The tradition of the English tea time goes back to the Seventh Duchess of Bedford who lived in the nineteenth century. Supper was not until 9:00 p.m. and the Duchess, while visiting the 5th Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle, got hungry in between times, so she ordered bread, cakes, and tea every afternoon, eating them in her room. The idea became very popular and now the British always have to have tea in the afternoon.
Afternoon tea is different from high tea. The latter is eaten in the evening when people are eating from high tables. Afternoon tea is traditionally eaten off of low tables. Sandwiches that are afternoon tea favourites in England are cucumber, egg, watercress and egg, and chicken.
Cucumber sandwiches are a favourite at English tea parties. The cucumbers are sliced paper thin and the white bread is cut so thinly that the daylight can pass through it. Cucumber peels are either scored lengthwise with a fork or removed entirely. The white bread is buttered right to the edges and the crusts are removed.
Traditionally, the cucumbers are lightly sprinkled with lemon juice and salt and put into the sandwiches just before serving.
The sandwiches should not be damp enough to moisten the guests fingertips when he or she is eating them. Finally, the sandwiches are sliced diagonally twice.
Watercress and egg sandwiches are another favourite at British tea parties. The ingredients are four eggs, four tablespoons of herbed butter, four tablespoons of mayonnaise and sea salt for flavoring for eight slices of white bread, and half a cup of watercress. Parsley may be added to taste.
The hard boiled eggs should be rinsed with cold water after they are cooked. After they are peeled and still warm they should be mashed with the butter. Next, the mayonnaise and spices should be combined with the eggs and spread on the white bread. The watercress and optionally the parsley are placed on top of the egg mixture. Cut the crusts from the bread and slice diagonally.
Chicken salad sandwiches are another British tea favourite. Sometimes home made brown bread is used instead of white bread. To make the chicken sandwiches trim the crusts off of the thinly cut bread slices. Take half a cup of finely diced chicken, two tablespoons of mayonnaise, one tablespoon of chopped celery and salt and pepper to taste.
Mix the ingredients together and add salt and pepper. Spread the chicken mixture onto the bread and top with another slice of bread. Cut horizontally and then vertically making small squares.
A British tea party could also include smoked salmon finger sandwiches which could be combined with a strong flavoured tea like Lapsang Souchong. These sandwiches include a tablespoon of minced dill, one tablespoon of minced horseradish root, one tablespoon of minced onion, a quarter of a cup of mayonnaise, two tablespoons of soft butter, and a quarter pound of thinly sliced smoked salmon.
First the mayonnaise and the herbs are blended together, then butter is thinly spread on the bread. Lightly spread some butter on top of the mayonnaise and add a layer of smoke salmon. Put the bread on top of the fish and cut diagonally. The bread used in this recipe could be home made brown bread or some whole grain bread.
Afternoon tea sandwiches were only one thing on the menu. Elaine Lemm says,“A traditional afternoon tea, whether an Irish tea or an English tea, will start with finger-sized sandwiches, followed by scones with butter, jam and/or cream, then an assortment of cakes and, of course, lashings of tea.”