Saturday, May 29, 2010
Tea and Books Saturday #22 - "The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea"
The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea
By Helen Simpson
1986, Arbor House/William Morrow
Although I've had it for years, I only recently actually read "The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea" by Helen Simpson. What an absolutely delightful little book! I loved its small format, its recipes and its great variety of information, but most of all I loved its spirit, you might say.
Describing the legendary teas at the Palm Court of the London Ritz, Simpson writes: "Here is one of the few places outside church or royal garden parties where a woman may wear a hat and feel entirely at ease. In fact, those approaching the Palm Court clad in such garments as jeans, shorts or sneakers will be reluctantly but firmly turned away. Suitably dressed tea-bibbers, however, will be greeted by the Palm Court's Master of Ceremonies ..." In the section on tea's history, she says: "After more than a century of drinking tea from China, the British instigated and won the disgraceful Opium Wars against the Chinese. The causes of these wars will not be explored any further here for fear of shocking the reader." I love that! Also in the history section, Simpson notes that in the late 1700s, "tea was taken at breakfast and after dinner, always green and milkless, whether Bohea, Twankey or Hyson." Bohea and Hyson teas I've heard of, but Twankey? Turns out that was the name of a cheap blend of Chinese green tea.
I enjoyed reading the behind-the-scenes info on how the Ritz prepared its huge loaves of bread that were used in making tea sandwiches, and there were quite a few recipes I hope to try. I was especially intrigued by the Potted Shrimps, whose "mixture will keep for a month under its veil of clarified butter."
The book concludes with a short but helpful directory of teas, and it was there I found the Simpson quote I enjoyed most of all: "Tea-drinking is a cheerful habit to cultivate, as each cup gently shifts fatigue, lifts the spirits and brightens the brainbox." My brainbox certainly enjoyed reading this witty and informative book!