Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Teatime and Teapots
Teatime has always been a special event in our house. Most of my friends rarely had communal dinner around the dining table, let alone having afternoon tea with your family--unheard of. But a few times a month, my mother would set out nice china teacups with gold rims, a bowl of tidy sugar cubes, a little creamer pot (more often filled with lowfat milk, in our house), and real silver spoons. If we were lucky, there was a batch of scones fresh out of the oven. Warm, crumbly, buttery, and what seem to me now as sinfully full of white flour and sugar. (I've taken to making scones using half white whole wheat flour, which makes them slightly tougher but somehow more virtuous when you find yourself eating one for tea, two for a midnight snack, and another one for breakfast the next morning.) If there wasn't time or inclination to make scones, we'd pull out cookies from the back of the pantry. My favorite were hazelnut-filled pirouettes that shattered satisfyingly with each bite. As a kid I'd try to eat off the thin, crunchy outside of each stick, spiraling my way along its length, until I was left with only the chocolate hazelnut filling to smoosh between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. In the summer we might have fresh strawberries served with lemon curd or dipped in sour cream and brown sugar. If someone was really hungry, there'd be toast with salted butter as the lone savory item to balance out our sweets. But to me as a child, sweets seemed much of the point of teatime.
My mother is particular about tea. British tea, black tea. We're not green tea drinkers, my family. A copper kettle warmed water until the loud shriek of the whistle made my face pucker. We'd pick a teapot: blue, or lavender, or white with Peter Rabbit paintings, or the blue calico that matched the cow-shaped creamer pot. She'd fill the pot with hot water from the tap to pre-warm it so that the tea wouldn't get cold. Our standard afternoon black tea was a mix: half smokey earl grey and half solid, dependable English breakfast. Always loose leaf. One spoonful per person, plus one "for the pot." Pour out the warm water, add the loose tea, pour boiling water over all. Three minutes of steeping time always went by in a flash because we were busy with last minute tasks: putting a jar of Tiptree raspberry jam on the table, getting siblings from their bedrooms, finding the dining room chairs that had migrated away from the table during the course of the day. The payoff of course was your first steaming cup of tea, strong but clear. Family around the table, informally chatting about school or sports or dance rehearsal. Slathering scones with honey or jam.
Seattle has perfect teatime weather. Cool, damp afternoons just seem to be asking for me to put a kettle of water on the stove--although in a yellow Le Creuset pot, not a copper one. And when it comes time to fill a teapot with warm tap water, I have three options.
The first teapot was actually a hand-me-down from my mom. She'd bought it as a gift to my father many years ago. He collects antique maps, and my mom thought it was a cute meshing of their interests. He smiled, and then said something to the effect of, "What am I going to do with a teapot?" Whoops.
When I moved to my own place off campus, this pot found its way into my kitchen. I like that it reminds me of both of my parents. And I absolutely love that it holds so much more tea than it would seem. This is the pot I pick when brewing for two or three people.
Look, it's home! See it?
When it's just me at the tea table, I turn to this beauty:
It looks big from the side, but see? It's an oval! With a pretty yellow scalloped edge, to boot. My sister gave me this pot, which I think she originally found at Anthropologie. I think it's just darling.
This last pot I bought for myself, after walking by it at my favorite cooking store for months and pining away. I finally picked it up and turned it over--only $15! Totally worth the amount of joy it brings into my life. In fact, I often forget to use this teapot because it sits on my mantel so I can see it every day.
Who knew I needed an Indian elephant who pours tea out of his trunk? Not I. But I very certainly did. And I love him muchly.
It makes me a little sad that I don't have family around who will happily tromp out of their bedrooms for a weekend afternoon teatime. My housemates are up for it on occasion, especially if I've made scones, but they're generally more coffee-drinkers than tea-lovers. So until I have a family of my own to share my pot, I have these moments to myself. A teacup with a gold rim, steaming smoky tea, crumbly scone, sweet jam. And a lovely warming antidote to cool Seattle afternoons.