Hexham Courant

Afternoon tea with a slice of history

IT’S where to start, really. With the Borrowdale tea bread or the Devonshire split? Either way, the pictures alone look good enough to eat.

A photograph from ‘Afternoon Tea: a history guide to the great Edwardian tradition’ by Vicky Straker.

Afternoon Tea: a history guide to the great Edwardian tradition by Vicky Straker.

Afternoon Tea: A history and guide to the great Edwardian tradition is a sweet little book about the most homely of topics, or so you’d think.

For author Vicky Straker points out that in its day, the importance attached to the occasion was greater than the sum of its parts.

Indeed, the ceremonial niceties were almost Masonic in their acuteness – woe betide the would-be hostess who waded in without understanding the diplomacy involved. Banishment to social Siberia was the punishment.

Vicky writes: “Rumour has it that the ritual of afternoon tea was inadvertently introduced in the 1840s by the 7th Duchess of Bedford.

“Finding that she had a sinking feeling of hunger between the hours of lunch and dinner, tea with a dainty of some sort was brought to her boudoir.

“If the ritual of entertaining friends over tea in Belvoir Castle and London was to be discovered, she feared ridicule; much to her surprise it was not long before the idea caught on and soon became an observed everyday interlude.”

Daughter of Elspeth and the late Henry Straker, Vicky’s own love of traditional cooking – and, in particular, that of the Edwardian era – was inspired by her great-great grandmother, Dorothy Peel.

Her forebear set up the Daily Mail Food Bureau in 1918 that taught a generation of housewives how to feed their families on rations and at the height of her fame, people wrote to her from all over the world.

Vicky, a trained cook herself, traces the history of afternoon tea through all its increasingly complex manifestations, from its earliest introduction as a valuable imported commodity to the staple it became of aristocratic and even royal occasions.

The text, in all honesty, could do with a little fairy dust sprinkling on it, but the contents and overall production are really rather sumptuous.

Afternoon Tea: A history and guide to the great Edwardian tradition is published by Amberley.

Helen Compson

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