A few weeks ago I celebrated Halloween with a high tea at The Austen Tea Room. The decor and crockery were delightful. There were four of us taking tea and we had a room all to ourselves. We were in the Elizabeth Bennet room, which we thought most appropriate 🙂
We were quite excited as we waited for our tiered plates of savoury and sweet treats. We weren’t disappointed! Our first plate arrived filled with mouthwatering finger sandwiches, mini pies and quiches. Then a towering plate of sweets came. We started with the meringues with cream followed by little cakes and macarons. We ended with scones, jam and cream. Pots of tea flowed smoothly throughout the service. It was a wonderful experience and one we would do again.
As I have never been to a high tea before, I started thinking about the difference between an afternoon tea, a cream tea and a high tea. After researching the subject I made a fascinating discovery – what many of us think of as a high tea isn’t really a high tea. Rather than dainty little morsels served on delicate crockery in the afternoon, a high tea is really a hearty meal served late in the evening at the end of the working day.
During the Industrial Revolution, workers would arrive home late and hungry. This led to the tradition of sitting around a table and eating an evening meal. Hot and cold food would be served including meat, fish, pies, tarts, breads and cakes. Food was accompanied with cupfuls of strong tea. These hearty dishes were served on sturdy crockery and cups, not the delicate plates, sauces and teacups we associate with a modern high tea. This evening meal came to be known as high tea, meat tea and later simply as tea.
There are two theories as to why this evening meal was called high tea:
High tea was eaten sitting at a kitchen table or high table while afternoon tea, also called low tea, was eaten sitting on low sofas and chairs, with food served on lower lounge tables.
High tea was taken later in the day when the day was well advanced or “higher” in the day whereas afternoon tea was served earlier or “lower” in the day.
If the high tea I enjoyed at The Austen Tea Room wasn’t really a high tea, then what was it? Using the term high tea for afternoon tea appears to have occurred due to a misunderstanding as to what the term “high” meant. At some point the term “high” was thought to mean formal. So high teas are now a fancy form of afternoon tea. Whatever their origin, one thing is definite – they are delicious 🙂
Pies are popular in both afternoon and high teas. While dainty little party pies may grace an afternoon tea party, these hearty stout, beef and smoked oyster pot pies would be welcome on any high tea table.
Surf and Turf Pot Pies
1kg stewing beef, cubed
2 tablespoons plain flour
olive oil for browning
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup stout
1 cup beef stock
2 bay leaves
120g button mushrooms, quartered
2 x 85g tin of smoked oysters
1-2 sheets ready rolled frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten
Toss the cubed meat through the flour until coated.
Heat oil in a large saucepan.
Add meat in batches and cook over a high heat until browned. Add more oil as needed. Remove browned meat and set aside.
Add a splash of oil to the pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft.
Add the salt and basil and stir through.
Return the meat to pan.
Add the stout and stock and stir through.
Add the bay leaves and bring to the boil.
Once boiling, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 + 1/2 hours.
Add the mushrooms and simmer, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaves.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Distribute the smoked oysters evenly between four 12cm x 6cm oven-proof bowls or ramekins.
Pour stew evenly into the ramekins.
Cut puff pastry lids slightly bigger than the bowls.
Cover bowls with puff pastry, pressing the edges down around the rim of the ramekins to seal the pies.
Brush tops with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.
Note – check the liquid during the cooking process and add more stout, stock or water if needed.