Don’t Live In A Place Where High Tea Could Reasonably Be Served? Pffffft

Welcome to my friend Amy’s place. Newly separated and having gone from an historic manse to one room with a kitchen and bath, she has triumphed over any kind of needless transitional nonsense.  It is a place filled with fresh flowers, bright colors and all of her Granfmother’s china!  That is all she needs to pull off one of her high teas.

Above is Amy’s own picture of what she had arranged for me today. I am her 4th sitting since she came to reside here.

The simplicity was the key.  Just beautifully sliced strawberries with blueberries. A lovely cream scone – moist.  Unsalted butter is a must.  An elderberry jam not needed on this voyage.  And sandwiches with red pepper/peach jelly and cream cheese and cucumber and ham or any combination of the aforementioned with interesting breads.

The tea was to die for and put up by TAZO: “OM.”  It is a blend of green and black teas and natural flavours of cucumber and peach.  She was kind enough to give me some together with a scone for the road.

Other parts to this cozy room – just a couple –

Here is her charming day bed she has fitted out with an assortment of custom pillows and covers.  You can see the corner of the tea table lower right of photo.

On the wall opposite a lovely small blue upholstered chair next to  an antique granite-topped chest adorned with more flowers.  To the right of that is her kitchen.  All tastefully done with an economy of means but  not of effort.  So you see, grandmother’s traditions live on in any circumstance if you put your talent and time to it.

From a website called “Smitten Kitchen.”

Dreamy Cream Scones
America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, preferably a low-protein brand such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup currants (I used dried cranberries, and chopped them into smaller bits)
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425°F.

2. Place flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in large bowl or work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Whisk together or pulse six times.

3. If making by hand, use two knives, a pastry blender or your fingertips and quickly cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter lumps. Stir in currants. If using food processor, remove cover and distribute butter evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times, each pulse lasting 1 second. Add currants and pulse one more time. Transfer dough to large bowl.

4. Stir in heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.

5. Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Form scones by either a) pressing the dough into an 8-inch cake pan, then turning the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, cutting the dough into 8 wedges with either a knife or bench scraper (the book’s suggestion) or b) patting the dough onto a lightly floured work surface into a 3/4-inch thick circle, cutting pieces with a biscuit cutter, and pressing remaining scraps back into another piece (what I did) and cutting until dough has been used up. (Be warned if you use this latter method, the scones that are made from the remaining scraps will be much lumpier and less pretty, but taste fine. As in, I understand why they suggested the first method.)

6. Place rounds or wedges on ungreased baking sheet and bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

At Gampa’s Table

I had Easter dinner this afternoon with a cousin who took his first steps around this  table of long ago.  He is now in his early 60s, I am just 70.  The warm tones of the old color photo let you know at once this must be the 1950s.

Belle Porter, Gampa’s English downstairs “lady” [you could never call them maids – they were the ladies] would serve the food with her pince-nez balancing delicately on her nose and making corrections to my childish actions in low, kindly tones.  Meat was on a silver parsley-ringed platter; green vegetables looked stunning in a silver bowl, and the mashed potatoes were peaked to perfection.  I now know that the only beef served there was aged and what a treat.  Lamb was not served with mint jelly.  No it was served with home made mint sauce and it was warm and sweet.

Grandmother had died the year I was born so my father sat at the head of the table opposite Gampa.  He was weak on one side due to a brain tumor so his foot lay heavily at times on the “buzzer”‘  beneath the carpet Grandmother used to touch to ring Belle for the next course.  Poor Belle, she popped in and out like a cuckoo when Dad hit that buzzer multiple times by mistake.

There were nothing but arm chairs at Gampa’s table.  He felt it was not very democratic for a host and hostess to have the only comfortable chairs with arms. He therefore  had an antique chair he favored copied eleven times by an old Rochester firm named Hayden hat specialized in reproductions.

A word about the silver loving cup in the center of the table. Gampa hated people who went as guests to peoples’ homes and commented on the contents therein.   One poor guest asked what the silver thing was in the middle of the table.  Gampa looked at him and said slowly and calmly: “my father’s ashes; like them near me when I eat.”

My brothers and another male cousin are all living out-of-town with large and growing families of their own but cousin Curtice and I hold down the fort here in Rochester.  We no longer have dinners at one of our homes but at the retirement home where he lives.  It is lovely and we have our even lovelier, warm memories.  We are blessed to have one another and to have learned about the lasting value of family and not “things” at Gampa’ s table.

Enhanced Carrot Cake in an Enhanced Turn of the Century Kitchen

Just park your "brolly" and come into the most interesting kitchen in, well, the United States and Texas.

A delightful family bought a large old turn of the penultimate century home in my village.  The wife, a Canadian transplant and I have cooking and art and music and home restoration and even Canada in common.  She has painted and sanded and worked her way through each room of this manse to bring a new life to an historic home.  Her kitchen is the heart of the “plant” and that is where she embellishes recipes daily.  She is a mother to three but all are in college except one.  She is, therefore, cooking for 3 and often me.

Catherine went out and found period cupboards and hutches to put in the kitchen.  She had the granite kitchen island installed with her sink across from her range/oven.  The brick pillar is what remains of a chimney for an old pot-belly stove.

Harry James is the family’s Beagle mix.  Make no mistake.  He is the king of this castle.  He stays close to the cook because it’s warm and fulfilling in the kitchen.

Large windows overlook the gardens in back of the house.  The pantry can be seen at the far end of the room.Harry James has his own chair at his own large window.

Below, a picture of an interesting lamp Catherine picked up at a garage sale.  She has an eye for prints and old things of all periods and she pulls them all together in vignettes that are fresh and imaginative and completely her own.

Behold, the better carrot cake - a lot like a better mousetrap! It really grabs you if you love fruit cakes.

Catherine loves to tweak recipes and to generally add more of the healthy ingredients to them.  With the carrot cake she baked this week, she added extra nuts (walnuts AND pecans), cran-raisins (in addition to raisins called for by the recipe), extra carrots and, in her one slip from the healthy pathway, she used coconut oil instead of vegetable.  What a moist, sweet cake.  We enjoyed it without frosting.

Just take your favorite carrot cake recipe and tweak it a la Catherine. Bravery in the culinary field of battle should be recognized.  Catherine, this is in honor of  your successful cooking campaigns over many years.  You get a SamHenry heart of appreciation ♥

In My Grandmother’s Pantry

Long after your grandmother has died, when you think back about her  table settings, her choices will reveal  her “ways” in a manner you had not imagined.  For this reason, everything about a grandmother’s table is of historic, sociological and family interest.  A meal is central to our socialization and it tells us volumes.

Large family dinners and large business-related dinners meant that my paternal grandmother had lots of “gear” to go.  Because her husband ran a department store with an office in London, she could source beautiful linens, stem ware and china at cost.  She favored Minton and L’Imoges and today what she had in her pantry are now styled “Antique Minton” and  “Antique l’Imoges.” Some resembled the following.  My favorites were the raised patterns with gold:

Minton colbalt blue
Detail of raised gold

Her collection of china was very much like the above.  It was like looking at candy.

Her tablecloths and table runners were exquisite.  But most amazing were champagne silk place mats with lace edges.  There were square pieces for the stem ware.   This group includes a tea-tray cloth.

Because grandmother gave large card parties with tables set up all over the downstairs, I found that she had a minimum of 20 luncheon napkins in each style to accommodate the tables when set for the meal that preceded the playing.  Long ago, a lovely lady who had helped at the house when Grandma was alive, took me through the downstairs and showed me where she had set up the tables and described a typical gathering.

Among my grandmother’s linens I found a crocheted lace piece that was a peculiar shape. Because it was heavy, I assumed it must have been worn by my grandmother’s Belgian mother as a kind of cap.  So I tried it on.  Oh, how lovely.

I was quickly disabused of my talent for identification of ancient pieces.  In looking over pictures of grandmother’s house, I found a picture of a chair wearing it.  Can you say “antimacassar”?

©SamHenry

At Great Grandmother’s Table in Ormond Beach, FL ca 1920

My Great Grandfather had a home on the Halifax River in Ormond Beach, Florida where he lived winters.  He was a Scottish merchant and other Scottish merchants had homes near him.  They called themselves “the Scottish Syndicate.”  The home was called Rowallan after a castle in his native Ayrshire.

Above is my Great Grandmother’s table at Rowallan (ca 1915). The centerpiece appears to be flowers and fruits.  These round tables are making a comeback now but with one difference: they are constructed so that you can add leaves around the outside to expand them if you wish.  Otherwise, they might be ungainly in today’s interiors.

There was a small orange grove on the property.  When the house was sold, the appraiser, in trying to devalue the place for tax purposes said: “it must have cost one dollar per orange to produce fruit in that grove.”  In other words, it wasn’t set up for economies of scale!

You could eat fruit al fresco in the grove as my cousins did here:

Or you could eat it at table using a citrus spoon with enameled orange blossoms.  This is a spoon actually used at Roallan.  It was the gift of a cousin in the family pictured above.  She was the youngest and is not pictured.

We know for certain that wild turkey was on the menu at the house.  Here is a picture of my young father (ca 1925) with one that had just been shot.  We must remember that Florida in those days was not developed to the extent it is today and so wild turkeys were not far away.

We are fortuate to have these pictures and some artifacts from those days almost a century ago.   There were seven children in the family and so a spoon is a treasure!

©SamHenry.  Registraton pending.

Grandpa’s Table: Breakfast At Our Adirondack “Camp” from SamHenry

My maternal great grandfather started going to this little gem of a Lake in the foothills of the Adirondacks before I was born.  His son, my grandfater, owned his first cottage in a fairly well-populated bay but found a heavenly parcel with three lots and government property ringing most of it.

The house dated from the turn of the last century and was buried in trees with tall grass.  Not much mowing and all natural.

My favorite view of the property - from the old flat-bottomed fishing boat.

Inside was plain, not winterized, with tongue and groove unpainted walls.  The furniture was about the same date as the house; the kitchen dishes were depression-era glass and cheap reproduction willow ware and deep blue glasses.  In short, these camps were filled with anything you didn’t want at your main house anymore.

Grandpa with an iron frying pan full of sunny side up fried eggs cooked in bacon grease.

I began my trips there my first year on the planet and they continued until the camp (cottage for non-Adirondack vacation homes) was sold following my grandfather’s death.  In later years, my grandfather, a doctor, was the chief cook.  He and my uncle cooked wonderful breakfasts.  There was no dishwasher, a refrigerator only instituted in the place after 1970 and just the most basic iron cookware.  Water piped in from a well and turned off and on using faucets replaced the pump on the counter next to the sink around the same time.

All dining table and cooking equipment was kept in tall metal cabinets that shut tight to protect them from the mice and bugs.  Shelves were lined with oil cloth and, unlike today, seemed effortlessly spaced for successful storage.

I loved going fishing with Grandpa – often for the entire day.  He made up some Grandma Brown’s Baked Bean sandwiches (canned beans made in Mexico, NY) and brought some pop and other unrefrigerated snacks for lunch.  This was before ice packs and coolers.  He was not good about minding my mother’s rules about candy.  He would give me a few pieces and say “now I want you to take one of these once every ten minutes and see if you don’t feel better.”  When she would complain, he would turn to her and say: “I don’t get cavities from eating candy.  I keep my teeth in a glass nights and they are fine.”  He was a tease and a character.

Grandma and Grandpa on their way to the camp next door that was owned by his roommate at medical school. That family still owns their camp. This is one of my all time favorite pictures albeit from an early Kodak Instamatic.

Napkin Folding Spoken Here – From SamHenry

The beautiful Wye River Valley.

In the summer of 1966, my brother and I were tramping about Britain and we treated ourselves to a stay at the Chase Hotel, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire just because we drove past and liked how it looked!  Serendipity is the best travel planning guide.

We had no idea that its main restaurant was gourmet and had been awarded Britain’s highest honor, an AA Rosette. This inspired the owners to have napkins folded in the shape of a rose on each service plate at table.

My brother who fancied  himself a chef but was more often mistaken for one of the Beach Boys  at airports, was fascinated.  Soon he was getting up with the sun and wending  his sleepy way to the dining room to be educated in the mysteries of napkin folding.  He also satisfied his chef fantasy by ordering Steak Diane made at the table each of the four nights we were there until he had that down.

♣ Napkin folding

was practiced in the 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe and America by people in service who had entire guide books for the purpose to train them.

I found one – a fragile “paperback” in a used book store a few years back and bought it for my brother.  Now, through the magic of the internet, instructions formerly confined within such covers or to the memory of an aged grandmother or  an old flunky would have limited the instances of the art found on tables today.  Many of the old patterns may be found here.

The rosette – alone or with a cup of soup nestled in its center – is found below:

Rose napkin pattern

The Rose Napkin Fold

Despite looking fairly elaborate, this fold is an easy one, and it can be done with almost any variety of napkin. Display small bowls or glasses on top of these, or use them as novelty cocktail napkins.


Napkin Fold #1
1. Lay the napkin face-down in front of you.
Napkin Fold #2
2. Fold the two right corners of the napkin in so the tips rest at the center.
Napkin Fold #3
3. Fold the remaining two corners of the napkin in so the tips meet with the last two in the center.
Napkin Fold #4
4. Once again, begin folding the outer corners in so they meet at the center.
Napkin Fold #5
5. Once all of the tips are folded you are left with a square about 1/4 the size of the unfolded napkin.
Napkin Fold #6
6. Flip it over.
Napkin Fold #7
7. Fold the corners in so they meet in the center and then place something sturdy in the center, or hold it with your fingers.
Napkin Fold #8
8. While maintaining downward pressure in the center of the napkin, reach underneath each corner and pull out the flaps to create petals.
Napkin Fold #9
9. Remove the center weight and your rose should look as pictured here.
Finished Rose Napkin Fold
10. If you like you can reach underneath the center of each side and pull out a second set of petals to fancy it up some more. Place something in the center and you’re done, have a rosy meal!