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Crossing Your Teas

How to brew up tea combinations from your garden.

 

"Thank God for Tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea."

—Sydney Smith (1771-1845)
Lady Holland's Memoir, Recipe for Salad

 

Teas are the undisputed most popular beverage in the world. One can enjoy tea in any country, at any time. It is one of the most ancient beverages on earth and is still used in Asia for important ceremonies. The most noted tea is the English high tea served at four o'clock in the afternoon. The Scottish high tea is usually served at five o'clock, and while the English tea features small finger sandwiches and sweets or biscuits, the Scottish tea often consists of heavier faire such as half an elk and the pipes. (Just kidding.) Here in the Southwest we can enjoy our afternoon tea while pretending to be in Africa, since the heat seems comparable.

According to legend, one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon teatime. Because the noon meal had become skimpier, the Duchess suffered from "a sinking feeling" at about four o'clock in the afternoon. At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu revolved around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.

One of the most enjoyable ways to use your herb harvest is to make your own tea combinations. If you are planning a garden, consider these herbs for teas as well as other recipes—borage, chamomile, lemon thyme, any of the mints, lemon verbena, lemon grass, rosemary, savory, hyssop and sage. These can be combined with black, white or green tea leaves for a delicious hot or cold beverage. There are two wonderful books from Storey Publications called Grow 15 Herbs for Tea and Tea and Tea Time Recipes that I highly recommend.

There are other plants from your garden that should not be overlooked when it comes to growing and making your own tea combinations. These include roses, tansy, blueberry and raspberry leaves, nettles, ginger root, elderberry, goldenrod, valerian and scented geraniums.

It is always important to remember to harvest your herbs early in the morning. The oils are at their highest peak and will be at their best flavor. You can then use the fresh herbs to brew tea or dry them to combine for future use. You can find tea accessories that feature teabags you can fill and heat-seal with an iron. There are also an endless variety of tea balls and infusers. Or if you want to brew more traditionally, just throw the loose herbs, roots and leaves in the pot to steep.

There is actually a particular way to make a traditional pot of "proper" tea. First bring fresh cool water to boil in a separate pan. Rinse your nonmetal teapot with a bit of the water. Then toss in the herbs, roots, pods, seeds or leaves. If you are brewing four cups of tea, use 10 tablespoons of fresh ingredients or five tablespoons of dried. Pour the boiling water over the mixture and let it steep for at least five minutes. Check the taste at intervals and when it is to your liking, strain out the herbs, etc. Serve your tea with an assortment of lemon wedges, milk and sugar for your guests.

And yes, there is proper tea etiquette if you are having a traditional tea party. Pick up your cup and saucer together—holding the saucer in one hand and cup in the other. The best way to hold a tea cup is to slip your index finger through the handle, up to almost the first knuckle, then balance and secure the cup by placing your thumb on the top of the handle and allowing the bottom of the handle to rest on your middle finger. This, of course, does not apply to Japanese tea since the cups have no handles and are held by embracing the cup with both hands. When stirring your tea, don't clang the sides like you are calling the field hands to dinner. Gently stir the tea back and forth. Don't leave your spoon in the cup and be sure not to slurp your tea from the spoon. After stirring, place your spoon on the saucer.

Try these tasty combinations and adjust them to your liking:

If you are looking for already mixed loose teas, I highly recommend Stash teas from India and also Twining, PG Tips and Heath and Heather.

The following recipes for finger sandwiches are always appropriate to serve with your tea:

Cucumber Sandwiches

Soft white bread, crusts removed

Butter

Cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

Watercress

Salt and pepper

Butter the bread slices. Pat the cucumbers slices dry and lightly salt and pepper. Arrange a layer of watercress and cucumbers on the bread. Cover with another slice and cut into triangles.

 

Apricot or Peach Ham Sandwiches

Thinly sliced smoked ham or turkey

Apricot or peach preserves

1 tablespoon chopped dried apricots

8 ounces creamed cheese

Soft white bread crusts removed

Mix 2 tablespoons of preserves and chopped apricots with creamed cheese, spread on bread, add a layer of the thinly sliced ham or turkey. Cut sandwiches into triangles and serve.

 

The Kitchen Gardener can now be found in the new Silver Confectionary, in the historic Silco Theater Building on Bullard Street in downtown Silver City. For information call 538-5317 or email alicepauser@msn.com.

 

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