Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tea Party

Last fall when I was planning to visit my brother, my daughter sent me off with “real” British tea. Having spent 6 months studying in London, she was an avid proponent of the leaf, and she had just gotten a huge stash shipped from relatives in the U.K. The tea, along with shortbread, would make for an inaugral tea party with my niece (10) and nephew (7).

In between soccer games, we headed to the kitchen to make shortbread from the family recipe. My nanny (great-grandmother) had brought the recipe with her from Scotland in 1925, when my papa was just 16. My English grandmother (nana) learned from her, and handed the recipe down to me (totally skipping my mother, who isn’t known for her baking prowess). My children grew up making the recipe, so it was time to pass it on to Kendall and Connor.

The thing about shortbread, or at least our recipe, is the ease and fun of making it. My nana always emphasized that you had to use your hands to meld the butter and sugar together. The heat from your hands, she told me, is the secret ingredient. Taking it a step further, we mix the whole dough with our hands. One bowl, no spoon, easy clean-up. This, combined with the wonderful flavor, makes it a favorite for children.

Nanny’s Shortbread

½ lb. butter (2 sticks), room temp
½ c. granulated sugar
2 ¼ cups flour
1 T cornstarch

In medium bowl, place butter and sugar. Using your hand, work the sugar into the butter until fully incorporated. Add the flour and cornstarch gradually, mixing after each addition. Once thoroughly incorporated, your dough should be “short”, meaning crumbly. Pull it all into a ball and pat it into a square or round 8-inch or 9-inch pan. Score with the tines of a fork.
Bake 325º for approximately 35 minutes
until just lightly browned on the edges.

After the last soccer game, we assembled in the kitchen to prepare for the party. To my absolute shock and horror, I found that my brother does not own a tea pot, of any kind. And he doesn’t even own a working tea kettle. I was forced to boil water on the stove and use the coffeepot to brew the tea in. Major foul. Especially in our family, where our ancestors came over from the U.K. through Ellis Island, drinking tea the whole way. I, myself, have a large tea pot collection, inadvertently collected over the years. Some were wedding gifts, some were family heirlooms, some were bought abroad, and one is even a gift from the Taiwan government. They are lovingly stored on a shelf in my kitchen for all to see, and to be used on a regular basis. But today we would have to make do with the white mugs that came with their everyday dinnerware and the glass carafe from the coffeemaker. At least the shortbread was served and plated on dainty heart-shaped plates. You know, presentation is half the battle.

The children were none the wiser. They loved their tea and shortbread and we lingered at the table a long time. And they had just given me the idea for their Christmas gift.

Fast forward two months. I am again visiting my brother for the weekend, so we schedule another tea party. This time we are more prepared. They are now the proud owners of a whole tea set: tea pot, sugar, creamer, 6 cups and saucers, and 6 dessert plates. To celebrate and christen the new china, we go all out. I make meringue kisses with chocolate chips, kaffir lime bars (on a shortbread crust), and a friend brings over cream puffs. My sister-in-law digs out the tea from my last visit, and although I have to boil water yet again in a saucepan, no one is the wiser, as I am able to brew it properly in the tea pot. And on a bright sunny day in January in Southern California, we have a proper British tea on the back patio.

So the tradition continues…..

1 comment:

Jen Leo said...

I love this story. And the kids will appreciate learning about the family history, and seeing their part in it when they get older.

I wish there were more pics and diary entries in my family from when I was younger.

This really sounded lovely.