A Famous Five High Tea

May 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook | 1 Comment
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A chilly Bank Holiday Monday (too cold, wet and windy for a picnic) offers up the perfect opportunity to make a Famous Five High Tea. I don’t think you can be too prescriptive about what constitutes high tea, as opposed to afternoon tea, but I would say that it is more substantial as it can double up for dinner as well, and is therefore served slightly later (between 5-6 o’clock, rather than the 3-5 o’clock for afternoon tea). The Tea Council of Great Britain (yes, there really is a Tea Council of Great Britain) suggests that high tea generally consists of bread, meat and cakes, served with hot tea.

The Tea Council offers a historical overview of the practice of taking tea in this country, tracing the ritual of afternoon tea back to Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford (left) who is said to have originated it in the early 1800s. As tea became more and more popular (often as a substitute for gin and other alcoholic beverages), working and farming communities began to have high tea, ‘a cross between the delicate afternoon meal enjoyed in the ladies’ drawing rooms and the dinner enjoyed in houses of the gentry at seven or eight in the evening.’

There are high teas aplenty in the Famous Five books (to say nothing of the extreme high teas of the Willow and Cherry Tree Farm books), although these are not always accompanied by cups of tea. After their hard day’s cycle to Billycock Farm, Mrs Thomas (mother of Julian and Dick’s friend Toby) prepares the children a substantial tea:

‘The four visitors wished they had not had such a big lunch! A large ham sat on the table, and there were crusty loaves of new bread. Crisp lettuces, dewy and cool, and red radishes were side by side in a big glass dish. On the sideboard was an enormous cake, and beside it a dish of scones. Great slabs of butter and jugs of creamy milk were there, too, with honey and home-made jam.’

It’s a hot day and the children all plump for milk rather than tea, feeling that ‘nothing could be nicer than icy-cold, creamy farm milk from the dairy on a hot day like this’ (conversely, the Tea Council’s FAQs highlight the scientifically-proven refreshing qualities of a cup of tea when it is warm outside). Mrs Thomas serves up another tea at the end of Billycock Hill, after an adventure which has involved stolen airplanes, an intrepid ‘pigling’ and a pair of ‘queer’ butterfly men. In the words of her son Toby this is so good it ‘isn’t a meal – it’s a BANQUET!’

As Samuel Pepys observed in his famous diaries, it is ‘strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everyone’ (9 November 1665), and the concept of the post-adventure feast crops up frequently in the FF books. I have referenced the memorable breakfast in Five on a Hike Together and Joan the Cook’s well-appreciated Secret Trail dinner in previous posts; both of these repasts give the children the opportunity to replenish themselves after various excitement and hardships, and debrief each other and/or their parents on what has gone before. Today has actually been relatively adventure-free but as I’ve been out of town for a day or two it’s nice to catch up with friends while making them eat retro and slightly kitsch foodstuffs. So, here is my suggestion for:

A Famous Five High Tea

First up, Joan the Cook’s stuffed tomatoes from Five on a Secret Trail. The recipe for this comes from Lucy H Yates’ The Country Housewife’s Book, first published in 1934 [my variations in brackets].

‘Take half a dozen ripe, but not over-ripe tomatoes [or one giant ‘Jack Hawkins’ (yes!) or similar tomato per person]. Cut in halves and remove the seeds. Prepare a forcemeat of a breakfastcupful of breadcrumbs and one tablespoonful each of grated cheese, chopped onions [or spring onions] and kitchen herbs (parsley, with basil or lemon thyme) [plus some of the flesh of the tomatoes, but no seeds]; moisten with one egg. Stuff the tomatoes; breadcrumb them and crown each with a nut of butter, or a few drops of olive oil. Fry or place in a baking dish or a quick oven.’ [220°c for about 20 mins]

Serve with new bread and butter, and salad. Technically this should be the Secret Trail salad but quite frankly, I think this is just too much, the Secret Trail salad being a small meal in itself. We ate our tomatoes with spinach, rocket, watercress and avocado with ricotta, a squeeze of lemon, a splash of white balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil. Incidentally, and perhaps ironically, I wouldn’t recommend tea with this and would instead opt for a glass of wine.

For afters, Carnation Milk Strawberry Jelly. Nestlé’s milk (in this context please pronounce ‘nessels’ rather than ‘neslay’) is a staple foodstuff for many of Blyton’s adventuring children, so even though I’ve not yet come across the Kirrins eating this particular dish, I think it has a place in a Famous Five High Tea.

Dissolve one packet of strawberry jelly (other flavours – lime for instance – would work well too) in 150ml of very hot water. When it has cooled down, slowly add one tin of evaporated milk, whisking gently as you do so. Pour the mixture into small dishes and leave to set for 2 hours. Garnish with fruit and gratings of chocolate [NB if you avoid Nestlé’s milk for moral reasons, many supermarkets sell own brand evaporated milk].


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  1. […] recommended evaporated milk jelly which I subsequently tried, tested and enjoyed as part of a Famous Five High Tea. Today, same colleague and I couldn’t help but digress from work matters in order to discuss […]

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