Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tea Habits

It's October and it's time to publish the blog entries that I've written and saved and thought about but haven't posted. I still need to take a picture for this one.

We had a family reunion this past week (this was mid-August in Minnesota) and each day we stopped for at least one tea break. It brought up memories and discussions of the role of tea in our family and I've decided to try to put as much as I can remember down here in this post.

My mother grew up in England so tea drinking was a natural part of our growing up in Minnesota, much more so then coffee which was probably the preferred drink of many of our Scandinavian neighbors. We made tea at least three times a day: first thing in the morning to have with breakfast, around the kitchen table after school at about 4:00, and a final pot while we watched the 10:00 p.m. news. We often had Sunday afternoon tea together during the winter. For these family gatherings, we drank tea and ate warm scones while sitting in the living room around the fireplace.

First of all, the brands of tea that are preferred and currently drunk in the various family households include PG Tips, Yorkshire Gold and Yorkshire Red, Tetley's British Blend, and Earl Grey from Twinings or Trader Joe's. Those are the more recent brands, we grew up with Lipton's which was easily found in midwestern grocery stores.

There are certain rules to making tea well. These are our family's rules for our type of tea, our own tea ceremony. Boiling water must always be used. Hot water provided in pots in restaurants just doesn't do it, instead makes weak 'dishwater' tea. Then, especially in winter, the pot should be preheated by pouring a few inches of the boiling water into the pot, letting it sit for a few minutes and then, just before making the actual tea, pouring it off. This keeps the pot from cooling down too quickly. The other thing that helps keep tea hot in a cold climate is to use a tea cozy to insulate the pot. (Our tea cozies were crocheted out of bright colored yarns for our pots by my mother.) The best tea is made by putting loose tea leaves into the pot or a tea ball. If loose tea is used, a strainer is used to keep the tea leaves out of the cups as it is poured. I don't know what the proportion of tea to water is that makes the best tea (remember, I don't ever use absolute recipes) and think that the strength of the tea is a personal preference. I prefer strong and I use a couple tablespoons tea in a 3-cup pot. The tea is allowed to brew for at least a few minutes (again, I don't know for how long and I don't time it). After brewing it's poured into the individual cups or mugs, my mother likes porcelain teacups, I like substantial mugs. We drink our tea with milk and sugar. My mother says that the best way to pour a cup of tea is to pour the milk into the cup, then pour the tea in, and finally add the sugar and stir.

As I've said, we had scones on Sundays. We, my mother being from northwestern England, grew up pronouncing the word as rhyming with fawns. Apparently in southern England and in the U.S. it's pronounced as rhyming with phones. From what I understand, it's a regional thing and neither is wrong. The Sunday afternoon scones of my memories were plain, almost like baking powder biscuits but with raisins or currents. We buttered them but I can't remember if we used jam. Now we add other other ingredients including lemon peel, craisins, pieces of apples, a little cream in the scone batter, a bit more sugar (but only a bit) sprinkled on the scones before baking.

While I was riding in the car with my oldest sister and her husband, leaving my mother's home last August, I was talking to another sister on the phone, getting her recipe for scones. This is approximate, she was recalling it from the top of her head, I was taking notes on a scrap of paper. I wish I was a poet like her, I would write recipe poems.

Mary's Scone Recipe

1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk (or cream?)
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup flour

Mix flour, baking powder and sugar together. Add raisins. Cut in butter. Work in milk. Roll out and cut into shapes (I think we used the edges of glass drinking glasses to make round ones (that gives you a clue as to the approximate size.) Put on a;n ungreased cookie sheet or flat oven pan. Brush with a little milk or egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 400-425 degree preheated oven. They probably take 10 or 15 minutes so watch them closely, burnt scones are not tasty.

1 comment:

  1. Drinking tea has definitely been a very important part of the Kasimor family tradition, brought to us by our mother, Patricia Howell. It has carried over into the next generation, her grandchildren. At the family celebration in August, we arrived at the Willows Resort and immediately set to making tea. Everyone joined in, even the grandsons.

    In my own family, tea is an essential every day. My grandson and Nana Pat's great-grandson Graham (age 4) drinks "tea" from his own special Peter Rabbit mug when he visits his Nana. I require my tea to be so hot that I warm my cup as well as the pot. Of course, the pot has a knitted cosy to keep the heat in. I remember a photo of nephew Alastair (now 14) drinking tea as a toddler. A beautiful knitted cosy covered the pot and Michelle still uses that cosy which I think was made by our mother.

    And now it's time for my evening cup of tea.