The weather has finally turned, dear readers, and so I felt it was time for another tea party! I've had a long couple of weeks, and I wasn't really looking forward to spending one of my days off cleaning the house and cooking, but it was very much worth the effort and I'm glad we did it.
Tea parties can be incredibly complicated, or very simple. My process is to think about the theme, and the flavors, and then come up with way too many ideas and then pare it down to what's possible. I wanted to honor the flavors of early fall, with something pumpkin or squash, apples, blackberries, and a savory bread. My original list also had gingerbread and shortbread cookies with jam, and scotch eggs, but that was too much!
I wanted to keep the menu fairly simple, because I was quite sleep deprived after a big event over the weekend at work. So I maximized flavor and minimized effort, to great acclaim! The party (just three of us) ended up delicious, with a chilly, drizzly day with beautiful overcast light on our front porch. Ironically, we ended up having mulled cider, instead of tea, but I'm enjoying a cup of tea as I write this a few hours later, so I suppose it still counts!
Autumnal Tea Party Decor
It can be tempting to go out and buy a lot of supplies for parties. I'm definitely as susceptible to that impulse as the next person! But I find what makes parties special is not how much everything matches, but the quality of your decor. I decorated my mantel with some of my favorite fall decorations - a coppery leaf garland, my favorite vintage china pheasant, a pretty vase with some fake flowers, a little green ceramic pumpkin. But when it comes to decking the table, nothing is better than nice tablecloth and real dishes.
I grew up shopping thrift stores and garage sales and flea markets with my mom, so I've amassed quite a collection of vintage dishes and tablecloths over the years. Because I actually use my collection, I don't spend a lot of money on it. It pains me enough when a vintage piece gets chipped or broken. My frugal soul would be even more deeply wounded if it was a piece I had spent a lot of money on.
This ended up being a very grandmother-focused display. The Metlox California ivy plates and a single surviving teacup I inherited from my grandmother Eunice, along with the green glass bowl I used for butter and the green glass saucers. My grandma Ruby found me the beautiful etched water glasses. The glass teacups embossed with leaves I picked up at a garage sale for a dollar for the pair. The milk glass is from my thrifted collection, and the beautiful tablecloth is a vintage one I forget where I found but it's probably one of my absolute favorites. I did not intend for the food to match the tablecloth, but that's kind of how it happened!
When it comes to collecting, it's important to buy things you love, instead of focusing on what things are worth. Who cares how expensive it was if you think it's ugly? It's also important to choose things that are relatively easy to care for. I do not recommend putting vintage dishes in the dishwasher, but a lot of vintage tablecloths are meant to be washed. I find vintage textiles with a stain or two are often much less expensive than the pristine stuff, and then if you get a stain on them you don't feel quite so bad!
Autumnal Tea Party Menu
Butternut Squash Soup
with buttered pecans
Sage Cream Biscuit Sandwiches
with pickled apple, pickled onions, and sharp cheddar
Blackberry Raspberry Hibiscus Water
Apple Blackberry Crumble
with vanilla ice cream
Although I love to cook from scratch, the butternut squash soup was store-bought from one of my favorite soup brands: Pacific Foods Butternut Squash Soup, and I got the low-sodium version (affiliate link). I don't usually like butternut squash soup, but I know lots of people love it, so I thought I would give it a go. This one was so delicious, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I felt it needed a little something extra, so I toasted some chopped pecans in a little butter and salt, and the butter got a little browned. It was the perfect garnish.
The blackberry raspberry hibiscus water was also store-bought, a simple cold water infusion from Bigelow tea which I found at the store the other day (affiliate link). It turned out lovely - not as strong as tea, just a hint of flavor to cold water. Very refreshing. Sadly, the color, which was a beautiful purple as it steeped, got diluted to a kind of washed purple-gray, which was less beautiful. But still delicious!
Sage Cream Biscuits
I had thought about making scones for this tea party, but I don't have a reliable savory scones recipe, and since I was doing sandwiches, I thought biscuits would be better. This is an adaptation of my tried-and-true Dorie Greenspan cream biscuit recipe. It's almost fool-proof. This one is doubled.
4 cups of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 heaping teaspoon dried sage (not ground)
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Whisk all the dry ingredients together, and then add the heavy cream, tossing with a fork until most of the flour is absorbed. Knead gently with your hands (don't overwork!), then pour out onto a clean, floured work surface and knead, folding often, until it comes together. Pat into a large rectangle and cut into squares. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve warm, and to make the sandwiches, split the biscuits, butter them, and add sliced sharp cheddar cheese, a slice of pickled apple, and a few strands of pickled red onion. Top with more cheddar and the other half of the biscuit and devour. Serve with butternut squash and a side of dilly beans and mulled cider.
I'll be following up with the recipe the apple blackberry crumble tomorrow, and the recipes for refrigerator dilly beans, pickled apples, and pickled onions will be available to patrons on my Patreon tomorrow as well.
Do you like to have tea parties? What's your favorite autumnal food?
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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.