I have always loved tea and tea time. On week days when I am busy with work and my daily activities, tea time is just a pot of good strong English tea and maybe a slice of cake or a small pastry if I have fresh baked goods on hand. I also really enjoy the simplicity of a few crackers, a bit of home made jam and a slice of good cheese. I really cherish my 15- 20 minute afternoon break. It’s when I can sit down quietly for a moment and just enjoy a delicious calming cup of tea. This ritual helps me to put things into perspective and to effectively reflect on my agenda for the remainder of the afternoon.
In Haïti, tea time is a relatively unknown phenomenon and as such, there are no cafés or hotels offering afternoon tea or even a good tea selection. I missed my tea culture so much when I first moved here to Haïti. Not only could I not find decent tea to purchase locally, but my family and friends had no notion of afternoon tea or the lovely social aspect of tea drinking. In Guyana, it was so common to ‘pop over’ informally to a neighbor for a cup of tea and a bit of conversation after 4pm. In Greenfield Park where I grew up and all of the neighbors were like family, it was quite the norm to have a cup of tea together. During the course of the year, my mother would host a few tea parties and we would be invited to several as well. Tea parties were also popular events for birthday celebrations or special occasions like bridal showers or baby showers. High teas were more of an elaborate affair with everyone in attendance very elegantly dressed and sometimes even wearing hats and partaking in an extensive array of food.
I decided to have a few friends over to tea this weekend. I felt it was the perfect group of people who would enjoy this type of gathering here in Haïti. I took out my fine china tea set, and started to plan a menu for high tea. Throwing caution to the standard traditional thinking that tea parties were only for ladies, I also included the male partners of my guests. My husband was quite surprised at this move. The moment he had heard the mention of Saturday tea at 3, he stated that he would find something to do out of the house, while the ladies met. He was quite surprised and happy to hear that the men folk were welcome.
An afternoon tea is perfect outdoors in a garden or courtyard setting when the weather is cool and sunny. March is ideal for this in Haïti as the temperature is still pleasant, unlike the summer months when everyone is forced to take refuge indoors from the wrath of the sun and heat. I keep lots of pots of flowers like orchids and anthuriums, so that I can easily change the arrangements around as I need to. I cut sprigs of flowers from the garden and mixed in fragrant herbs like rosemary, thyme and mint from my herb pots to give the look and smell and freshness of nature at its best. Small groupings of succulents and other pretty green foliage, like papyrus of various sizes were in abundance in my setting. This all created a fresh garden theme on the patio which extended into the garden area. On the tables I created a tablescape of tea pots of various types and sizes, old leather bound English literature books, by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens along with vibrant fuchsia bougainvillea bouquets. I dressed my tables with warm tropical appliquéd tablecloths with Haitian motifs. There was a cool breeze outside and the setting was ideal for the weekend gathering. The mood was light and relaxed and everyone remarked at how unusual and refreshing it was to be having a tea party in Haïti.
Tea time foods can be quite time consuming to prepare as they consist of a myriad of different offerings, all served in small portions. I must admit that I spent the entire day in the kitchen getting my food ready, then in the last hour before my guests arrived, I completed my setup for the buffet. There were a few things which I arranged the day before like the crockery and cutlery, and the linens. Most of the food was prepared on the day of the party to ensure that it be the freshest possible.
As I was making a chicken pie, I poached my chicken with garden vegetables and aromatics the day before. Afterwards, it was enrobed in a creamy Bechamel sauce. The short crust pastry was also made and left to rest in the refrigerator. The following day, I assembled the pie and baked it an hour before my guests arrived. This type of prep is essential in pie making, as it is important not to pour a hot filling into uncooked pastry.
I also made the cheese spread for the sandwiches the night before and refrigerated it. This was a great time saver for the following day, when I just needed to buy fresh sliced bread, remove the crusts and assemble the sandwiches.
Creamy deviled eggs
I wanted to have some traditional tea fare, so the sandwiches and deviled eggs were a must. In homage to Guyana, I made a baiganee or fried eggplant in a batter of split pea flour with warm Indian spices like cumin, turmeric and Chili peppers which I served with a lovely sweet tomato raisin chutney. It was a hit with my guests.
Indian flavors in these eggplant fritters with a tomato raisin chutney.
If you have ever experienced a British tea, you know that Scones are the quintessential teatime pastry. As I have several rosemary plants and I really like to use as many things from my garden as I can, I chose to make Lemon Rosemary Scones. They were fragrant and the flavors melded together perfectly. The two main flavors were also present in the light glaze. The scones were pillowy and mellow in texture. The success of this is due to the method of not over working the butter into the dough and allowing the butter flakes to melt and absorb as the scones bake. I also made a fresh strawberry compote which I served alongside the scones.
Lemon Rosemary scones
As we were having some gentleman for tea, I thought that some beefy little cheese sliders would be a hit with them. These were served each component separately so that the guests were able to assemble their own sliders with salad and toppings as they desired. There was also a delicious platter of smoked sockeye salmon with cream cheese, capers, thinly sliced preserved lemon and Vidalia onions.
Tea time treasures from GGHS
My daughter Gabby made her awesome red velvet cake. Tender, well balanced and delicious, she has truly mastered the art of making this cake. She adds chocolate chips to the batter which give a unique depth and flair to the cake. The cream cheese frosting is flawless and not too sweet or cloying. Gabby is a phenomenal baker at just 14 and has been learning with me since she was old enough to climb up on the stool in the kitchen. She is a huge asset to me while cooking and we enjoy many culinary adventures together.
A red velvet cake and some Carmel profiteroles
I was so happy with the outcome of my weekend tea party. Not only was it a nostalgic moment celebrating something from my childhood and my heritage, but it was also a way for me to introduce my culture to my friends in Haïti. I realize fully that there are a series of things which must be thought of when planning a gathering big or small. The success of an event is not only based on one single variable. Rather, it is about creating the right balance of interesting people, stimulating conversation and a good ambiance. You can then take that vibe to the next level with the perfect selection of food and drink to create an unforgettable experience. When all of these boxes are checked, you will be guaranteed to have a memorable occasion hosting your guests at home.