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 Wedding Cake: A History


Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a couple of close friends from highschool. It got me thinking about wedding traditions, particularly the wedding cake. I thought that it would be interesting to explore the its origin, and how it has developed throughout history.

The original concept for the wedding cake can be found in the ancient Roman Empire. Unlike the sweet and heavily iced cakes of the 21st century, these were made of whole wheat flour. Although the preparation and decoration of the cakes was vastly different at this time, it still enjoyed the same attention and focus.

There are some curious wedding cake customs that are now long forgotten. Let’s just say that they are somewhat more eccentric than merely witnessing the newly weds cut the cake together…

For example, the aforementioned ancient bread cake was broken into small pieces over the bride’s head. Upon completing this ritual, guests would eat the pieces, as it was considered it to be a good omen. Can I just say that nobody better try this on my wedding day. I’m not getting up at 5am for styling just to have it turned into bread-hair.

From Medieval England, there are accounts of a custom that involved placing large amounts of sweet buns in front of the newly weds who would then attempt to kiss over the pile. If they were successful, it was considered as a sign that the couple would bear many children. This obsession with child-bearing also explains why fruit cake eventually became traditional at weddings – they were a sign of fertility and prosperity.

Always Impressive – The Croquembouche

Interestingly, the tradition of the sweet bun pile also unwittingly gave birth to a famous delicacy. It is said that a French pastry chef witnessed this custom in England and was inspired thusly to create the Croquembouche – a French wedding cake made out of a tower of profiteroles, topped with a halo of spun sugar. It was to become the signiature French wedding cake…as well as an elimination challenge in every season of Master Chef.

Around late 17th century, the wedding cake came to be known as the bride’s pie. Generally, they were mince pies made from sugary sweet breads. Every wedding guest was expected to eat a piece as it was considered both rude as well as extremely bad luck not to do so. A glass ring was hidden inside the pie, and it was believed that the female guest who found it would be the next one to be wed. This is of course reminiscent of the modern tradition of catching the bouquet.

Another interesting tradition from the 17th century was keeping a piece of cake under an unwed girl’s pillow. The custom was to break the cake into tiny pieces, which then were passed through the bride’s wedding ring. These pieces were then offered to the female guests to be placed under their pillows. By following this ritual, it was believed that they would dream of their future husband.

The 17th century also gave birth to the tradition of having two cakes – the bride’s and the groom’s. Personally, I was under the impression that this was a relatively new concept that allowed modern grooms to have a cake that wasn’t horrifyingly girly. Alas, it’s origins can be found in history.

A somewhat more…modern wedding cake.

Traditionally, the groom’s cake was a dark coloured fruit cake and was quite small in size. Comparatively, the bride’s was a simple, but large pound cake with white icing, which was used to symbolize virginity and purity.

It was during the 19th century that the groom’s cake began to disappear, as the bride’s was becoming more popular. This was largely due to sugar becoming more easily obtainable. However, this sweet commodity was still expensive and as such, only wealthy families could afford to have pure white icing. Consequently, it became something of a status symbol. This was proven only further when white icing was dubbed ‘royal icing’ after Queen Victoria used it for her own wedding cake.

The modern wedding cake, as we know it, originated from the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. He was married in 1882 and his cake was the first in recorded history to be completely edible. It was baked in separate layers and contained very dense icing. When the icing hardened the tiers were then stacked together – a groundbreaking innovation that had never been used before. Modern wedding cakes still use this method, but because of their size, internal support is sometimes added to each layer in the form of dowels.

So there you have it, a very brief history of the wedding cake. I must say that I had a fantastic time researching this topic – there were far more interesting and quirky anecdotes than I expected. In light of modern cakes being so versatile, and more of a reflection of the couple’s personalities, it was fascinating to discover the origins and long dead traditions of yesteryear.

In finishing, I’d like to thank Ryan and Tara for being the inspiration for this post. I know you’re going to have a wonderful (and hopefully cake-filled) life together.

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to hear it in your earbuds? If so, I humbly ask you to take the time to donate $1 to the Delicious History Podcast Project.Only $500 is needed make this dream a reality, and all donations over $10 receive a reward! 

Death by Chocolate – Hitler’s Camouflaged Bomb Plot


A big thanks to Katie for bringing this story to my attention. I majored in WWII History at uni, and my waist line currently majors in chocolate, so this is the perfect topic for me to discuss.

Newly uncovered WWII documents reveal that the Nazis were plotting to assassinate Winston Churchill with a bomb disguised as a chocolate bar. The plan was to coat the explosives with a thin layer of dark chocolate and then package them as ‘Peter’s’ branded chocolate bars. The idea was to have them smuggled into the War Cabinet’s dining room where Churchill and other important members of parliament would often meet. The device was designed to explode seven seconds after being unwrapped, killing everyone within a few metres of the sweet and sugary impact. The theory behind this plot was to exploit the Prime Minister’s weakness for chocolate.

1920’s Peter’s chocolate bar wrapper. Photo courtesy of The Candy Wrapper Archive.

Unfortunately for the Nazis, it wasn’t just their chocolate that was foiled. British spies discovered the plot and quickly warned one of MI5’s most senior intelligence chiefs – Lord Victor Rothschild. He proceeded to alert the nation and advised them to look out for exploding candy bars. He even had an illustrator friend, Laurence Fish, draw up pictures of the bars so he could distribute them amongst the public. Interestingly, Fish’s wife found the correspondence between her husband and Rothschild in 2009. The letter was dated May 4, 1943 and was marked ‘secret’. It detailed the German plot and supposedly included a rather poor drawing of the device by Rothschild.

Suffice to say, with the plot made public, there were no chocolate bombs exploding in parliament.

A little research on my behalf also revealed that chocolate wasn’t the only item that the Nazis were planning on using to disguise explosives. German saboteurs also utilized tinned plums, throat lozenges, shaving brushes, batteries, wood, and my personal favourite – stuffed dogs. I can’t imagine how the latter would even work.

I’d like to finish by thanking everyone who contacted me after my Darrell Lea article. It was incredibly touching and I very much appreciated it.

Have a lovely Thursday!

Tealicious History: Earl Grey


I’ve always considered myself to be a tea drinker. With an incredibly British grandmother and a relatively British mother, I don’t think I ever had a choice in the matter. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good coffee, but I see it as something that lights up the nerve endings in my brain in the morning. It enables me to face the day in something other than an incoherent zombie-like state. But tea? To me it is the ultimate comfort drink. It’s an old friend that warms the body and soul and always cures what ails you.

A Shit Day at Work? Tea
Head Cold? Lemon and Honey Tea
Heartbreak? Tea
Upset Stomach? Ginger Tea
Natural Disaster? Tea
Apocalypse? Tea…with a shot of rum.

I once read a story about a woman who was shot in the head in her home. Miraculously, she was hit at such an angle that she was able to make herself a cup of tea whilst waiting for the police. I was always horrified by this prospect.  Not due to the brutality of the crime, but because I knew that this is exactly what the women of my family would do, including me.

Tea fixes everything.

I adore Earl Grey in particular. Nothing makes me happier than writing my blog whilst sipping on that wonderfully scented brew. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of trying it, Earl Grey is an intoxicating blend of black tea infused with the oil of bergamot, an Italian orange. It gives it a lovely zesty aroma and taste that I find enchanting.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares my correct opinion. I have heard my beloved Earl Grey described as tasting like dirty dish water mixed with detergent by the boyfriend some. Well to him those people I quite intelligently retort – Your face tastes like dirty dish water mixed with detergent. Yeah, take that.

The actual Earl Grey. He, unlike the tea, doesn’t look particularly appetising

So, who was Earl Grey and why on earth did he have a tea named after him? True to form, there are conflicting historical tales.

Charles Grey was the 2nd Earl of Grey and British Prime Minister between 1930 and 1834. He is still renowned for being one of the primary architects of the 1832 Reform Act. This act introduced a wide range of beneficial changes to the electoral systems in England and Wales.

The Grey family state that the tea was specially blended by a Chinese Mandarin for the Earl. Legend has it that it was made with bergamot oil to compliment the water on the Earl’s estate, which is said to have had a hint of lime to it.

Some believe that in 1803 one of the Earl’s men saved the aforementioned Mandarin’s son from drowning. He then showed his appreciation by presenting the Earl with the tea as a gift. However, bergamot oil wasn’t present in China at the time, and nor was the Earl. A far more likely story is that the Earl was presented with the tea by an envoy upon returning from a routine trip to China.

The belief in this origin story is universal, unless of you ask Twinings. Their website claims that they themselves developed it and named it after the Earl. Conveniently enough there is no explanation as to why. Every historian knows that it’s those who hold power that decide what version of history will be considered as truth, and this is no different, albeit on quite a small scale.

The tea rose in popularity due to Lady Grey, as she often used it to entertain guests in London. Others wished to purchase the tea and this is where Twinings most definitely became involved. They began mass producing the tea on a large scale and it quickly became a household name. Unfortunately for the Greys, they didn’t have the forethought to register the trademark. Subsequently, neither they nor their ancestors received any royalties from the sales of Earl or Lady Grey tea.

Because I’m sure you don’t know what tea looks like

For those who haven’t heard of Lady Grey, it was developed by Twinings and named after Lady Elizabeth Grey. It is far more delicate and fragrant than her husband’s counterpart. In addition to the bergamot oil, it contains both lemon and orange peel. I find it to have quite a flowery aroma and a very sweet taste.

Earl Grey has remained popular throughout the years and is used quite often in cooking and baking. I’ve personally tried Earl Grey flavoured macaroons and chocolate and they were both delicious.

I’d like to thank the lovely Katie for requesting this topic. As a result, I have decided to not only write about other teas, but to start an entire series on High Tea. I’ll most likely roll this out in September so it will coincide with  one of Habitat for Humanity’s annual events – High Tea for Habitat. It’s a fantastic and delicious way to raise money for a great cause. I urge you all to get a group together and participate. More info can be found at http://www.habitat.org.au/hightea.

Please leave a comment if you have a favourite tea that you would like me to explore the origins of. I absolutely love taking requests. Yes mum, I will definitely write about Russian Caravan for you.

Have a lovely weekend!

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to hear it in your earbuds? If so, I humbly ask you to take the time to donate $1 to the Delicious History Podcast Project.Only $500 is needed make this dream a reality, and all donations over $10 receive a reward! 

The Tale of the Oldest Surviving Whiskey


Happy Monday everybody!

I thought it would be quite fun to kick off the week with some alcohol! Isn’t that how everybody starts their Monday mornings? I kid, I kid. I am of course referring to an alcohol related topic and definitely not the hip flask I keep in my office desk.

Today we’re delving into the discovery of the oldest surviving whiskey to date. It’s really quite fascinating and I expect it will hold the interest of all of you booze hounds who are only here because of the ‘whiskey’ subject tag.

Our tale starts in 1907 with the Nimrod expedition to Antarctica by well renowned and respected explorer Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton was a principal figure in what is quite grandly referred to as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He was considered to be a hero by his contemporaries and was appointed as a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by King Edward VII. On a darker note, he also became increasingly well known for his alcoholism, particularly during World War I.

Shackleton clearly qualifies for the Historical Hotties list I run on Twitter and Pinterest

This was not Shackleton’s first time to the Antarctic. He was an experienced explorer and as such, knew the important provisions that were needed. Some of these included pickled herrings, mulligatawny soup, gooseberry jam, and marmalade. My mother always told me never to travel without a spare change of underwear and a large jar of gooseberry jam.

We have missed one provision though. Most importantly of all, Shackleton and his men required an impressive 25 cases of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey for those cold and lonely nights in the Antarctic. Furthermore, he ordered them with commemorative labels that were custom made for his expedition. Shackleton clearly knew how to party.

The exploration team spent two years in the Antarctic and managed to get as close to the south pole as any explorer had up until that point in time. However, despite this great feat, it seems that the men were absolute light weights because they left five crates of alcohol behind. For shame!

Shackleton’s whisky was forgotten until 2006, when conservators from the Antarctic Heritage Foundation found the five lost crates beneath Shackleton’s hut. Conservators spent a gruelling three years chipping away at a century of ice before they successfully rescued three of the crates.

The whiskey was subjected to a wide array of tests by chemists at Whyte & Mackay’s Invergordon distillery, with input from analysts at the Scotch Whiskey Research Institute in Edinburgh. Under sterile conditions, a sampling needle was passed through the cork of each bottle to remove a 100ml sample. Analysis revealed, amongst many other things, that the whisky was incredibly well-preserved and that the alcohol content stood at 47.3% – high enough to stop it from freezing. Another fascinating revelation was that the whisky was made with water from Loch Ness and peat from the Orkney Isles.

One of Shackleton’s original bottles – Only a select few have tasted the 116 year old whiskey, all in the name of science. And probably for the bragging rights.

I hope you didn’t think that was the end of the tale, because the plot thickens! Whyte and Mackay had an ulterior motive for having the whisky tested. Not only were they interested in the history of whisky making, they had every intention of attempting to remake the whisky for the modern-day market!

From the test results, master distiller, Richard Paterson managed to blend a number of concoctions similar to Shackleton’s whiskey. The final blend was then subjected to the same analysis as the original whiskey to check for authenticity.

The successful remake is now available in stores under the name ‘Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey.’ If you were thinking of tracking down some of these bad boys you will want to have a delicate palate and a healthy bank account because it’s going to set you back AU$199.99. Per bottle.

As a final note of interest – The bottles that travelled to Scotland for analysis will soon be returned to Shackleton’s hut for conservation purposes. For those who were paying close attention, you may have noticed that I only mentioned three of the five crates being recused from the Antarctic ice. Fortunately for us, the other two weren’t damaged or lost, they are still buried beneath in the ice. The label on these crates state that they are brandy, and they are yet to be analysed. Watch this space for further updates.