The Pleasures of Afternoon Tea
by Angela Hynes

HPBooks / Price Stern Sloan: Los Angeles, 1987

Review by
Jennifer Monroe Franson
160 pages; lavishly illustrated March 2009

Tea remembered & recreated

"Afternoon tea." To an expatriate Englishperson like myself, these words bring back home like no others.

They evoke photographs in the London Times society pages of ladies in picture hats and white gloves, sipping tea on the lawns of Buckingham Palace. They bring back memories of Earl Grey and wafer-thin salmon sandwiches on a more modest suburban lawn, the scent of full-blown roses and the hum of bees in the air; fluffy scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream at a thatch-roofed Devonshire tearoom; wedges of Victoria sponge cake and slabs of shortbread with giggling girl-friends at a "tea-leaf reading" session around the fire on a dark December afternoon.

If afternoon tea is the essential English experience, The Pleasures of Afternoon Tea is the essential book for American aficionados.

The pictures alone make this book a treat for the eyes, but the primary appeal is to the palate. Angela Hynes provides more than 100 recipes for tasty accompaniments — both traditional and less so — to the beloved cuppa. These range from scones (nine different types, including a Caribbean variety), tea breads, and pastries to sandwiches and savories. There are recipes as well for holiday delicacies, including the traditional Christmas cake with royal icing, and even a few low-calorie "guilt-free" tea treats. Recipes use American terms and temperatures, so it's not necessary for the non-Brit to puzzle out the meaning of "caster sugar" or to decode "gas marks". Nor do they call for can't-buy-it-here ingredients such as golden syrup or mushroom ketchup. Two recipes worth special mention are those for chocolate mousse (an easy-to-make crowd pleaser) and my husband's favorite, the hearty north-country favorite known as "barm bread".

Although The Pleasures of Afternoon Tea concentrates on recipes, its opening section offers a wealth of fascinating information about tea — the beverage and the meal. Hynes covers the history of tea, provides advice on choosing and storing tea, and includes a guide to teatime accoutrements ranging from the familiar teapot to the more arcane muffin dish. She also offers detailed suggestions for serving scenarios, from the formal tea reception to the picnic tea.

Hynes also addresses my own pet quibble, the American tendency to mislabel afternoon tea — that elegant array of exquisite pastries and tiny sandwiches with fillings of salmon, cucumber, egg and watercress — as "high tea". Hynes points out that high tea, far from being an aristocratic indulgence, is a working-class meal usually composed of "leftovers, cold cuts, salad, bread and butter, a tart or cake, and perhaps a light dessert like fruit and gelatin". High tea, in other words, is not high-class. Hynes, however, does include a few suggestions and a few recipes for this more down-to-earth version of tea, giving the reader a wide array of options for tea-fare plain or fancy, aristocratic or humble — but uniformly delicious.


© 2009 Jennifer Monroe Franson

Angela Hynes — author's site

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