaware.
Source for Tea
Harney and Sons Tea – www.harney.com
My Favorite Harney Teas
Dragon Pearl Jasmine (nice for summer)
Darjeeling – Highlands
Holiday – (spicy blend of orange and cinnamon – great holiday and winter tea)