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Afternoon Tea for the Ladies

About once a month, a group of ladies from my church and some others from another local church, gather in the Sitting Room at Lambhill for a couple of hours of thoughtful discussion on uplifting subjects – and for good, old-fashioned Afternoon Tea!

The fire was lit, the views outside, of Mount Taranaki (Egmont) faded as the clouds drew in, and freezing rain began whipping the house, just as all twelve ladies were tucked in around the Sitting Room, in armchairs and sofas, with their crocheting and notebooks. The teapot was emptied – and refilled – and we talked about things dear to our hearts – and searched those hearts, together.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, snowflakes and pomanders adorned the kitchen table, on an embroidered cloth, and an old black saucepan with a very long handle heated more water on the kitchen fire, in case we needed more tea…

Lambhill Tea Blend

Over years of hosting afternoon tea for groups, I have found the perfect blend of tea, that almost everybody likes. It is mild and gentle, and goes well with Afternoon Tea food: This is my secret Lambhill Blend! and it is equal quantities of Twinings’ English Breakfast Tea, and Twinings’ Lady Grey Tea. (For a 1 litre teapot, I would use 2 teabags – one of each tea. If you have loose-leaf tea, use 2 tea-scoops – one of each tea.) Always use a teapot, even if it is only for you. And always use a pretty china cup and saucer set, even if it is mismatched, and only cost you spare change… Life is too short to skimp on Moments!

Rose and Vanilla Cake

This is the recipe for the cake illustrated in the slideshow above, decorated with icing sugar and a General Gallieni Rose (this is one of my experiments which worked – I belong to the “Sorceror’s Apprentice” school of cookery!… some of my experiments in the kitchen are spectacularly revolting and inedible, but others are Quite Alright and Respectable):

Cream together: 125grams butter and 3/4 cup of sugar.

Add: 2 eggs, 2 tbsp rose water and 1 tsp real vanilla essence.

Mix in: 2 cups of flour and 3 tsp of baking powder.

Bake in a greased, lined round tin at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) until cooked in centre.

(You could cover with vanilla frosting, or dust with icing sugar, or split in half and fill with whipped cream coloured pink…..)

The kitchen ready for a quiet afternoon tea meeting at the table…

The cups and saucers (Wedgewood mug for my mother, who likes coffee), napkins, silver spoons and cake forks…

The teapot, milk jug, coffee and sugar ready…
Candles lit, scented jonquils, sweet box and daphne waiting for the banana cake to arrive and be arranged around the flower-jug, homemade spice biscuits and mocha chia truffles… and cake forks to attention!
Tealights lit in the chandelier, and all ready for the ladies to arrive. The fire was burning beautifully, and there were papers and pens all ready for us to do some thinking and talking.

I like my silver tarnished…

Which would make my great-grandfather Henry Roberts shake his ghostly head, because he was the New Zealand agent for Sheffield cutlery-makers, Martin & Hall, in the early to mid 20th Century… Much of the silver-plated cutlery we use today at Lambhill, came from him. Not this teapot, though: this came from a second-hand shop. Great places, second-hand shops: you can buy well-made, pretty items there that you could neither find nor afford from the modern shops.

Tea with Friends and Neighbours

Recently, Fernielea changed hands. Fernielea is a two-storeyed c.1870s farmhouse outside Fordell village, which we can see from the drive here. Our good friends, the Cullens, sold it, and new people moved in. Spin and Joan, Jonathan and I welcomed them to the neighbourhood, and have kept in touch. It is lovely to see a new family enjoying that old place.

The other day, Spin, Joan, and Val from Fernielea met up with me here in the kitchen for a cup of tea and nibbles – and a look at the gardens. It was very heartening: Val said, if I was feeling down about the weeds, then I should go and see their garden, and I would be feeling much better!

This was before the scones were ready, or the butter put under its dome.

Another salutory lesson about perfectionism for me, this tea-visit, was not to go to too much trouble, necessarily – not all visitors appreciate it! In true form, I had spent a morning arranging flowers for the principle rooms, before the neighbours came – only for us all to stay in the kitchen! Would she like to walk about and look at the house, I asked, but she said, “O no; I’ve seen it!” (I would have looked again! And every time I was invited to!!!) Of course, the flowers did not go to waste. I enjoyed them for days and days and days. And anyway, a room looks more alive and garnished with fresh flowers…

Poetry Reading: Mother, Sister, Daughter…

My niece, Chloe, has recently had her first baby, and published her first small volume of poetry, titled, ‘Unfurl.’ Her mother, my sister Aydie, was so proud that she wanted to celebrate Chloe’s work, and so she organised a poetry reading at Wanganui’s lovely small bookshop, “Paige’s Book Gallery,” in Guyton Street. (It is a a brilliant shop, and I order many of my books through them.) The poetry reading was advertised on flyers, and in a Chronicle newspaper article, and Aydie and I were to read a few of our poems, and Chloe was to read hers. I have not written much poetry for the last few years, being busy with other projects, but Aydie particularly wanted to read one I’d had published in a university anthology, and another I’d written for my fellow students at a university creative writing weekend.

In the end, I couldn’t make it to the reading, so Chloe read her poems and Aydie read hers and mine – but I was able to bake some biscuits for it, and deliver them to Aydie a few days beforehand, to be served at the reading out of old cake tins which once belonged to our mother and grandmother.

Swedish Christmas gingerbread biscuits (holly leaves) – and a Tomte!
More Swedish Christmas biscuits – this time, round.

Recipe for Swedish Christmas Biscuits

This is the version I cobbled together from several online recipes, and this is what I made for the poetry reading. It makes a lot of biscuits, which is great at Christmas because you can give some away in small tins or jars, hand them around visitors, and eat them yourself!!! I love the Swedish taste for cardamom with cinnamon. That combination is what they use in their delicious cinnamon buns, too.

2 small or 1 large egg; 1 tbsp ground ginger; 1 tbsp ground cinnamon; 2 tsp ground cloves; 1 tsp ground cardamom; 150ml honey or golden syrup and treacle; 200g butter; 200g raw or brown sugar; 1 1/2 tsp baking soda; 4 cups of flour.

Boil the honey or syrup in a saucepan, briefly, then add butter and sugar, and stir in to melt together. When cool, stir in eggs and spices. Add baking soda in a little water. Mix up, singing Christmas carols, and then add and mix in the flour. Rest it in the fridge for 2-3 hours, and it will harden enough to roll out.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C with a fan, or to 200 degrees C without a fan. Paper some baking trays, roll out the dough thinly on a floured board, cut into shapes, and lay on the baking paper, leaving space between each. Cook 10 minutes until a little darker, then cool on racks. Eat all the bent ones at once! (Well, I am telling you what I did!!!) Swedes like these biscuits to be crispy. You choose how long you cook them, according to the softness or crispness you like. “God Jul!”

Tea From Paris!!!

At Christmas, my niece, Amelia came home. After several years’ working at the Hague, she now lives and works in Paris. Her apartment is near the famous old Parisian tea-shop, “Mariage Freres.” She had seen chic Parisiennes trotting in – and out, holding pretty carrier bags – and felt a little sceptical of the usefulness of buying tea from such a place… Eventually, her curiosity got the better of her, and she ventured in… … … What a revelation! “It was LOVEly!!!!!” she reminisced: “I bought three teas at once!” And then she thought, “Wouldn’t Aunty Janette love this?!” and decided to choose one to bring home to New Zealand for me at Christmas. This is the one she chose for me, so carefully:

The beautiful paper carry-bag it came in is hanging on a nail in the Pantry.
Oriental Tea this morning. Dora was here this morning to visit, and there was still plenty left in the pot after she had walked back down the drive to Spin and Joan’s place. They are her younger sisters, and she comes to stay sometimes, and nearly always comes up to see me and the old house, and to talk. And drink tea.

The Uses of Tea….

Apart from a brilliant remedy for shock (add sugar or honey in this case), I find that tea is good for slowing down and “being in the moment.” That is, if you take time to do it properly. It is an especially important thing to do if you are on your own for any length of time. Otherwise, it is too easy to get caught up in tasks, lists of jobs, housework, and thinking and planning and researching and creating. That’s what I find, anyway! I’ve never been good at slowing my mind and slowing time and being Zen.

This is my recipe for Doing Tea Properly, for one:

Choose a teapot of the right size to hold several cups of tea; pick one that gives you pleasure to look at, that pours well, and is comfortable to hold. Find a china cup and saucer that delight you. See whether they look well beside the teapot. Next, find a smallish-but-not-too-small jug for milk (if you take milk in tea); it should be pretty or plain, but pleasing and definitely Not A Dribbler! Find a tray that accomodates all of these comfortably, as well as (to taste – be as simple or as elaborate as your mood prefers:) a cloth or paper napkin, a pretty dish for sugar (in cubes, or white grains, or my favourite – golden-coloured raw sugar), silver teaspoons, a tiny jug of cream, a silver tea strainer, a pretty china plate for dainty nibbles, a tiny vase of flowers.

I do not usually eat anything with a pot of tea, unless I have been working hard and need energy. The tea will give you a lift, and keep you going, especially if you drink the whole potful!

Now, boil more water than you will need, and pour some into the pot for a few moments to warm it. Then, swill out the hot water, measure in the tea (2 teabags, or 2 dessertspoonfuls of loose-leaf tea) and reboil the water. Pour in and fill the teapot while the water is boiling. Shut the teapot lid and cover with a cosy or pretty folded cloth, to keep it hot.

There are two schools of thought about whether milk or tea should go into the teacup first. I understand that “milk first” betokens working-class origins because it meant you had cheap, weak, china that could not stand the shock of hot tea, and needed the buffer of cold milk. I like “tea first” so as to admire the elegant amber liquid in my cup before the milk clouds it… All the same, I’ve found that teacups are easier to clean if you put the milk in first, because it stops teastains on the china. (But that is easily fixed during washing-up, by filling the cup with water and adding a few drops of household bleach and leaving it for five minutes before emptying and washing as usual.

I start my day (after cleaning up in the kitchen) with a pot of tea, and generally have at least one other pot of tea later in the day. In this way, I like to think that Camellias are my staple food. Tea is simply the leaves of Camellia sinensis – a plant we have here in the Lambhill garden. Its flowers are not showy. They are small, simple white blooms. Very modest and retiring.

Summer morning’s breakfast tea, on the kitchen verandah.

Drinking Solitary Tea, Summer, Lambhill.

Hammersley Cup and Saucer, vintage embroidery…..

Tea and buttered toast (for a treat and change!), with Cornishware teapot and Jonathan’s mother’s soup bowl and saucers, which he likes out of pure sentiment and nostalgia. It felt rather pleasantly French, to use the two-handled bowls for tea….. (why? I couldn’t tell you – but French do drink breakfast cafe au lait out of bowls.)
A delightful old teacup and saucer, my new enamel teapot, and my sister, Beth’s, gloriously-scented sweet peas!!!!! on a pale-blue Willow-pattern damask tablecloth.
Late-January breakfast-time pot of tea in the Parlour at Lambhill, with the prettiest hand-coloured transferware teacup. The photo doesn’t do justice to that intense, rich Victorian indigo glaze, which reads as navy-blue, and is a feature of some early-Victorian staffordshire figurines I also love, which are like this cup and saucer, in juxtaposing the rich deep blue with pretty pastel colours.

Ecclesiastes 2: 24-26:

“A [person] can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This, too, I see is from the hand of God, for without him, who can find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness…. “

Tea, Alone…

…And Tea Together

I took these two photos last Saturday morning. My father had kindly come out to Lambhill from town, for the morning, to drive the tractor and help Jonathan split and stack firewood. This is always hard and hot work, and Dad has diabetes, so I always make sure Jonathan brings Dad up for a good morning tea and also a hearty lunch, if he is working all day. Saturday was far too hot, and after they came in, bringing Joan, whom they had met out on the farm on the other tractor, they drank tea, ate almonds, cheese and biscuits, and then went off to do a little more work, before stopping for the day. I hurried into the pantry to catch a shot of Dad and Jonathan setting off back to work after morning tea. I was a fraction too late – but you get the idea! (We are very grateful to my father for his kind toil on our behalf, and on Spin and Joan’s behalf. On Saturday, both our piles of firewood grew by a large trailer-full, which we will all enjoy burning this winter.) By the way, Dad’s bran-new red car is in the second photo; it was so dusty after he had driven it up and back down the Lambhill driveway, that he gave it a good wash when he got it home!

Lockdown Lunch in Autumn

During the Covid-19 national lockdown, April 2020, Jonathan is at home – although he is working from our Sitting Room. How nice, then, to make a happy Autumn lunch for those inside our “household bubble,” which include Jonathan, Me, Spin and Joan. We had some small pears Spin and Joan had given us from the old Lambhill orchard, as well as some of our own Merton Russet apples, and a smattering of feijoas – which all needed using up. I decided to make them into a cake.

Janette in the pantry, reaching for the flour.

Autumn Fruit Loaf

1 1/4 cups sugar beaten up with 200g butter, then add in: 2 cups flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 eggs, and 4 cups finely-cut apple, pears, feijoas, or other seasonal fruit. Mix, then spread into a loaf tin lined with baking paper, and bake at medium heat (180 C) for about an hour or an hour and a half – until firm in the centre. Cool on rack.

For lunch, I served this loaf, in thick slices (so damp and delicious!), thick sausage-and-leftover-roasted-vegetable soup, toast and crackers. And tea!!

Simmering the soup… mmmm! Smells good!
The Autumn Fruit Loaf…. one slice is not enough!
That striped floral tea-cosy fits over my largest, antique, Brown Betty teapot. Here, it is filled with Lambhill Blend Tea!

Jonathan’s favourite Hammersley Cup

“There’s just something about it,” he says…

Tea on the Meadow

…And then some Small Friends arrived…

From left to right: Baby Calico; Miss Beatrice-Louise, born at Lambhill, of unknown ancestry, but possible connections to the rag-bag; Mr Pitman-Burroughs (MA, Hon. Sec.: Soc. NZ Hedgerows Assn., author of the definitive textbook on dialects of Olde Rabbitt, at present writing a monologue on the effects of tea-drinking on creativity, particularly when heightened by the addition of fresh timothy-grass and clover); Little Ann (who knew my mother when mother was young in the 1940s, and whose lack of arms brings on the melancholy, but whose kind friends take her about to cheer her up, with tea picnics like this one on the Lambhill meadow…….

Tea with a friend in August (Winter)…

He sometimes dips in his beak and drinks tea from my cup. He seems to know when it is cool enough.

Tea in September at Lambhill…

Breakfast in the Secret Garden (the site of the demolished outside Wash house, some distance from the house). Native wood pigeons were building nests above me, and Millie was at my feet.

Springtime Tea on the Verandah by the Meadow….and Called Into the Meadow….

It was late October, 2020, and the wind blew soft but determined, and it was warm. Skipper, in his cage, and Millie the dog came out with me. Millie drank milk out of a saucer. And the long grasses called us in, once we drank the whole teapot dry…

This little teacup is a favourite, c.1900s Royal Doulton, with fuzzy moss roses and printed-gilt filligree.
And this is my Tea bush in the garden with fresh leaves for Spring. Shall I pick some to infuse, green?

I love Transferware china with Hand-painted Detailing!

Longton & Sons (English), c.1900-1920? I love the careful, imperfect, hand-painted blue glaze and gilding over the printed russet flowers. What a delightful combination of the mass-produced and artisan!
Close-up of a lovely old saucer (the cup was full of tea at the time!)

Builders’ Coffee, August 2021….

The builders’ morning and afternoon (and lunch) coffees have been an indication of the state of my neck: on sore days, they’ve had dry biscuits; on better days, they’ve had banana cake, cheese scones with plenty of white pepper, and raspberry-cinnamon muffins! On migraine days, they’ve had to make their own coffee in the kitchen!

September 2021: Solitary Tea in Lockdown

But tea always connects me in my mind to friends…. Here, the Cornishware teapot was one I bought from a friend, and the tray cloth was given me by another friend…

Mid-afternoon tea…. using Redbush tea from South Africa (“Rooibos.”)

A Spring Tea Party

Handpainted Victorian china, fresh flowers and cake – all we need now is a pot of tea!

Morning Tea on the Lawn: With Aloes and Millie!

Millie loves milky tea. I use lactose-free milk anyway, so it’s fine for Millie.

The cake is banana, with whipped vanilla cream on top. I’d split the cake recipe into two tins, to make two low rounds – and gave one to Spin and Joan (with cream, of course!!)

The aloe flowers are in bud, and I love them: they are cool and smooth, and look like strange fish… When the orange flowers open, bellbirds, tui, and wax-eyes visit them for their own morning teas, of aloe nectar.

Dreaming of tea…. and a Merrythought of whipped cream….. Millie using her best Morning Tea Manners. Very ladylike and polite!

Patience rewarded. Flick through the next slideshow quickly, to experience the moment, and the satisfaction!!

Tea at Lambhill in December 2022:

Above: Muffins and a pot of Lambhill blend tea, as well as a bottle of Jonathan’s tea-brew (kombucha), for tasting. Jonathan brews kombucha in two separate urns, with rooibos (red bush tea) and with English Breakfast tea (Twinings).

A baby hedgehog comes to tea.

This poor wee Prickles got stuck in the sunken garden, which had turned into a shallow lake. It had been in the cold water for a long time when Jonathan spotted it, and I waded in and rescued it, because its softly-furred tummy was icy cold in my hands. I gave it a warm bath, with a little shampoo in it, to soak some warmth back into its little body. Once it had had a good towelling, Spin happened into the kitchen just in time for a cup of tea. Prickles had tinned dog-food and clean water, and was a charming (and very clean) companion! (Yes, I know that, here in New Zealand, hedgehogs are exotic imports, and regarded as pests because they eat our birds, insects and lizards – but it was in trouble and distress, and needed a bit of kindness. The poor things didn’t ask to be brought to these islands!!) After its morning tea, Prickles went out into the woodshed, where I left a saucer of water beside a tiny cave made for it out of firewood. P.S. Several days later, I came across it in the garden, and it recognised me and froze, with its heart beating fast when I picked it up (afraid of another lathering??), but soon relaxed when I began feeding it worms – within minutes, it was coming up to my hands to take the worms; which suggests that hedgehogs are pretty smart and quite trainable – though they prefer their freedom, and wander for miles.) P.P.S. One day, Prickles was on the lawn with a sibling of the same age – so I picked up the sibling and gave it a bath, since hedgehogs are a prey to fleas and other even more revolting vermin. And then they wandered off and were never heard of again.

Above: Prickles’ bath. ………..Below: Prickles stays to Tea:

Above and below: A pre-Christmas visit from friends.

Hosting a Morning or Afternoon Tea can be as simple or as elaborate as you like: to me, the experience is the nicer for a little care over extra details, although the visitor might not consciously or specifically notice them. However, the cleaned surfaces, cobweb-free corners, joyous vignettes and flower arrangements will add to the sense of occasion. And if your visitor (like some of mine!) is not the kind of person to see or appreciate flowers or witty juxtapositions of ornaments or beautiful books left with their colourful covers piled, or opened to an interesting page – well, YOU noticed and enjoyed them!! And your preparations were not wasted, because it is nice to be kind to yourself in these small ways.)

Below: Fresh hydrangea blooms and buxus foliage in the kitchen, with antique blue-and-white “flow” transferware china – getting ready for four of the church ladies. My Mother drinks fruit tea and is used to mugs, so she has a small teapot all to herself, and a pretty Wedgewood mug. The rest enjoy the Lambhill blend Tea, in the bigger pot under the red Portmeiron cosy (which I found at a charity shop):

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