Cuppa Fancy-Pants Dishes

High Tea by Lucas AlexanderWe had a fundraiser. A High Tea at church. I love and hate these shindigs.

First the love: 

The rule for being a hostess for a table is simple: NOTHING HAS TO MATCH. So the women who “mother” a table drag out every bit of their fancy garage-sale-finds, heirlooms, and grandma-gave-it-to-me linens.

It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s so much work. And It makes me as nervous as a fingerless-short-armed tyrannosaurus to pass around their delicate plates which are often as translucent as paper. That’s probably how the tradition of cutting off the bread crusts got started… so the added crust-weight of a pile of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches (who thought of this combo?) wouldn’t make a heritage plate shear into eleven pieces when it’s lifted.

The amazingly architected cups (with bone-thin saucers) hold 4.3 oz of liquid which is about two good sips. If we were drinking like we were sitting at a Starbucks, the “Table Mother” would need arms like an octopus to constantly refill cups, but according to the Tenant of Tea rules (which were secretly handed down from southern woman to southern woman, allowing a sort of snobbish superiority over uncoached Yankees, whose participation in the Boston Tea party created a sort of unlimited right to tea supping),  well tea rules dictate that a woman eats BEFORE she goes to a party. Thus she will only sip 2.4 oz of tea and nibble a quarter of a tiny scone with clotted cream.

Fortunately, this is Oregon, and the need to survive a frontier of logs, beavers, and 8 months of rain has left us with a culture that allows the delicate plates to be piled high with savories and at least 2 pots of tea grace the table: caffeinated and unleaded.

And then comes the guilt

I keep telling myself I should invest in some tea service doo-daas and help out with the serving. But I don’t possess a Martha Stewart gene. Honest to Pete, I’m too lazy. The only fancy plates I have are boxed in attic. They’re the type every Lutheran church possesses and doesn’t use anymore because we church ladies have saved soup labels and box tops and bought new sturdy stuff that fits in the dishwasher better.

So I buy tickets to the tea. I love going and nibbling at the dainties (because, of course, I’ve eaten beforehand). The admission is worth it when I think about myself handwashing/drying every saucer and cup, and then wrapping it and putting it away.

And lemon curd. I love lemon curd. So I’m glad someone organizes a tea, but now that Downtown Abbey is off the air, perhaps life will change and the work of the afternoon teas will go away?

Or perhaps not?  Because what else can be done with all those fragile dishes? Perhaps some things won’t change?

Do you have fancy-pants dishes? Do you use them?

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9 thoughts on “Cuppa Fancy-Pants Dishes

  1. I belong to the Daughters of the British Empire, and we do a lot of pinky-lifting. Good dishes are brought out, fancy tea pots filled with hot water to await the tea, and all the homemade goodies carefully arranged on trays. And we EAT. No itty-bitty bites, and please refill my cup, thank you. Back home, tea was a meal, not a snack.

    The only time I’ve had a heart attack was when somebody spilled an entire cup of tea and began sopping it up with one of my grandmother’s napkins. Tea stains are SO hard to remove without bleach, and that would probably take the colour out of the embroidery.

    As for cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, they are a lifesaver when you have vegetarians in the crowd. Cheddar and sweet pickles are also good. Oh, don’t make such a face! Try it; you’ll like it!

    • You are such a hoot.You’re absolutely right…my nose was crinkled at the cheddar and sweet pickle sandwiches. But I love fried pickle chips (which is a combo of the same ingredients you describe….but deep fried). I can have them about every 10 years. They’re real heart-attack makers.
      I wish I lived closer to you so we could do tea.

  2. No fancy pants dishes here. I don’t think.
    And I drink my tea from mugs. BIG mugs.
    Lemon curd? Blissful stuff. I could eat it by the spoonful (and may have done so while no-one was looking).

  3. I’m almost jillion years old and have only been to one of those delicate teas. Such a lovely fuss it was, with servings of various unheard of teas and the mismatched cups and dishes. Unlike you, though, I didn’t even offer to do the dishes. Just sat back, sipped, gobbled, and enjoyed.

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