Tuesday, July 28, 2009

High Tea vs. Low Tea

By Brenda Hyde

High tea sounds elegant and brings to mind for many lavish tea desserts, scones and dainty sandwiches. Often, online and offline, high tea is described as a more lavish version of afternoon tea. I once ran across a chef connected with the Lipton company describing it this way. This has never been true, and is a misuse of the term. High tea was actually a working man's hearty tea and supper after a long, hard day of manual labor. It is actually the combination of afternoon tea and the evening meal. The working person, whether male or female, would work until late afternoon, often missing lunch and certainly afternoon tea. They would return home in the early evening and high tea would be served at the main table or "high table" rather than in the parlor or sitting room. High tea has different traditional dishes depending on where the working man resided. England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland all had versions of high tea, especially in the rural areas. All would include tea, bread and cheese and these are some of the regional favorites:

Wales: Welsh rarebit, onion cake (potatoes and onions), Glamorgan sausage (a meatless sausage), poacher's pie (beef, rabbit, chicken, and game)

Scotland: Steak pie, sausages and eggs, haddock, kippers, mashed potatoes, shortbreads, Dundee cake, gingerbread or drop scones.

Ireland: Barm Brack (Irish Fruit Cake), Irish Rarebit, Bacon and Egg Pie, oatcakes

England: Shepherds Pie, Baked Beans on Toast, steak and kidney pie In England high tea is also known as "meat tea", referring to the addition of hot or cold meats.

Afternoon tea on the other hand, would often be served at smaller, lower tables with dainty desserts and fine china. This was often referred to as low tea. While this does not sound elegant, it was the tea preferred by the upper class. In the 1800's the practice of inviting friends to tea became popular, especially among the rich. This will vary too depending on if it is formal or informal, but almost always includes:sandwiches and/or savories, scones, toast, crumpets or muffins, cookies, plain cakes, quick breads and sometimes an elegant cake to finish the tea. Afternoon tea is generally served between lunch and a later dinner; anywhere from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

High tea was practical, it was filling, and it was a reward for a hard days work. The hot tea comforted and warmed, while the food fed hard working men and women. It may not have been fancy, but it became a solid tradition.Personally, I think a traditional high tea would be a fantastic way to entertain friends and family, including men, who enjoy a hardy meal.

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