Marguerite, the plucky heroine of my manuscript, is plagued by situations not mentioned in the etiquette books of polite society. She sometimes prefers to have tea at the Aerated Bread Company, one of the few places women can visit alone without risking their reputations. Customers selected and paid around five pence for their choice of tea, sandwiches, scones, and pastries.
During my childhood in England, I often had afternoon tea in a department store built in the Victorian era. The restaurant had the original wooden floors, shrimp colored walls, white table linens, china teacups, and servers who called me “Dearie.” I think the tea cost about five shillings. Cucumber, salmon, and watercress sandwiches were served first, followed by warm scones with jam and clotted cream. One of the servers passed by frequently with a trolley of desserts. Apricot sponge cake, lemon tarts, chocolate éclairs, and puffy crème pastries were among my favorites.
It’s been a long time since I’ve visited a tearoom. As part of my historical research and writer’s book club, I recently had afternoon tea at a hotel dating from the 19th century. We discussed our most recent selection, THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS, and sampled champagne or sparkling cider at a large round table in the hotel’s mahogany paneled and stained glass ceiling lobby. Our table was set with pristine linens, crystal, silver, and fine gilt china.
The first course included our choice of tea and cranberry scones with Devonshire clotted cream, lemon curd, jam, or honey. The clotted cream was not only scrumptious, but it also passed the test for a crucial scene in my manuscript. For the second course we were presented with a three-tiered silver tray of assorted sandwiches. I missed having watercress, but the cucumber and smoked salmon with cream cheese sandwiches were a delicious treat for someone who no longer eats red meat or pork. The third course consisted of a variety of desserts, which were made from modern recipes. The hazelnut mousse in chocolate shell and the lemon tart minus pastry crust were my favorites.
Although I loved the setting, tasty afternoon tea, and the enjoyable company of my fellow writers, I’m still in search of the perfect Victorian afternoon tea. So far I’ve located a couple of tearooms, The Mad Hatter in Margate and The Bridge at Bradford, which I want to visit on my next trip to England. Their interiors, server’s attire, and menus are more reminiscent of the perfect afternoon teas I’ve researched.
What do you think about Victorian afternoon tea? Are there other tearooms I should add to my list?