This is the third year that I have hosted an afternoon tea for the women faculty and high school girls at my daughter's school right at the beginning of the school year. Usually this means a gathering of about 40 women and girls. I started doing this because I was seeking an excuse to make a trifle and also because I was so impressed when I was a young teenager by the teas that I went to with my family for some special occasion. I loved the delicate little sandwiches and sweets. A tea was an out-of-the-ordinary event. We had to dress up and wear white gloves and be very polite.
So I studied teas and went all out and had the first tea. Except for one fabulous cake baked by a friend (her prize-winning hershey chocolate cheesecake), I did everything else (with this friend's additional help on the day of the tea): applesauce cake, a blueberry trifle, and a German chocolate cake; tea sandwiches with various fillings--strawberries and cream cheese, cucumber, shrimp paste, watercress, spinach humus; finger foods, such as deviled eggs, gerkins, celery sticks; and scones with clotted cream and jams. This first tea was a great success, and I planned it like D-Day, filling page after page with shopping lists, timelines, menus, etc. The girls were hungry after school and ate a lot and talked a lot. I used real china plates and tea cups (many of which I looted from a very kind friend's kitchen) and had cloth napkins. I consider china and cloth napkins crucial to making the tea special in the minds of the girls. I thought it also essential that the tea be in a home and not in a public place or be catered. The second year, I did essentially the same but it was planned for a bad day for the school and there was a smaller turnout. All the savory part of the tea was eaten though, and if there had been a real turnout, we would have run out of food.
This year, the tea had to be at 1 pm after the first half-day of school, and so it had to be a luncheon. Very behind schedule, I asked for and received a lot of help from the school's social committee. Mothers very kindly made and delivered to my home the deviled eggs, a huge amount of very tasty chicken salad, and most of the cakes. I did not make a trifle but made one of the cakes and early on the morning of the tea, made all the scones as usual (I mix all the dry ingredients the night before). The tea was a great success, and I am very happy to say that this is now a School Tradition, which will be carried on by the social committee in the future (my daughter graduates this year).
The whole idea (aside from making the trifle) was to hopefully inspire some of the girls to hold a tea in their own homes when they get older and to carry on this elegant, ladylike, and genteel tradition. I will probably never know if I succeeded in that endeavor, but it seems that each year those that came enjoyed themselves and appreciated the degree of elegance (not perfect by any means) that I was able to muster. While the first tea required large amounts of planning, the first and second did not--it was all in my head and I only had to implement. This is by way of saying that holding a tea for about 40 people--the girls of a church youth group, a Scout troop, a reading group, or neighborhood friends--is not that difficult, especially if you get help with preparing the food, and it is fun to do. The pictures are from the second and third teas, the third with my little phone camera so they are a bit fuzzy.
This beautiful painting of dahlias by Cezanne appeared on the invitation the second year.