High Tea: A History


My loyal followers (Hi Mum) may remember that I hosted a High Tea over the weekend to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. It went splendidly and many traditional and non-traditional tasty treats were devoured by all. You will see that I have included some pictures in this post – all taken by The Lovely Katie.

I promised that I would accompany the event with a post on the history of High Tea, and here it is!

Your Humble Host

Today, High Tea is considered to be something one indulges in as a treat, or for a special occasion. At roughly $45 a pop, this is hardly surprising. Despite its current extravagant status, High Tea has a far more humble beginning.

The British tradition of High Tea began in the mid 1700s as an afternoon meal, usually served between 3 and 4 o’clock. It was designed for the working man and was taken standing or sitting on a tall stool, thus the term ‘high’. The meal would generally consist of tea served with cakes, scones, and even cheese on toast.

Gradually, this afternoon meal transformed into an important event on the social calendars of Ladies and Gentlemen.

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) is credited as the creator of the official ‘teatime’ for the upper classes. During the middle of the eighteenth century, dinner changed from midday to what was considered a more fashionable evening meal. Due to the change in dining habits, the Duchess, and I expect many other ladies, became rather peckish in the afternoon. It should be noted that during this period only two main meals were eaten each day.

Scones by Beth!

Initially, the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few “breadstuffs” when she became hungry. Clearly the Duchess tired of this and decided to adopt the European tea service format. So she wouldn’t have to eat alone, she invited friends to join her for afternoon tea at her castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea.

This practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she went to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and a walking in the fields.” The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other society hostesses.

Fancy finger sandwiches served on my Nan’s silverware.

It was around this time that our old friend, and previously discussed, John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, had the idea of placing meat and other fillings between two slices of bread. Thus, the High Tea sandwich was created.

For the Leisure Classes, High Tea served a practical purpose, allowing Ladies and Gentleman the opportunity of a meal before attending the theatre, or playing cards.

As for now, well – it’s nice to at least pretend we’re classy every once and awhile, isn’t it?

Macarons by Aaron and Teabag Biscuits by Sally. Both were AMAZING.

In closing, here is a nifty little list on Tea Etiquette:

  • Pick up your cup and saucer together, holding the saucer in one hand and the cup in the other. Despite popular belief, it is not polite, nor traditional to raise your pinky
  • When stirring your tea, avoid making noises by touching the sides of the cup.
  • Never leave your spoon in the cup, and avoid sipping tea from your spoon.
  • Milk should be poured into the cup after the tea.
  • Lemon slices should be neatly placed in the teacup after tea has been poured.
  • Never add lemon with milk, as the citric acid will cause the milk to curdle
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The History of the Macaron


Greetings, food history lovers!

Welcome to my first installment of  the High Tea Special that I promised in my Earl Grey post. If you may remember, I’m doing this in conjunction with a High Tea for Habitat that I’m hosting this Saturday.

Today we’re going to be looking into the history of the macaron – a magically delicious French biscuit that is typically filled with a rich ganache. Are you as excited as I am?

Macarons are typically known as being traditional French biscuits, however, evidence suggests that they actually originated in Italy and were introduced to France when Catherine de’Medici married King Henry II in 1543. When she moved to France, it is believed that she brought along her cooks and bakers and introduced a variety of pastries to the French.

If you haven’t heard of the name de’Medici, I highly recommend that you read up on them. They’re one of the original bad ass Italian crime families.

A delicious selection of macarons that I would dearly love to shove in my mouth right now.

Interestingly, the Italian origin of the Macaron can actually be found within the name itself. You may have noticed that it is incredibly similar to macaroni, and this is no coincidence.  To quote the Men in Black 3 ballad by Pitball, “To understand the future, you gotta go back in time.” As such, this etymology-rich section of the tale begins in 827 when Arab troops from Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia) landed in Sicily, establishing a Muslim emirate that introduced many new foods to Europe.

Along with lemons, rice and pistachios,  the Arabs also brought a rich repertoire of nut-based sweets, including almond paste candies wrapped in dough. Those familiar with macaron creation will already know that ground almonds or almond power are a key ingredient to the biscuits.

Another important Sicilian food tradition at this time was of course pasta, and it managed to merge with the almond tradition, resulting in foods with characteristics of both. Early pastas were often sweet, and could be fried or baked, as well as boiled. Many recipes from this period have both savory cheese and a sweet almond-paste versions. Their primary purpose was to be foods appropriate for Lent. For example, the almond pastry caliscioni had both almond and cheese variations, and was the ancestor of the calzone.

Out of this culinary morass arose the word maccarruni, the Sicilian ancestor of our modern words macaroni, macaroon, and macaron. We don’t know whether maccarruni came from Arabic or derives from another Italian dialect word. But like other dough products of the period, it’s probable that the word maccarruni referred to two distinct but similar sweet, doughy foods, one resembling gnocchi, and the other more like marzipan.

With the etymology lesson behind us, let’s fast forward to 1792. Despite the introduction of the macaron to France some two centuries earlier, it only gained fame when two Carmelite nuns baked and sold them in order to support themselves during the French Revolution. These macarons were a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar. No flavours. No filling.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that we saw the creation of the modern-day macaron by Pierre Desfontaines. He was the pastry chef and owner of the Parisian café, Ladurée. He decided to take two macarons and fill them with ganache, and it was an instant success. Today, Ladurée continues to be at the forefront of macaron creation and distribution. No longer a humble almond cookie, the macaron has transformed into a versatile treat, coming in a variety of colours and flavours. With each new season, Ladurée pays tribute to its most famous creation by inventing a new flavour.

In recent years, macarons have gained in popularity world-wide. Any self-respecting and trendy cafe or bakery have them on offer. Ladurée itself has gone global, its most recent cafe opening in Sydney.

Before I finish, I should probably point out that macarons are not to be confused with macaroons. Let’s examine the differences

Macaron

The shells are often made of egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food coloring and usually filled with a flavored buttercream, ganache or jam.

A delicious chocolate Macaron

Macaroon
Macaroons also call for egg whites in addition to ground or powdered nuts or coconut. They look a little something like this:

A Macaroon – it looks just a tad different

In closing, I propose an important philosophical question – What is your favourite macaron flavour?

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