I was recently scrolling through Pinterest late at night with a sleeping toddler under one arm, as one does, when I came across a recipe for homemade clotted cream. Memories of a high school trip to England with my aunt and cousin came flooding back. My Jane Austen fantasies of having a true British high tea were dashed when I was struck with food poisoning just as we sat down to our charming tea service. In the early stages of gastric distress, I was unable to eat anything or sample my first taste of the famed clotted cream.
So on this night, my surprise at finding out how easy it is to make at home brought immediate plans for a tea party of my own. This one would include my four year old daughter (a recent devotee of everything Fancy Nancy) and my mom’s upcoming birthday.
We had so much fun planning and executing this tea. As with anything Pinterest-inspired, the tea can be as elaborate or as low-key as you care to make it. I love to cook so I devoted most of my time and resources to the food. But I’ll let you in on some of my favorite tips for making the menu simple and quick if you’d rather spend your energy on the decor or fabulous attire.
However you choose to host it, a tea party provides light-hearted, fanciful fun for all ages (and genders!). So pinkies up, and let’s get brewing!
With a preschooler who loves to practice her writing, I chose to go the homemade route for our invitations. A trip to Hobby Lobby yielded some flowery scrapbooking paper and French pastry inspired stickers, which my daughter pasted over every stray inch of our homemade card. If you are planning far enough ahead, there are beautiful options available on sites such as Shutterfly and Etsy for a more polished look. We simply included the invitees’ names (my mom and dad) and the day and location of our party.*
*Fancy accessories provided.
The next step was acquiring some actual tea cups. If you don’t have your own tea service, there are so many wonderful thrift stores in Knoxville. Nostalgia is a personal favorite. I took my daughter and one year old son to wander around there one morning and scored some 1960s melamine cups and saucers at $4 each. It was an added bonus that these will be durable enough to double as a play set for my daughter between uses. Goodwill and Karm are great inexpensive options as well. Or stretch your imagination a bit and use whatever coffee cups you have around the house.
I found that our guests were very accommodating in the imaginative play department (even more so if they are of the stuffed animal variety). To hold our food, I used some leftover paper plates I had on hand, but there are some darling paper products on Amazon that look exactly like flowery Victorian china.
I have three words for you on this front: accessories, accessories, accessories! Thanks to my daughter, we have no shortage of fancy dress up clothes. She gleefully supplied all manner of costume jewelry, stick on earrings, gloves, beaded purses, feather boas and bedazzled crowns. We included newsie caps, pocket silks and a dress watch for my dad and son to join in the fun. If you’ve never heard of play silks, we love them around here. Useful for all types of imaginative play, on this particular occasion, they became skirts, scarves, shawls, pocket silks and ascots. If you aren’t quite as flush in the dress up department, hit up the thrift stores again for fun hats, purses, clip on earrings and high heels or the dollar stores for Mardi Gras beads and plastic tiaras.
A traditional English tea has three parts (generally served on a three-tiered stand but individual plates work just fine). First come the traditional tea sandwiches. There are so many great recipes out there for delightful, cucumbery spreads but if that isn’t your thing, use what you like. It’s your party and you’ll eat PB&J with the crusts cut off if you want to! I also love Trader Joe’s frozen section for fancy appetizers that look as though you slaved in your kitchen for hours making perfectly flaky pastry without the actual slaving.
The second tier consists of scones, clotted cream and jams. World Market sells awesome, quick mixes for scones at home. Or hit up Panera or Starbucks to really kick your party up a notch. Frozen biscuits spread with some jam (and homemade clotted cream if you’re feeling adventurous) are another delicious option.
The final tier is for sweets! I made some chocolate banana mini muffins for our sweet tier. Trader Joe’s has so many great cookie and candy options as well. Their frozen French macarons are sure to make a really outstanding finish to your tea.
And oh yeah, the tea itself. I’m not much of a tea drinker but I did find a Sangria Zinger blend from Celestial Seasonings that was fruity enough to not be half bad. If coffee is more your jam, feel free to fudge on the actual tea and serve the hot beverage of your choice. Hot chocolate is a popular choice for the littles, of course. Or you can be like my daughter and refuse everything but cold water in your tea cup. Be sure to enjoy it loudly, and emphatically proclaim it to be the best tea you’ve ever had.