myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

National Parks Edition: Wilderness Survival

No, we are not talking about lichens and water purification products for when you are inadvertently lost hiking in Sherwood Forest.

This is a much more realistic challenge: Finding something decent to eat when visiting the National Parks, never what anyone would consider foodie meccas, but surprisingly good if you order well.

Having recently visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, myMEGusta found quite a bit of better than average eats in and near them. But, unlike when visiting a national treasure like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, or the panda preserve in Chengdu, China, eating well required a little effort.

Kuributa Long Bone Pork Chop at Local, Jackson Hole

Kuributa Long Bone Pork Chop at Local, Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole, WY, considered a gateway city for these parks, and also a mecca for moneyed skiers (the international airport in this little burg fills up with private jets every winter), provided an encouraging start to the journey. Of course, being a normal town, nothing there was under the auspices of the National Park Service (Happy 100th Birthday!) concessionaires, and restaurants ranged from frighteningly pedestrian looking to really excellent.

Local, a restaurant focused on fresh local ingredients, is a case in point. http://localjh.com/ After a terrific lunch of smoked local trout Salad Nicoise (the inspiration for September 8th’s posting), myMEGusta went out for a short (that’s all there are in Jackson Hole) stroll, and stumbled upon Local’s retail butcher shop, more of a little deli/take-out joint, but interesting all the same. Sitting in the case were the most gorgeous pork rib chops she has seen outside of Europe: Relatively small in diameter, cut thick, a deep red hue.

Local Butcher Shop

Local Butcher Shop

Of course, that meant getting a reservation to go back for dinner, and it was one of the best meals of the trip: Snake River Farm Kuributa Long Bone Pork Chop with a Bourbon Glaze over Roasted Peaches. A breed of Berkshire pig, this specific one from the Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, also known as “Kagoshima black pig”. http://www.snakeriverfarms.com/ The watermelon salad, graciously served as a half portion, was terrific, too.

Watermelon Salad

Watermelon Salad

Tempted to go back the next day for a third round, myMEGusta chose instead the local “hot” restaurant, the Snake River Grill. They somehow managed to overcook and underseason locally farmed Snake River Rainbow Trout, something to write home about, but not in a good way.

The good news was that fresh grilled trout was ubiquitous in the park lodge restaurants, and considerably better at every other attempt, including the second one at Jackson Hole’s Wort Hotel,     http://www.worthotel.com/ , where it was delicious.

Another highlight was at the Jackson Lake Lodge http://www.gtlc.com/dining in Grand Teton National Park: Colorado Rack of Lamb. There was nothing fancy about this: Two perfectly cooked (medium rare, as requested), extremely flavored chops (a “just right” portion). Most lamb sold in the US is from Australia and New Zealand (both excellent, by the way), so it was a real treat to have American lamb, outrageously expensive on the East Coast.

Partridge was another treat at the Jackson Lake Lodge. Not an easy bird to cook, it tends to dry out quickly, so its juicy, perfectly cooked texture was a pleasant surprise.

The real wilderness “win” was the bison burgers, found everywhere and lean, but still juicy, when ordered medium rare. We were advised by a local authority that it’s really hybridized beefalo, which is fine, and makes sense given that bison (what are often referred to as buffalo) are wild, dangerous animals, not realistic for domestication.

Wild Bison at Yellowstone National Park

Wild Bison at Yellowstone National Park

Another pleasant and reliable dish is plain old chili (think cowboys around a chuck wagon campfire). The version I tasted in the Prospector Restaurant in Cooke City, Montana http://cookecity.net/webcams/ was a fresh, flavorful beef/bean concoction (and the side of Tabasco made it chili-like). What would have gotten sent back in Austin, TX, was a good lunch in the Wild West.

One thing myMEGusta had eaten, but never really ordered, is Buffalo Wings. Deciding with trip companions to have appetizers in the bar rather than crossing over to the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge dining room, she chose the wings, beautifully enough presented and golden brown enough for passers-by to stop at the table and comment. Pretty good for “defensive dining,”

Moving East, the Jordan Pond House at Acadia National Park used to serve fantastic steamed lobster and was famous for its popovers, a perfect snack after hiking. Readers who have visited in recent years can weigh in on whether or not these treats still exist.

The bottom line is, keep it simple and local, and you’ll up your chances of eating well.

And, speaking of treats, the moose shaped butter pats and moose motif waffles at Jackson Lake Lodge were silly but fun!

Moose Motif Waffles

Moose Motif Waffles

Moose Shaped Butter Pats

Moose Shaped Butter Pats

What’s So Nice About Salade Nicoise?

It started off simply enough: A cold dish of oil packed canned tuna from the Mediterranean garnished with tomatoes, anchovies, hard boiled eggs, and, of course, tiny, briny Nicoise olives. Some chefs included red peppers, shallots and artichoke hearts, and it usually arrived on a bed of greens, all dressed in a light vinaigrette.

While myMEGusta is usually all in favor of “truth in menu”, the ubiquitous Salade Nicoise we see today has strayed so far from its origins that it hardly matters any more. This is one item where you really do have to read the menu description in detail to avoid surprises.

Salade Nicoise

Salade Nicoise

For example, you rarely see the red peppers, shallots and artichokes now. Chefs often bow to consumer qualms and leave out the anchovies. On the other hand, it always arrives with cooked potatoes, usually with cooked green beans as well, despite an early historical reference to “no cooked vegetables.” All to the good, if you ask me. Even better when they eliminate the hard boiled eggs.

So, what happened here?

Having originated in, or been named for,  the French city of Nice, sadly the scene of a recent tragedy, this dish represents the tastes of the Mediterranean. Julia Child can be credited with really popularizing it in the United States, and her preparation used potatoes and green beans. This leads myMEGusta to believe that her version was served in plenty of French restaurants and homes, and, while not historically perfect, a very accurate rendition of what real people were eating and enjoying in her days there.

French Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

French Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Not so long ago, really good canned tuna was appreciated by everyone, and you’ll still find it in gourmet shops everywhere. Now, this is neither the virtuous water packed albacore which most people seek out today for their mayonnaise laden tuna salads, nor it is packed in insipid mystery oil that needs to be washed off before using. Oh, no, this tuna is packed in top quality extra virgin olive oil, and that olive oil goes straight to the plate to be sopped with crusty bread, or made into a vinaigrette.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to find a Salade Nicoise made with seared yellowfin tuna. By the way, this makes for a really excellent dish.

Salade Nicoise with Seared Tuna

Salade Nicoise with Seared Tuna

In as unlikely a spot as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, myMEGusta recently enjoyed a so-called Salade Nicoise made with excellent Idaho Rainbow Trout, smoked in house, accompanied by crunchy green beans, purple potatoes, house cured pork belly, and crisped onions, all in a light mustard mayonnaise dressing.

Salade Nicoise with Smoked Rainbow Trout

Salade Nicoise with Smoked Rainbow Trout

The restaurant is called “Local”, http://localjh.com/ , and this is what we call good cowboy dining!

Finding A Date In London

Fresh Dates

Fresh Dates

Harrods food halls in London are a wonderful place to wander and admire all sorts of beautiful food displays, truly the world at your fingertips with absolutely gorgeous everything. On a recent trip to London, myMEGusta saw, for the first time, freshly picked dates sitting in the fruit bin.

Harrods Date Selection

Harrods Date Selection

Next to them sat a huge array of the more common, slightly dried dates “au naturel”, and then there was a selection of specialty dates, for example, chocolate covered.

Chocolate Covered Dates

Chocolate Covered Dates

(Having just come from a delish brunch, and anticipating a substantial dinner in a few hours, myMEGusta passed on buying any to taste, a mistake, as they would have been a good airplane snack the next day.)

Date Bars

Date Bars

Dates are intensely sweet, and not to everyone’s taste. They show up in American standards, like date bars and date cakes, and, in the Middle East, in main courses, such as in orange/date salad, lamb tagines or chicken with dates.

The palm trees that produce dates also yield a very sweet sap.

Date Palm

Date Palm

This is used in India and Myanmar to make jaggery, a type of dark sugar common in their cuisines, but rarely seen elsewhere. On a trip to Myanmar several years ago, myMEGusta stopped at a date palm farm, with tapped trees and a very potent date jaggery based spirit for sampling (oh, my!) and sale (nope!).

Jaggery

Jaggery

It is believed that date cultivation began eons ago, documented as early as 6,000 BC in what is now Iraq, and most of the world’s dates come from the Middle East. Introduced to the New World by the Spaniards, dates are still cultivated in in the Palm Springs, CA, area.

It is amusing that, according to the PR folks, “(California’s) Coachella Velley is the ‘Date Capital of the World’, as palm groves have thrived here since the 1800’s”, when the United States doesn’t even make it into the Top 10 date producing countries. But, all that said, myMEGusta will definitely make a point to seek out date shakes and date ice cream next time she is in that area of Southern California!

Date Shakes

Date Shakes

Date Ice Cream

Portugal’s Alentejo Region and a Porky Treat

It’s fun to travel on well beaten paths, to those places in the world where there is little not to like, and where there is plenty to see and do between extraordinary meals. But, it’s also fun to get off of that route, into places where “nobody” goes, that is, nobody other than people in the know. One of these areas is the Alentejo Region, a mere couple of hours away from Lisbon by car (on good roads), known as the breadbasket of Portugal.

Vila Vicosa's Convent, now a Pousada, next door to the Castle

Vila Vicosa’s Convent, now a Pousada, next door to the Castle

Recommended to myMEGusta by author Jean Anderson (The Food of Portugal, and numerous other books and articles including http://www.saveur.com/article/travels/the-food-of-alentejo-portugal ), Alentejo was a treasure trove of good eats and beautiful sights.

The Alentejo is a large (for Portugal) expanse of land east of Lisbon, traditionally a not-so-wealthy agricultural area, studded with ancient fortified hilltop castles and convents, many of which have been converted to “pousadas”, country inns in varying levels of luxury. The European Union’s funding of major highways make it easily accessible, and GPS is a good friend in navigating the back roads and byways.

It is the home of Porco Preto, the local breed of black pigs who spend their lives roaming around eating ample portions of acorns, and their rich, flavorful meat is a fixture on menus throughout the region.

View from lunch at Herdade do Grous Winery

View from lunch at Herdade do Grous Winery

As in other wine districts around the world, investors have created star worthy restaurants and elaborate estates amongst the vineyards here. Two particularly memorable lunches were at the Herdade do Esporao and Herdade do Grous. Speaking of porco preto, the star of lunch at Esporao was porco preto three ways: Roasted shoulder (like suckling pig), fork tender loin cooked sous vide, and slow cooked, then crisped, pork belly, garnished with their garden vegetables.

Porco Preto Three Ways at Herdade de Esporao

Porco Preto Three Ways at Herdade do Esporao

Some of the most memorable dining was in little village spots. One tiny place in Evora, every table taken by locals, did not have the most elegant of cuisines, but their pork cheeks in red wine were like the best beef bourguignon, although the sauce was richer (Thank you, big Alentejo reds!) and the meat totally succulent. The sign read (translated): “We may not have a Michelin star, but we have the best pork cheeks in the world.”

Pork Cheeks in Evora

Pork Cheeks at Sao Domingos in Evora

Pork “Alentejo style” – chunks with clams, cilantro and garlic – is also ubiquitous, although myMEGusta has to admit that a recent sampling of this dish at Ipanema Restaurant in Manhattan was at least as good as she had in the region. Although the piggy was surely a standard US breed, the amazing flavor was probably due to the pork shoulder having marinated for a very long time in garlic. The accompanying black beans and rice were a reminder that this was a Brazilian, not Portuguese, restaurant.

Alentejo Style Pork and Clams with Garlic and Cilantro

Alentejo Style Pork and Clams with Garlic and Cilantro

Preserved porco preto, like a good jamon Iberico or prosciutto, usually appeared as a “cover” (amuse bouche for which one is charged) at lunch and dinner, a perfect preliminary for any meal.

A few thin slices between crisp bread slices was also a great way to start the day.

Breakfast in Alentejo!

Breakfast in Alentejo!

More on beautiful Portugal in future postings!

Pass The Buckwheat!

Buckwheat On The Hoof

Buckwheat On The Hoof

It’s not wheat at all, not even vaguely related to the grain, other than by its misnomer, nor is it even a grass.

Buckwheat Kernels

Buckwheat Kernels

Believed to have first been cultivated in China, buckwheat spread eastward to Japan, and westward to Russia and the Middle East, before eventually coming to Europe and the Americas.

The most familiar buckwheat dish in the United States is buckwheat pancakes, a perfect breakfast served simply au naturel or with a little maple syrup and butter.

Blini With Salmon Caviar

Blini With Salmon Caviar

One close relative is the authentic Russian blini made with buckwheat flour (perhaps mixed with wheat flour), delightful paired with caviar, particularly red (salmon) caviar or smoked salmon, and a dot of sour cream. (By the way, inauthentic blini, made with wheat flour alone, are not bad at all!)

Another is the French crepe, particularly popular in Brittany, and usually served with savory filllings like ham and cheese. Watch for the French word, sarrasin, on the menu for this treat. To read more, check out “A Crepe-s Salute to Bastille Day”  http://wp.me/p1VQOz-of .

Pizzoccheri

Pizzoccheri

A relatively obscure dish from Northern Italy is Pizzoccheri, buckwheat noodles, often cooked with Swiss chard or cabbage, potatoes and cheeses, Taleggio and/or Fontina and Parmesan. Recipes abound on line, each reflecting someone’s grandmother’s approach, all in varying degrees of deliciousness.

Dried Soba

Dried Soba

But, making buckwheat noodles is not easy, so myMEGusta suggests taking a shortcut by way of Japan, substituting dried Japanese soba noodles, broken into shorter pieces rather than in long strands.

Japanese soba is a myMEGusta favorite, whether hot in a soup or cold with a dipping sauce, perfect on a hot summer day. Both are traditionally served with garnishes, like wild mushrooms or tempura for hot soup or grated yam or nori seaweed for cold. In a really authentic setting, the waiter brings a pitcher of hot buckwheat broth at the end of a cold soba meal to mix with, and be sipped, with the remaining dipping sauce.

Cold Soba With Grated Yam and Dipping Sauce

Cold Soba With Grated Yam and Dipping Sauce

Hot Soba With Wild Mushrooms

Hot Soba With Wild Mushrooms

A favorite Manhattan destination for authentic Japanese soba is Soba Nippon, sister restaurant of Nippon, a few doors away, owned by a soba aficionado who has his own buckwheat farm in Montreal, Canada. The noodles are made twice daily at Nippon, losing nothing in the translation as they cross Fifth Avenue.

Buckwheat is a great gluten free food for people with Celiac disease, but read the label on any prepared food, or ask in a restaurant, as it could contain a mixture with regular wheat flour, as most soba noodles (including Soba Nippon) do.

Happy Bastille Day, July 14! Have a Macaroon!

Macaroons at Dalloyau in Paris

Macaroons at Dalloyau in Paris

Pretend you are sitting with your morning coffee at the wonderful Dalloyau in Paris, enjoying the complimentary macaroon that arrives with it as you gaze at the Jardin de Luxembourg.

 

Or, you are in the countryside, wandering through the old city of Dole in the Jura region in the foothills of the Alps, and stop into a little patisserie to indulge in an afternoon snack of a colorful little bite.

Macaroons at a Patisserie in Dole, Jura, France

Macaroons at a Patisserie in Dole, Jura, France

 

French macaroons have come to the forefront as a major international treat. Once obscure, they are now well known (and loved) enough to be appearing in an ad for Fios, the fiber-optic utility. Creative chefs, particularly caterers, are having fun creating macaroon lollipops and decorating cakes with them.

 

Macaroon Wedding Cake

Macaroon Wedding Cake

On a recent episode of Hell’s Kitchen, the losing team made a “mountain of macaroons” for a wedding reception (while the winners flew off for a night of fun in Las Vegas). Another example of macaroons’ trendiness was appearing after an exquisitely prepared, set menu at Hakkasan, a superb Chinese restaurant in London (and New York); the green tea, pistachio and chocolate treats were tasty, but felt out of place, although house-made macaroons appear on the regular dessert menu.

Macaroon Lollipops

Macaroon Lollipops

 

The name, “macaroon” derives from the Italian “maccarone”, or paste, the same root as “macaroni” (flour paste rather than nut paste). The newly modish French macaroon is made with ground almonds (plus beaten egg whites and sugar) and stuffed, like an Oreo.

 

The macaroons many of us grew up with, the English version and myMEGusta’s favorite, are coarser, made with coconut, and normally served “au naturel,” although sometimes made with, or dipped in, chocolate.

Coconut Macaroons

Coconut Macaroons

Even on Bastille Day, myMEGusta would take the coconut, but would hardly be unhappy with the colorful French style!

Macaroons!

Macaroons!

 

Finns’ Huckleberries

July is National Blueberry Month in Finland!

Visiting Helsinki in July 2015, my MEGusta encountered a plethora of street vendors and beautiful, beautiful blueberries.Blueberries Helsinki July 2015

One fascinating thing about this city was that only fresh, seasonal produce was sold on the streets. Berry and pea stands popped up on every corner, not to mention dominating the market squares. Of course, the supermarkets carried just about everything, but the streets were dressed in a celebration of seasonal abundance.

Not tempted to indulge in market pastries and other such breakfast goodies due to the “free” (and good) buffet at the hotel, myMEGusta strolled there every morning anyhow to snag fresh berries, which she would wash and tote to the dining room to enhance whatever else she was eating.

Blueberries and Strawberries

Blueberries and Strawberries

Berries were labeled by origin, and Finland (Suomi) appeared to dominate the blueberry suppliers, although there was signage for Spain as well (although probably referring to strawberries).

Blueberries and huckleberries are scientifically distinct species, however the term is often used interchangeably, particularly when the menu writer wants to make a dessert sound sexier than a variation on breakfast fruit.

Native to North America, blueberries are now cultivated world over, including in Europe, where they are more popular than similar, but unrelated, natives. Why? Who knows, but it may have to do with the ease of cultivation of the American fruit.

Cultivated and Wild Blueberries

Cultivated and Wild Blueberries

The Finnish consumer could choose between the familiar, slightly larger, sweeter cultivated blueberry and the tarter little wild berries, something we only encounter if we live near a patch. The latter make the best pies, jams and such, more flavorful than the commercial berries with the extra acidity offset with sugar.

So Easy Blueberry Pecan Crunch

So Easy Blueberry Pecan Crunch

Check this link for an excellent recipe, Jean Anderson’s So Easy Blueberry Pecan Crunch from her latest book, “Crisps, Cobblers, Custards & Creams” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). You will enjoy reading the article, too!

http://www.newsobserver.com/living/food-drink/article84998952.html#emlnl=morning_newsletter

A taste of blueberries came recently at Wallse, an Austrian restaurant in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village: A blueberry compote hidden under clouds of meringue in their outstanding Salzburger Nockerl, whose name derives from the Italian “gnocchi”, for the dumpling-like beaten egg whites. (Long time readers of myMEGusta.com may recall the story of another meringue dessert, Floating Island : https://mymegusta.com/2014/02/19/least-favorite-food-most-favorite-dessert/ )

Salzburger Nockerl

Salzburger Nockerl

Restaurants for Literally Great Food

One of myMEGusta’s favorite things is to find historically significant restaurants which have kept their character and not turned into tourist traps. It is especially fun when they not only played a role in real life, but when they have turned up in historical fiction, whether written, televised or in films.

restaurants casino royaleDuring a recent drive in seaside Estoril, Portugal, we went by the Casino at a distance. “So what”, said myMEGusta to herself, then the guide explained that this little seaside city played a big role in World War II, when Portugal was neutral, and this was a hotbed for spies and other action. Ian Fleming was among the players, and this Casino was the model for Casino Royale, the first of the James Bond novels. We will speculate that the food there was (and is) expensive and fancy, but not designed to distract the guests from the business at hand (losing their money).

After numerous visits over many years, Rules (allegedly the oldest restaurant in London, established in 1798, and close to Covent Garden, home of the Royal Opera) is still a myMEGusta favorite. It’s the place for traditional British food, perfectly prepared to old standards, set in surroundings that never change, and just as elegant as when Downton Abbey characters went there on several occasions in the 1920s.

Suckling Pig at Rules

Suckling Pig at Rules

On a recent visit, myMEGusta enjoyed a perfect portion of suckling pig, the skin crackling (and not at all chewy) atop fork tender meat, served with applesauce and a little salad on the side. She watched people at the next table tucking into what appeared to be steak and kidney pie, not exactly what it looks like in your average pub.

Speaking again of suckling pig, when reading “The Heart has Its Reasons” by Maria Duenas, myMEGusta found herself at Madrid’s Casa Botin, supposedly the world’s oldest restaurant (established in 1725) where the specialty is little piggy as well as roasted baby lamb. This venerable institution also appears in “The Sun Also Rises” and other literary works too numerous to mention.

Botin

Botin

During a visit in the 1990s, myMEGusta was able to wheedle a look into the room where Casa Botin’s roasts sit after coming out of the giant wood burning oven, awaiting delivery to the hungry patrons. Her 2013 piggy portion was just as good as remembered. The gazpacho, a perfect appetizer on a hot summer’s day, was excellent, too.

Gazpacho at Botin

Gazpacho at Botin

Suckling Pig at Botin

Suckling Pig at Botin

 

 

Happy National Doughnut Day, June 3!

Or, let’s call it National Doughnut Festivus, and celebrate all weekend long!

Happy Doughnut Day!

Happy Doughnut Day!

It’s like a Hallmark holiday, created by the Salvation Army giving out doughnuts to soldiers to World War I soldiers, but perpetuated by people who want to sell us something. But, who cares when it’s about doughnuts!

As a public service, myMEGusta is happy to share a link to the Huffington Post’s excellent summary of special doughnut deals all over the country: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gobankingrates/national-donut-day-deals_b_10223296.html

The concept of fried dough dates from time immemorial, and goes across myriad cultures (think of Native American fried dough in the Southwestern US, or of Chinese fried wontons).

According to Wikipedia, although they won’t vouch for accuracy, the first written appearance of what we consider the modern doughnut (“dow nut”) appeared in 1800, the “Hertfordshire nut.” This also stands for the Hertfordshire National Union of Teachers, so the whole story may be spurious, a practical joke that someone started on the internet.

Doughnuts!

Doughnuts!

Whatever their history truly is, doughnuts are delightful and their variety is endless.

Raised versus cake? Round or holes or twisted crullers? Are the crullers made of cakelike batter or of éclair pastry? Filled? Glazed or cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar or icing? Chocolate? Cronuts? Beignets in New Orleans? Round or holes or twisted crullers? Are the crullers made of cakelike batter or of éclair pastry? Cronuts? Mini-donuts at state fairs?

Beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans

Beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans

Where myMEGusta lives, in New England, there seem to be doughnut stores on every other corner, whether Dunkin’ Donuts or Donut Delight or whatever. (The alternate corners house pizza shops.)

A favorite taste memory is the steaming hot doughnuts fresh from the fryer at in seaside Maine, many years ago. Au natural, they didn’t need any sugar or other embellishments.

Doughnuts!!!

Doughnuts!!!

Being something of a doughnut purist, myMEGusta draws the line at sandwiches made by putting fried chicken or bacon inside a sliced sweet doughnut, although this sweet/salty confection might be just as delicious as chocolate covered bacon, which sounds dreadful but is actually wonderful.

Tea Misunderstood

Think those little three-tier racks of sandwiches and scones and petit fours at fancy hotels are all about traditional High Tea? Or the British aristocracy, for that matter, at least in history?

Modern Take on a Chinese Teacup Design

Modern Take on a Chinese Teacup Design

Forget it. Wrong on both counts.

Tea expert Caroline Hope, owner of the “A Magical World of English Tea Time” tour and tasting organization in London, http://www.teaandscones.co.uk , recently spoke about the origins of the tea culture in Britain at Edible London, a four day gastronomic fest sponsored by Les Dames d’Escoffier London, http://lesdameslondon.org/.

The “tea time” culture actually originated in the 1700s at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

Tea Pot

Tea Pot

Prior to that, the aristocracy had been early adopters of the hot new beverage suddenly being imported from China, but this was, by no means, a national pastime. We think of tea as an inexpensive, easy beverage, but that was hardly the case when it was first imported to Europe.

The newly minted commercial class was anxious to mimic the landed gentry, so they started to adopt their customs. They began imitating the custom of offering tea to their guests, very much showing off that they were people of means who could afford this exotic beverage.

Silver Tea Service

Silver Tea Service

Royalty and the really old money had beautiful tea sets, including sterling silver serving pieces and porcelain pots and cups imported from China. The nouveau riche had lovely English made porcelain with Chinese designs, often blue motifs on white, and all young brides wanted a tea set for their new homes.

Unwritten rules emerged that separated the well bred from the gauche: Only the lady of the house was allowed to touch the tea service, never a guest. The tea kept coming unless the guest’s spoon was put into the cup (or the cup placed upside down, which sounds odd by modern standards). Many a French and American guest landed in hot water for not knowing these things.

People would have served guests a tea compatible munchie, maybe a cucumber or watercress sandwich, with the beverage, but that was not the point. This was not a meal, it was an opportunity to socialize and show off the silver and porcelain.

The (wonderful) notion of scones and clotted cream with tea was regional, and they never would have appeared with other distractions such as those little sandwiches or cookies or petits fours. And, the goodies never would have come out on a tiered stand, the type we love so much at “tea time”.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

High Tea is probably the most misunderstood concept.

In the past, High Tea had nothing to do with a fancy and expensive afternoon outing where one sips daintily and indulges in a huge array of fancy pastries. It simply referred to supper (a light evening meal that happens to be served with tea).

When you think of High Tea, think of granny saying to a little kid “Eat your tea!,” not of the Dowager Countess with her pinky sticking out. Or, at least remember the old meaning when you put on a fancy hat and accept that invitation to High Tea at the Ritz.

The Dowager Countess at Tea Time

The Dowager Countess at Tea Time

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