Saturday, September 4, 2010
Tea & Books Saturday #36: "A Fine Tradition of Tea"
A Fine Tradition of Tea
By Rosemary Moon and Janie Suthering
1998, Fortnum & Mason
I particularly enjoy reading books about tea companies themselves, and Fortnum & Mason's "A Fine Tradition of Tea" does a fine job of chronicling the firm's 303-year-old tradition of serving as a purveyor of teas (and lots of other goods) to the British. The trading began in 1707 when William Fortnum and his landlord, Hugh Mason, opened a grocery. "The original shop was small," the authors say, "but it enjoyed the highest patronage owing to the links that William had established during his time as a footman at Court, and it is likely that tea was amongst the first commodities to be stocked as Fortnum & Mason has been known as a tea merchant throughout its long and illustrious history." The book follows the business down through the years as it was handed over to the founders' sons, grew and moved to 181 Piccadilly, where it remains today.
It's fun to read the varying accounts of which tea might have been thrown into Boston Harbor in 1773, and Fortnum & Mason claims it may have been some of theirs. The authors say that when the tea-transporting ships arrived, "The Dartmouth, which docked in Boston carrying Lapsang Souchong, some of which was rumoured to be from Fortnum & Mason, was boarded. Within three hours the entire cargo of tea was thrown overboard into the harbour." (If you have to waste tea, Lapsang Souchong is certainly the one to toss!)
Royal watchers will enjoy the many references to royal preferences for tea. It was during Queen Victoria's reign that Fortnum & Mason received the first of its many Royal Warrants, and F&M was appointed "Grocers and Tea Dealers" to her son, Prince Alfred, in 1867. Skipping ahead a few years, when Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, Fortnum & Mason was beautifully decorated in honor of the coronation, and an image of the store at that time is among the many illustrations and photos in the book.
"A Fine Tradition of Tea" also includes 40 recipes, which I'd forgotten since I bought this book (at Fortnum & Mason, actually!), shelved it and forgot about it. I'm especially impressed with the recipes using tea as an ingredient, such as Assam Fruit Compote; Date, Walnut and Assam Scones; Spiced Coconut Tea; Lemon & Jasmine Tea Ice Cream with Earl Grey Sultanas; Tea Salad Dressing; and the one I am most eager to try, Tea-rimisu! (It calls for "Boudoir Biscuits," which I learned are what we call Ladyfingers.) With great history and lots of yummy-sounding recipes as well, I highly recommend this book. And if you want to lust over some incredible teas and teawares, take a cyber visit to Fortnum & Mason right here!