downton abbey, feasts and seasons, saint celebrations, St. George, tea

Feasting on Georgemas with afternoon (not high) tea

There are few things as satisfying as a properly-executed afternoon tea. We must call it “afternoon tea” and not “high tea,” as is so common here in the States. High tea is (apparently) something completely different – and we don’t want to look like commoners, do we? There are rules about these things, you know…don’t put both milk and lemon in your teacup, eat your finger foods with three fingers, not five (but don’t lift up your pinky, for heaven’s sake!). If you don’t believe me, just look at this amazingly-detailed tea etiquette post combining Downton Abbey and tea. (Don’t blame me if you get completely sucked in, though – the whole blog is fantastic.)

Perhaps you share my affinity for tiny sandwiches with no crusts and multiple dessert options at the same “meal” – not really a standard meal at all but almost able to replace two of them. Given the chance, I’d have afternoon tea every day instead of eating dinner an hour or two later. It feels so relaxing to be sitting around the table together, holding beautiful, warm cups and enjoying each other’s company instead of bustling around worrying about what we are having for dinner. If only I had my own Mrs. Patmore to work on dinner while I serenely sipped my tea…

She has things completely under control…so I’m going to stroll in the garden.

Ah, well. A mama can dream.

When we were visiting London, George and I had a cream tea at the cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It was my first proper English tea, and I was in love with the whole experience. It didn’t hurt that it was my first time in London and that there was excellent Baroque music involved just beforehand in the church upstairs. We were married but not yet parents. Traveling together was (is still) the thing we most loved to do. As I sat there in my very favorite purple velvet blazer with my very favorite person with nothing to do but take it all in, I was holding the world in my teacup.

This woman has no idea what she will be doing in five years.

Since we are celebrating the Feast of St. George today, and since St. George is England’s patron saint, we are having a proper afternoon tea.

Why an afternoon tea instead of our usual practice of a big feast at dinner? Here are ten reasons:

1. Tea takes place just after nap time, when everyone wants a snack anyway and is in a generally good mood.
2. It involves lovely cups and saucers and my favorite red teapot (from that trip to London).
3. It also involves lemon curd. I made some last year, and it was life-changing. It is the most wonderful stuff. I may or may not have eaten it straight from the container with a spoon.
4. Afternoon tea is an excellent excuse to eat lots of sweets.
5. I’d rather bake than cook any day.
6. Scones. Scones. Scones.
7. Even though it’s a feast day, we can have a simple dinner, which means we can put our kids to bed on time (increasing the chances that no one will melt down during our little party).
8. After the children are in bed, we grownups can have leftover dessert from teatime guilt-free.
9. Clotted cream (for the scones). If you’ve never had it, you really must find some.
10. The Sisters clink their cups together when they play “tea party,” and it is possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Last year, we had a great Spanish dinner with a beautifully-decorated table and a garland of St. George’s flags. This year, we are going slightly smaller-scale, although SuperSam did a great artistic interpretation of St. George slaying a Tyrannosaurus that really added to the festive atmosphere. (Nothing like some dinosaur carnage to really make it feel like a party.)

“St. George just pushes a button on his sword and it shoots into the Tyrannosaurus…whoosh! And he dies.”

Our menu for today’s tea:

  • Lemon bars (from the box. Keeping it simple.)
  • Scones with jam and Greek yogurt (no clotted cream anywhere within 40 miles, unfortunately…but I found this recipe to try for next time)
  • Fruitcake made by monks from the nearby monastery in Berryville (where George’s spiritual director, Father James, lives and works)
  • Lemon curd
  • Tiny sandwiches (some cucumber, some peanut butter and jelly)
  • Excellent tea from a tea shop in Covent Garden

It was a lovely and festive celebration, and everyone was so full and happy that the children opted to just go to bed a little early and skip dinner. (No, really, they did…it was their idea.)

To close, I’d like to share this poem with you from the very excellent Mr. G.K. Chesterton. Who better to honor St. George?

The Englishman
by G.K. Chesterton

St. George he was for England,
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail,
It isn’t safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.

St. George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon’s meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn’t give him beans.

St. George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn’t safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.

And there you have it…bacon and ale. What could be better, or more English?

Cheers. And Happy Georgemas to you all.

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