Southern Afternoon Tea: An American Tradition

Sweet Tea // Ice Tea

Popular throughout the American south, Sweet Tea can be a great way to beat the summer heat. Photo by liz west (Flickr) – CC BY 2.0 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/641462022/

With iced tea season on hand, it is time to look at another American twist to tea, the southern afternoon tea. If you haven’t guessed already, the main beverage of the southern afternoon tea is iced tea. So let’s take a look at its origins and then what to serve to make your southern afternoon tea truly American.

Southern Afternoon Tea – History

Afternoon teas in the US mimic British teas during the 1700’s. However, as the ice box and refrigeration developed in the US, so did iced tea. Keep in mind, a high temperature in London is the upper 60’s for the summer. In most of the southern US it is a good 20 degrees warmer, so ice became very popular very quickly in our country. Sweet iced tea, with black tea as the base, first appeared in the 1870’s. Before that, it was green tea that served as the base to iced tea. In the wealthy plantations the tea was served over ice with sugar and a slice of lemon. Periodically herbs like mint or basil were added as garnish.

Southern Afternoon Tea – What to Serve

A southern tea needs American food, luckily there is no shortage of historic recipes to draw from when crafting your menu. Much like the British, the southern tea includes both sweet and savory items. The big difference is the use of ingredients and foods that reflect what was available in the early to mid-1800’s in the United States. Of course you can update this with your favorite family recipes.

  • Southern Tea Cake – This soft cake like cookie is the simple combination of sugar, flour, eggs, milk, butter,and pearlash (an early form of leavening agent, like yeast). Today’s version includes vanilla, baking powder and salt. These versatile cakes can be eaten plain or used much like the British scone.
  • Apple Tansey – This calls for a true cast iron skillet to get right. First published in 1742 in Williamsburg, VA, this treat is highlighted in the Complete Housewife, which was originally published in England but was reworked by William Parks for American tastes. This recipe calls for Pipin Apples (Granny Smith seem to be a favored alternative), butter, eggs, cream, sugar and nutmeg. The goal is to fry the apples in butter and then add the eggs and cream and have it brown on one side and then flip (or cook under a broiler) to brown the other. Think of it like a sweet apple frittata.
  • Ambrosia Salad

    Ambrosia Salad – Photo by Flickr User Steven Depolo (CC BY 2.0)

    Ambrosia Salad – This fruit salad appeared in the 1860’s as the railroad connected the southern citrus fields with the northern Eastern cities. As California opened up, coconut was commonly delivered into San Francisco and made its way east for those who could afford it. Ambrosia salad was originally a layered salad of shredded coconut, sugar and citrus. It has since had pecans and marshmallows added to it.

  • Biscuits with Ham – Pigs were a big staple in all early American homes. They provided both protein and fat for cooking other foods that could be cured with salt for long term storage.

So the next time you are thinking about afternoon tea, try the American version!

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Raku Pottery: Art Fashioned by Tea

Raku Style Pottery

Raku Pottery – Photo by Flickr User Tony Alter – CC BY 2.0

Raku pottery finds its roots back to the later part of the Ming Dynasty in China (1500’s CE), but was fully developed by the Raku family in Japan. This pottery technique has spread the world over and has taken its own form in the United States and Europe. However, the fundamentals are still similar and they all go back to the influence of Sen Rikyu, the buddiest monk who created the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Raku Pottery – Early History

Sen Rikyu heavily influenced the first Raku potter, Chojiro. Chojiro’s father was originally from China. He brought with him to Japan the Chinese pottery method of Sancai. This method uses the three colors of off-white, brown, and green to decorate pottery. Chojiro was taught this method and used it in his own works. He was commissioned by the Buddiest monks to make the clay tiles for a temple in Kyoto. It is there that Sen Rikyu and Chojiro met and together brought about what is now called Raku pottery.

Sen Rikyu commissioned Chojiro to make tea bowls that reflected the philosophy of wabi-sabi. This philosophy was focused on the beauty in simple items. Rikyu wanted the tea bowls to be a single color and simple form that reflected simplicity. Chojiro worked in red and black glaze. The red was a reflection of the original color of the clay, while black was a humble color. These bowls became the center piece of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and were shared widely by Sen Rikyu. Both Sen Rikyu and Chojiro worked for a leading warrior statemen, Toyotomo Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi so loved the tea bowls that he presented Chojiro with a golden seal containing the Chinese symbol for Raku. Chojiro took that as his surname and it has been past down through the family ever sense.

 Raku Pottery – Current Times

Fifteen generations later, the Raku family still practices ceramics in Japan. Their home, rebuilt in the late 1800’s, is a museum that houses a collection of the older pieces of Raku ceramics. The current generation is active in preserving the Japanese Tea Ceremony in Japan as well as more modern art and interior design.

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Tea in Poetry: A Soothing Combination

Tea in poetry is a perfect pairing of a beverage that requires patience and observation to enjoy with a means to express that practice to the rest of the world. As soon as tea entered the scene in China it was quickly added to the poetry.  This probably has more to do with the fact that it was the scholars and monks, who could read and write, that discovered and promoted tea consumption to the Chinese aristocracy. Lu Yu, who is credited with documenting in writing the process of making tea in the Classic of Tea, studied in a monastery and authored other books including some poetry. Below are two of our favorite tea poems from China.

A Winter Night

One winter night
A friend dropped in.
We drank not wine but tea.
The kettle hissed,
The charcoal glowed,
A bright moon shone outside.
The moon itself
Was nothing special –
But,ah, the plum-tree blossom!

Tu Hsiao-Shan, Sung Dynasty (960-1279 CE)

The Way of Tea

A friend from Yueh presented me
With tender leaves of Yen-Hsi tea,
For which I chose a kettle
Of ivory-mounted gold,
A mixing-bowl of snow-white earth.
With its clear bright froth and fragrance,
It was like the nectar of Immortals.
The first bowl washed the cobwebs from my mind-
The whole world seemed to sparkle.
A second cleansed my spirit
Like purifying showers of rain.
A third and I was one with the Immortals-
What need now for austerities
To purge our human sorrows?
Worldly people, by going in for wine,
Sadly deceive themselves.
For now I know the Way of Tea is real.

Chiao-Jen, T’ang Dynasty (618-906 CE) and friend of Lu Yu

 

There are many more poems around tea, both modern and ancient, please share your favorites in the comments section. If you fancy yourself a poet, share your own as well!

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Chinese New Year History and Customs

Chinese New Year Festival

Chinese New Year Festival (photo by Flickr user Paul)

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, dates back to Shang Dynasty (1766 BCE-1122 BCE). Just about every subsequent dynasty put their own spin on the celebration. The Han Dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE) added an early version of fireworks by burning dried bamboo. When the bamboo is set on fire its core expands causing the stick to explode open with a loud pop. The Tang Dynasty (618 CE-907 CE) added the red lanterns, which are still part of the celebration.

Chinese New Year Traditions

New Year’s Eve dinner with family is one of the biggest traditions of this holiday. It is so big that it causes over 3 billion people to travel just prior to the New Year in China. The New Year’s travel rush begins almost 14 days before New Year’s eve to allow all the transit systems to move all these people. When that is compared to the 48.7 million Americans that traveled to be with family this past Thanksgiving (measured over a 5 day period), it makes our crowded roads and lines at airport security seem empty.

Once every one makes it to dinner, a feast is served that includes a whole chicken or fish (including head, tail, feet or fins) as they symbolize prosperity and completeness, noodles, dumplings, and Niangao. Each family will have different spins on these dishes based off of which region of China they are from. Tea is served and brought as gifts for other family members and for the alter that is setup for deceased family members to honor them.

The family stays up after dinner and watches fireworks that are set off at midnight. Everyone is to stay up all night and all lights are to remain on in the house until the sun rises. After sunrise, gifts are exchanged, which are usually red envelopes with money as they symbolize prosperity and wealth for the new year. Firecrackers may be set off as they are to scare off the “Nian”, a monster that arrives at the New Year who brings bad luck. Red is worn through out the New Year celebration since it is the color of luck. Black is avoided as it is the color of death.

Chinese New Year Around the World

Due to the world increasingly getting smaller, there are many celebrations for the Lunar New Year around the world. In fact, the largest celebration of the Lunar New Year outside of China occurs in San Francisco. If you cannot make it there, Washington DC has a Chinese New Year parade as well as many other large American cities.  So join in the celebrations!

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