There are lots of really pretty little tea shops opening up in my immediate area. Tea rooms had been off the menu for many years. The advent of Wimpy bars and then the mass of coffee houses taking up the spare room in high streets and entertainments area meant the humble tea room had been found old fashioned. That is no longer the case and small cafes and farm shops are proving very popular because they bring back very happy memories for several of the older groups that still live here. I was talking to a group of lady pensioners who were out on a ‘jolly’. They were reminiscing about their weddings – all seemed to be on bright sunny days in June. All remembered pretty china tea sets, matching table linens. Online sites that can provide vintage ware, china sets that bring back feminine pretty things are doing a deservedly roaring trade. This reminder of happy vintage days makes folk feel comfortable that the world’s alright!
This is a really spectacular time of the year – living near farmland, we see March hares abounding. My social groups all like to lunch out even more at this time too – we sit there in the sun, venturing towards the outside tables and chairs to have our first coffees and cake of the season. Hardy folk we are – and completely bonkers, it must be said! But today the range of attractive vintage coffee shops opening up is wonderful. We’ve found some real beauties on our rather limited travels. It’s heartening to see such enterprise. I like the way the owners throw themselves in wholeheartedly to the themes. Matching crockery, table linens and decor. It brings back many happy memories for my older pals, who recall life the delights of Lyons coffee houses and Wimpey coffee bars of their youth. I have helped a couple of owners to source their stocks from this wonderful vintage crockery site.
I have some quite senior pals these days – having rejoined a couple of local social groups – to ensure I keep active in mind and body, and to support the efforts of the organisers and committees. We have a break with cups of tea or coffee and some sort of edible ‘treat’. Over the years this has become standard form – no one to my knowledge has turned around and suggested that we ought not to indulge. In the old days apparently, it would be standard practice for the ladies of the group to take it in turns to bring in home made cakes and buns. This observations was the starter for one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve enjoyed there – about all the different types of cakes families used to enjoy. Flapjacks, rock buns, queen cakes, butterlfy cakes, madeiras, dundees, treacle tart, gingerbread. The list went on for a full hour with much joyful reminiscing!
When I was invited over to stay with relatives for Christmas, it was with great joy that I accepted. I don’t like doing all that cooking and cleaning up for one person so it’s a joy to join a group of others. As the festive season approached, we were issued with emails – laying out a game plan with notes for what each guest was asked to contribute towards the various meals. I thought this was a brilliant idea – that way the hostess is not trying to run round being a super cook, nurse maid and housekeeper all at the same time. My own ist was blessedly short and sweet. I was given mince pies and lots of vegetable for the Christmas & Boxing day meals and for the new year family bash, apple pie and small chocolate gateaux to make. Good, all absolutely within my grasp, thinks I. Thank heaven. Back to domestic heaven for me, now for that pastry . . . . . . .
I have recently been involved in batch baking for a fund raising event. It’s years since I did any such activity. When the family was at home, I used to bake one cake every Sunday and it would be sliced up to add to our daily lunch boxes. The choice was limited – I had one recipe that never failed, it could be varied with coconut, cocoa or coffee and sometimes I pushed the boat out and add dried fruit and glace cherries . . so essentially it was anything that could be made out of 4 eggs, 8 oz each of butter, sugar and self raising flour. It sounds a lot but to make a decent sized victoria sponge sandwich in two 9 inch tins, it needs a double load. Anyway, these little tricks stayed with me for the batch baking and as if by magic, I produced a dozen each of coffee, vanilla and chocolae buns and some divinely dark sticky gingerbread……
I simply love darting around a very old building – especially one that still has artefacts and household effects around the rooms. There is something truly personal and almost tragic about seeing hairbrushes and combs on dressing tables in the bedrooms. Gloves left limply on a hall table suggest the owner has simply popped out for a half hour break and we expect them back at any time! I really do love the museums that offer a handy means to look back to earlier eras and imagine how elegant the ladies looked in their carriage riding finery.
Another thing about the old buildings is looking out for the old linens and fabrics of the day. Seeing the pretty tray cloths that adorned Madame’s afternoon tea tray when entertaining – it would be prestine white and inviting. As would the pretty china cake plates and crocker sets. So elegant.
I have just come back from a wonderful coach trip – lots of happy folk on their hols. We took in a few bit towns and one city. The mainfocal point for each was seeing the historic parts – cathedrals, old houses etc. and we certainly did that. I also spied some wonderful shabby chic cookware stores up in a shopping arcade – they had a truly scrumptious display of crockery, dinnerware, matching cups and saucers. Also available were sets of bakeware and pudding bowls. I’ve never had a lot to do with cooking myself, but a couple of these stores really turned my head. Kitchenalia is a huge market – fed mainly by seeing wonderful things produced on tv leisure and lifestyle programmes. Well you too can have a romantically chic kitchen and dining area, logging online to stores that deal with cake ware and everything connected with the comforts of cooking will provide inspiration beyond imagination!
I was staying with a former colleague for a couple of weeks this summer. The hostess and I go back a long way, over 20 glorious years. In all that time we used to discuss cooking and household management on an almost daily basis. This colleague was definitely the mistress of her kitchen. She and her husband only ever bought the best makes for every household item, from kitchenware to coffee sets and dinner services. The casseroles were bought in complete sets from tiny to gargantuan. This amused me greatly as they had no children and I assumed absolutely no need for the largest of any set of dishes, pans etc. Wrong. She used to batch bakes and cook every Saturday whilst her husband did overtime shifts. This habit she retains to make the most of seasonal food where she now resides in spendid luxury of her hidey hole in the Med!
I have been meeting up with a very international crowd lately and I don’t really know any of them personally. That’s one of the joys of helping out at social functions for a local heritage property. They have huge landscaped grounds and beyond that is farming land. To supplement the income from the tickets sales and normal farming activities, they hold motoring rallies, clay pigeon shooting and normal game shooting in season. The crowds come now for the very Englishness – bridal and baby showers too share the beautifully decorated rooms and revel in the atmosphere. Today we have many americans keen to follow in the footstps of their pedecessors, and in fact, a totally international set of visitor come to enjoy light refreshments in our ballroom. All the prettiest bone china tea sets and matching cake stands are put out along with the fanciest of custom bedding. Lots of oooh and aahhs – it’s so very rewarding!
Golly gosh there has been some exciting things happening at a historic house that I help at now and again. They have a big fund raising arm of the trust that runs it all. This part of of the enterprise operates the cafe, all the weddings and corporate events and is charge with making as much profit hroughout a trading year as possible. These are then drawn over to support the house. One of the eents recently was car rally – much further along in the vast grounds. We could see all the activity from the ballroom windows and there were literally thousands of folk there. We enjoyed ourselves immensely as the catering side had set up a big afternoon tea in the ball room and saloon – many delicious scones and cups of tea were taken by the international visitors. Chintzy tea services and cake stands are such a must on these occasions!