Experience the tradition of British tea, complete with cucumber sandwiches


April 22, 2001|By Christina Bittner | Christina Bittner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TO MANY AMERICANS, tea is thought of as merely a beverage. To the British, it is much more. Tea is an afternoon break - and a meal, a chance to enjoy a brief respite from the day's activities, and a time-honored tradition.

Rosemary Glusek understands this tradition. Through a two-session, $30 class at Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts in Brooklyn Park, Glusek gives the public a chance to experience the tradition and learn how it developed.

Glusek is British, having grown up in the small town of Hessel on the River Humbee in England. "It is about eight miles from Hull. It hasn't changed in 100 years. If you look at pictures taken a hundred years ago, now it looks exactly the same," she says.

According to Glusek, tea was first used as a beverage about 2400 B.C. by Shen Nung, a Chinese ruler. A tea leaf fell into his cup of hot water, and he found that he enjoyed its taste.

Tea has a long association with the British, but it was not until 1800 that the tradition of an afternoon tea took hold in the United Kingdom.

"It was mainly for aristocratic women. They wanted to know what was going on, and they got together to discuss events and to gossip," Glusek says. "Tea is traditionally served at 4 p.m., because in 1840 the Duchess of Bedford was hungry at 4 p.m. That's how it began."

Glusek says that a precise description of all that went into making a tea a success can be found in the book, "The Victorian Maid," which offers a glimpse of how hard servants worked to prepare for the daily event.

"Servants worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The cook had a kitchen maid to prepare the meal, and the kitchen maid had a maid to do the cleaning up. The kitchen was in the lower level of the house, and all the meals had to be taken up into the family's living area," she said.

Preparing a meal was quite a bit more complicated that going to the grocery store and picking up something for the microwave.

"When the maids prepared a meal, they did everything. If they were having chicken, they would have to kill it, remove the feathers and clean it before cooking it. During the meal, the maids stood by the table in their clean starched dress to make sure that everyone had enough to eat and that the food was all right," Glusek said.

In addition to chicken, popular food items were beef, ham and tongue, as well as cucumber sandwiches. "Ham is still used, and a little beef. Before 1900, it was thought that what we know as cucumbers were poisonous. A Mr. John Cucumber maintained that they weren't. He marketed the idea, and to this day cucumber sandwiches are served at tea. The British of the 19th century were very good marketers," Glusek said.

No matter what was served, then or now, the beverage remains the main ingredient. And it must be properly prepared.

Glusek said that for a good pot of tea, loose tea is a must. "Tea companies package tea from a `mountain' of tea, and the tea that goes into tea bags is `dust tea' ... left over after packaging the loose tea."

Glusek recommends the Typhoo tea brand. "The best way to prepare it is to use an eight-cup pot and to warm the pot with hot water. Empty it out and add two teaspoons of loose tea and add the hot water. The traditional recipe is one teaspoon per cup, but that is too strong. Two teaspoons per pot is very pleasant. Let it stew for a few minutes and always use a strainer," she said.

Those who take her class will experience an English tea. "At the first meeting we discuss the history and choose the menu. At the next meeting we have a traditional tea, complete with china. It's a chance to know the feeling of a tea, the comradeship that takes place."

Reservations are being taken for her next class at Chesapeake Center. The dates have not been scheduled. She also will teach a class from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. May 5 and 12 at Howard Community College, with a fee of $39.

For information on the community college class - designated as XE733, Section 6725 - call Margie Cangiano at 410-772-4975. To inquire about the class at Chesapeake Center, call 410-636-6597.

Fish fry and carwash

In an unusual combination fund-raiser, St. John United Methodist Church at 6109 Belle Grove Road will hold its annual fish fry dinner and carwash from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

For $10, you can enjoy a fish dinner while your car is being scrubbed.

Information: 410-636-2578.

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