The dominant story of how the tradition of afternoon tea started…
In 1840, Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, found herself suffering from a “sinking feeling” in the afternoon hours between meal times. To remedy the situation, she requested a pot of tea, bread and butter and cake to keep her going; and the ritual began, spreading to her friends and escalating as the years passed until it reached the sumptuous heights of the Victoria tea table.
Tradition is whatever you make of it, but when it comes to English-inspired afternoon tea there is some basic fare that always comes to mind. I recommend two to three sandwiches (at least one vegetarian), warm scones with butter or clotted cream and jam and a sweet.
All of these recipes, with the exception of the scones, can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator.
Purchase tea and any grocery items that aren’t perishable.
Make sandwiches and keep in an airtight container with a layer of damp (not wet) paper towels over the top to keep the bread from drying out. If it is an open-faced sandwich, you can still do this; just lightly tent the towel over the top of the sandwiches. You can also put sandwiches on plates, covered in damp towels and wrapped in plastic.
Note: If making egg sandwiches or anything with a strong smell, be sure to wrap well or keep in an airtight container so the smell doesn’t permeate the taste of anything nearby.
Wash all pots, cups and serving pieces you intend to use. If possible, set the table so you can relax a bit more on the day of your gathering.
Make scones. Serve warm. Scones can be reheated in the oven for a few minutes before serving.