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Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Multi award-winning author Judy Alter writes the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series, the Blue Plate Café Mysteries, and The Oak Grove Mysteries. She returns to Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers today to talk about a very unique and luxurious form of travel she discovered. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website and her Judy’s Stew and Potluck with Judy blogs.

Afternoon Tea
In Murder at Peacock Mansion, the eccentric recluse who feels threatened delights in serving afternoon tea. It turns out to be what Americans generally call “high tea,” and Kate looks forward to those cucumber and salmon sandwiches, as well as the scones and tiny cakes. But at best, according to the British, who gave us the tradition, it’s not high tea—it’s either afternoon tea or low tea.

Traditionally in 19th century Britain, high tea was served on a high table and was a substantial meal designed to feed the working class. It was heavy with meat and fish, crumpets, and potato and onion cakes, perhaps baked beans or a cheese casserole.

Afternoon or low tea, on the other hand, didn’t come about until the mid-1800s when kerosene lamps had made it easier for Brits to have their dinner as late as eight or nine. Supposedly, the Duchess of Bedford complained of feeling light-headed from hunger in the late afternoons. She requested small cakes and pastries be sent to her room. Then she began to share her afternoon repast with other high society friends, and the custom became fashionable. Eventually it spread beyond high society to other socio-economic populations.

A typical afternoon tea features light foods designed to appeal to ladies of leisure. There are often scones, sort of the quick bread equivalent of American biscuits but made without yeast. They come plain or in a variety of flavors such as cinnamon/raisin, cheddar/herb, and gingerbread and are often served with Devonshire or clotted cream, a thick cream made by heating whole cream cow’s milk, then letting the cream rise slowly to the top as the mixture cools. As it does so, clots or clumps form. In England it’s a great luxury, although you don’t hear much about it in the U.S. Scones however have become quite popular in this country.

A second course would be finger sandwiches—small, crustless sandwiches made to be eaten in two or three bites. They may be cucumber sandwiches, smoked salmon (Kate Chambers’ favorites in Murder at Peacock Mansion.) Chicken, tuna, egg or shrimp salad may be used as sandwich fillings as well as pimiento cheese—let your imagination run wild.

Some typical sandwich directions:

Cucumber sandwiches – spread one slice white bread with butter, cream cheese or mayonnaise, and thinly sliced peeled cucumber. Top with second piece of bread. Cut off crusts, and slice diagonally twice to make four triangular sandwiches.

Egg spread sandwiches – again, use white bread. Mix two finely chopped hard-boiled eggs with one Tbsp. mayo, one Tbsp. plain yogurt, one Tbsp. Dijon, one tsp. dried dill, one tsp. chopped parsley. Assemble sandwich as above for cucumber sandwiches.

Curried chicken salad – Two cups finely shredded chicken, one half cup mayo, 8 oz. can crushed pineapple, thoroughly drained, one-fourth cup mango chutney, a tsp. or two of curry according to taste. Use wheat bread for this.

Smoked salmon – layer smoked salmon on one piece of pumpernickel bread and add a bit of horseradish and some dill; or add cream cheese. With the latter, try to also add thinly sliced cucumber.

Radish and goat cheese – Thinly slice small bunch of radishes. Toss with a small amount of salt and let sit about ten minutes, then drain and rinse. Make sandwich as you would cucumber sandwiches. For other uses, salting radishes softens their taste.

And then top it off with sweet cakes and pastries—probably what we’d call petit fours.

Of course you must serve hot tea, never iced (an American abomination)—usually at least one different variety with each course. There are 1500 types of tea in Britain, many imported from India and some from China. Most popular teas include Ceylon, Twining, Darjeeling, Taylors of Harrogate. Of course you must do as the Brits—brew loose leaf in a proper teapot and add milk, never cream or lemon, in your tea.

Murder at Peacock Mansion
Arson, a bad beating, and a recluse who claims someone is trying to kill her all collide in this third Blue Plate Café Mystery with Kate Chambers. Torn between trying to save David Clinkscales, her old boss and new lover, and curiosity about Edith Aldridge’s story of an attempt on her life, Kate has to remind herself she has a café to run. She nurses a morose David, whose spirit has been hurt as badly as his body, and tries to placate Mrs. Aldridge, who was once accused of murdering her husband but acquitted. One by one, Mrs. Aldridge’s stepchildren enter the picture. Is it coincidence that David is Edith Aldridge’s lawyer? Or that she seems to rely heavily on the private investigator David hires? First the peacocks die…and then the people. Everyone is in danger, and no one knows whom to suspect.


Ellen Byron said...

What a great blog, Judy! I love tea and especially high tea. If you're ever in California, you must try the one at the Huntington Gardens and Museum. There are also some lovely places in Pasadena. Thanks for providing some history on a fascinating tradition.

Judy Alter said...

Thanks, Ellen. I was surprised to learn that low tea was the aristocratic tea and high tea for the working class. I always thought of it the other way around. The Adolphus Hotel in Dallas serves an elegant tea. The Ashton in Fort Worth used to though I don't know they still do. I think it would be fun to stage one.

Angela Adams said...

My mom and I, at one time, would make it a point to do High Tea during the Holiday Season.