Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Time for tea cups IV - grandmothers' cups

I'm getting to the tail end (I won't say 'dregs'!) now of this tea cup thing.

Here are some I have inherited from my grandmothers.

These were my paternal grandmother's everyday tea cups. How I loved to gaze at the birds when I was a child and give them all names. I would drink milk out of one at tea-time on Sundays.

Tea always meant bridge rolls with cucumber, egg and cress; wafer-thin bread and butter; toasted tea-cakes with apricot jam; 'fancy' shop-bought iced cakes; and tinned fruit with evaporated milk or a wobbly, pink rabbit made from Symington's Table Cream. The bone china cups are unmarked but my grandfather's large extended family lived in Stoke-on-Trent, so it's very likely it was a wedding present in the 1920s and came from one of the famous potteries.

The hand-painted 'cherry' cups were from my maternal grandmother's second-best crockery collection, which included a dinner service too. Made by Barker Brothers/Tudor Ware in creamy stoneware, this was a popular design of the time, which my grandmother collected for her 'bottom drawer' during her long engagement in the 1920s. I think they were bought from Boots or Timothy White's (possibly Woolworths) in Basingstoke.

Tea time at Grannie's was always thick slices of home-cooked ham with salad from the garden; home-made scones and strawberry jam; home-baked fruit cake and Victoria sponge and sometimes a lardy cake or some giant macaroons from the baker's. With Grannie's special treacle tart and custard to finish off with, it's a wonder any of us could lever ourselves from our chairs afterwards.
I've added to this set over the years at boot-sales and from eBay and until recently (when the attrition rate began to seem unsustainable for such a vintage range) it has been in everyday use here, too.


60 Going On 16 said...

Love those blue tits, Juliet - the perfect accompaniment for afternoon birdwatching!

You're almost certainly too young to remember another teatime treat, which was Fuller's chocolate cake. (Heaven on a plate - and a rare treat in the '40s and '50s, when we had rationing and almost everything was home made). I'm sure Nigel Slater has written about Fuller's cakes; in the meantime, this is what Max Hastings, writing in the Guardian in 2004 had to say on the subject:

"There was a famous chain of teashops named Fuller's, which produced their own branded cakes. Heaven for every boarding schoolboy of the 1950s was to receive one in a parcel. Fuller's walnut was the most famous, but personally I preferred Fuller's chocolate cake. My mother occasionally reminded me that they cost six shillings apiece and therefore counted as luxury food but, in my prep school prime, I could demolish a two-pound Fuller's cake single-handed, at one sitting."

monix said...

Bring back afternoon tea! All that lovely china, all that cake. (I remember Fullers, D. Chocolate was my favourite.)

KSV Woolfoot said...

I like the pictures (of course) but also to hear about something so very English being practiced in living memory by an actual English person.

You'll recall that I was somewhat taken aback by how, well, "un-foreign" I found your country when I finally made my recent visit. One of my hosts went out of her way to get us some crumpets one day ... but we didn't sit down to a proper tea anywhere in England, nor did I see anyone else taking one. Do people still have tea or take tea or whatever the proper term is as part of daily life or has it gone the way, for practical purposes, of the derby hat and cane?

60 Going On 16 said...

Monix and I live in the West Country where afternoon tea and teashops are still thriving - although it's primarily for tourists and visitors. And, in London, traditional afternoon tea is still served at places like Fortnum and Mason and at many of the leading hotels. (Unfortunately, the prices make it a rare treat.)

But, these days, most people of working age (and a good many beyond retirement age) are working flat out and long hours just to make ends meet, and aren't at home. And when they are, they're probably far too tired to start baking (that's assuming they know how). However, there does seem to be a revival of interest. Even the Guardian, hardly the most traditional of newspapers, now has a weekly baking column . . . probably more baking as therapy though.

Juliet said...

Kim - Afternoon tea is no longer a daily ritual in most people's lives, but a special treat. When families get together at weekends, for example. Or, as an alternative to meeting up for coffee or lunch, friends will go to a nice 'tea shop', especially in picturesque towns and villages, or in the restaurants or 'tea rooms' of posh department stores. It's probably more of a class thing now than it used to be a couple of generations ago. The disappearance of the home-making, home-baking, home-based mum is partly responsible - but also the general shift in lifestyle and eating habits which has swept the country in the last 30 or 40 years. There is a a great deal of nostalgia associated with the food of a couple of generations ago, as the huge popularity of Nigel Slater's books 'Toast' and 'Eating for England' attests. There's a short history of 'tea taking' here: http://dormouseandtheteapot.blogspot.com/2008/04/quick-history-of-tea-taking.html. Next time you're over here, give me a call and I'll lay on a full afternoon tea with the best china cups!!