I love winter, don't get me wrong, and the frequent snowstorms and squalls we've been having here in New York have actually lifted my spirits more often than not. I vastly prefer fluffy white snow and prettily iced trees to muddy brown landscape and grey days. That being said, sometimes you just need to brighten your day, and this was exactly the little escape I needed. I spent the morning cooking and baking, a friend brought cookies and tulips, and we sat down to a delightful tea party, complete with my new favorite electric tea kettle. It was an excuse also to use some of my extensive collection of vintage glassware. I didn't match, but that was okay. Who can say no to hobnail compote dishes and Charm teacups?
Vegetarian Spring Tea Party Menu
Lentilwurst Sandwiches with Mustard on Pumpernickel
Cucumber Sandwiches With Herbed Cream Cheese on White
Ruby Red Grapefruit Sections in Light Syrup
Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones
Citrus Yogurt Olive Oil Cake
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Assorted Tea with Cream and Sugar
I seriously considered making Earl Grey madeleines, and maybe cream biscuits with assorted jams, but with only three of us, this was plenty. We remarked on the funny thing about tea parties is that everything is fairly small, so it doesn't seem like much food, but it certainly fills you up quickly!
The menu was fairly easy. Our friend brought the cookies, the grapefruit was pre-sectioned from the refrigerated produce section of the grocery store. The most involved recipe was the citrus yogurt olive oil cake, which was okay, but not as nice as I had hoped, so I'm not going to include the recipe here.
I made this tea party vegetarian in part because our friend is vegetarian, but also because vegetarian food just seems a bit lighter and more appropriate for a tea party. You can satisfy even the heartiest appetite with lentilwurst sandwiches - the mushroom/lentil mixture really does smell and even taste like sausage, thanks to the mix of herbs and spices. I first made lentilwurst back for our White Christmas themed party, and I've made it several times since.
What is a tea party without cucumber sandwiches? I went extra-fancy here and cut rounds out of the centers of soft white sandwich bread (the bakery kind, not the pre-sliced kind). Frankly, it didn't make a lot of rounds, so I left these open-faced. I'm saving the outer scraps for bread pudding later this week. The rest of the recipe is simple. You'll need:
1 package neufchatel cream cheese
dried dill weed
a tablespoon or two of milk, cream, or buttermilk
1 English (or burpless/seedless) cucumber
white bread rounds
Soften the cream cheese at room temperature. Thinly slice the scallions, white and green parts, and add to the cream cheese with the dill weed and liquid. With a fork, mash the lot together until well mixed. Spread onto the rounds of bread and top with thin slices of cucumber. If you want to be extra fancy, you could garnish with fresh dill or chives.
The bread will dry out as you let it sit out, so try to do these sandwiches at the last minute, or cover and refrigerate them.
Deviled Eggs Recipe
Deviled eggs are one of my favorites, but I find most deviled eggs that other people make to be rubbery and bland. There are three tricks to deviled eggs - don't overcook the eggs, boil the eggs the same day you plan to serve them, and make the yolk filling smooth, creamy, and generous.
12 large eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
In a large pot, cover your eggs with cold water by several inches. Bring pot of cold water to a boil over high heat and let boil for 1-2 minutes. Then turn off heat, set a timer for 15 minutes, and let eggs continue to cook as the water slowly cools down. When the 15 minutes are up, remove the eggs to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and cool down. Peel the eggs (crack them under water for easiest peeling), halve them, and remove the yolks. With a fork, mash the yolks finely until there are no chunks left and the yolk mixture is powdery. Then add 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, and 1/4 cup each mayo and sour cream. Mix well. If the mixture seems dry, add another spoonful of mayo and sour cream, until the yolk mixture is fluffy, but not runny. Fill the eggs generously, in the hollow left by the yolk and pile some more on top. I just use a spoon and dollop, but you can fill a pastry bag or a plastic sandwich bag with the end cut off if you want something a little more polished-looking. If desired, garnish with paprika, black pepper, and/or chopped chives, but I like mine plain. Keep cool until ready to serve, and watch them fly off the tray.
Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones
Scones are another essential part of a tea party. These are my absolute favorite recipe, straight from the eminent Dorie Greenspan. I didn't make too many changes, except halfway through the recipe I realized I only had room temperature butter. Thankfully, my husband reminded me of the several pounds of butter in our chest freezer, so instead of cutting in cold butter like the recipe calls for, I grated frozen butter and mixed that in, which worked well. These scones have a nutty, toasty, nutmeg-y flavor and using fresh-grated nutmeg really makes a difference, although you shouldn't use quite as much as pre-ground nutmeg
1/2 cup cold buttermilk
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 1/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
10 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter (1 stick, plus 2 tablespoons)
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and oatmeal. In a larger bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together, than cut in butter (or used grated frozen butter). Add egg mixture and toss with a fork until mostly combined. Knead a few times until the remaining flour is absorbed, then pat into a round and cut into wedges. Bake 20-22 minutes or until golden. Cool for a few minutes before serving.
Serve warm with plenty of salted butter.
The one lovely thing about using an electric kettle for tea is you can have the kettle right at the table, which is what we did. Cooking at table with electric appliances was common in the 1930s and '40s, especially at breakfast. It was fun to be able to recreate that fashion today! Plus, being able to reheat the water right at the table certainly made a difference in refills.
In all, this teensy little party was super fun, and I'm definitely having a tea party again! Something about getting out the fancy dishes, fresh flowers, a candle or two, an assortment of tempting little treats, and plenty of hot tea makes everything better. Plus I have plenty of other recipes to share. So many, in fact, I'm considering writing a little tea party cookbook. Would you be interested if I did?
Have you ever had a tea party? Do you have favorite tea cups and dishes? Tell us in the comments!
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.