Friday, April 22, 2011

The Tea Party

When I was a kid living in the South in the sixties, traditional afternoon teas or tea parties were very popular here. My mom, aunts, and grandmother were always hosting or attending a tea for a bride-to-be, a special guest, a retiree, or as a birthday celebration.

The events were usually held in the home of one of the hostesses. They usually took place on a Saturday, at around three or four o'clock in the afternoon. These were formal events, and the ladies all wore their Sunday best. The hostesses also wore corsages, and so did the guest of honor. Men were not allowed at the tea.

If the event was for a bride, the hostesses pooled their money and presented the guest of honor with a fairly expensive gift. Guests didn't bring gifts to the tea. That would have been considered "tacky" - a favorite word of these genteel ladies.

Guests served themselves from the dining room table, using fine china, crystal, and sterling silver. Paper or plastic was avoided like the plague! Why? Because it would have been tacky, of course!

The foods were presented on sterling, china, or crystal plates and platters, often with doilies underneath. Hot foods were kept in silver chafing dishes. Vases of fresh flowers and cuttings of ivy also adorned the table, and of course, underneath everything was a beautiful white linen tablecloth - the hostess's best.

What kinds of party food were served? Finger sandwiches, toasted pecans, fancy little cakes, round cucumber sandwiches with shrimp, pastel ribbon sandwiches, homemade butter mints, divinity, meatballs, cheese straws, tiny tartlets, and other wonderful, dainty party foods. It seemed that the women were always competing to see which one could make the prettiest, tastiest morsels.

Someone was delegated to serve iced tea, hot tea, and punch to guests. Iced tea was served in crystal stemware, hot tea was served in china teacups, and punch was served in crystal punch cups. The hot tea was always poured from a silver or china teapot.

The teas were always a "calling" event. They usually lasted for two hours, and guests could drop in at any time. They mingled, ate, and left after offering their best wishes to the special guest.

I loved these tea parties! I hated attending them, but the leftovers Mom brought home after these soirees were always eagerly anticipated by my dad, my brother, and me!

People still host afternoon teas, but they're not nearly as prevalent today. I guess this Southern tradition is just too much trouble for most working women. What a shame...

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