posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken
As advertised in this space a few weeks ago, we decided at the Lincoln, Massachusetts library that Afternoon Tea is a lost art and we wanted to find it again. The idea came from our Mystery Monday book group; we read books by theme each year and, although we have not chosen ulinary mysteries yet, we are well aware of (and fond of) that subgenre.
So we (that's the editorial "we", since it was all my fault, as usual) decided to have a Sunday Afternoon Tea. The "price of admission" would be a finger food made from the recipe in a culinary mystery. The date we picked was the Sunday of the town's Winter Carnival Weekend--a date that, no matter where it is on the actual calendar, was guaranteed to fall during a huge thaw.
We invited local author and Culinary Mystery Maven Katherine Hall Page to "pour."
A couple of weeks ahead of time I put up a display of culinary mysteries with a wide assortment of recipes. Then the fun began. Mystery Monday members and other intrigued folks pored over those recipes, looking for just the right food. Some chose sweets (Shirley Jump's recipes tended toward the very rich and chocolate-y), some went for a more savory bite (Laura Childs' tea series has fancy sandwiches with marmalade or pineapple and cream cheese. We had "heavenly eggs" (as opposed to deviled) from Jo Grossman's recipe collections from mystery authors; one clever cook topped hers with capers--how appropriate (wink wink--nudge nudge). One nostalgic lady brought "Harriet the Spy's Tomato Sandwiches."
The library's meeting room is the perfect venue for such an event.
It turned out that our library Friends group owns real china cups and plates as well as a teapot. We borrowed tea cozies to use as centerpieces. The fanciest was one I bought at a Malice Domestic auction a few years ago. We borrowed tablecloths from various staff members as well as from the Council on Aging (who apparently can hold their own in a Contest on Genteel Living.) The serving table's centerpiece was my Teapot Purse (also an acquisition from a Malice Domestic) filled with hyacinths snagged from the library's front desk for the occasion.
The book display and a couple of articles drew some attention to the tea, but of course I had no idea how many people would show up. Not to mention the New England Patriots playing later that day in the Super Bowl (about which, the less said the better.) Tea Time overlapped with some other Winter Carnival events, but we need not have worried. Right on schedule the weather warmed up, the snow melted, the ice skating was cancelled, and the ice sculpture contest required really dedicated competitors with wagons and carts willing to scrounge for building materials.
Loyal volunteers from the Friends group, the library staff and the Mystery Monday group transformed the wood-paneled, stained-glass-ceilinged meeting room into a Tea Shoppe. A gratifyingly large group of people came to tea, mostly women but also a few intrepid men and Charger the Service Dog. The food was delicious and plentiful. When I get a chance I have promised to compile the recipes in a souvenir handout.
One of our guests of honor was Sarah Atwell, whose apple orchard series with recipes will launch next August. We know Sarah better as our own Sheila Connolly, and this was the first chance we ever had to really chat.
In fact, that was the acknowledged best part of the tea: we got to sit and just natter with old friends and new.
As promised, I made Glad's Brownies from Katherine's THE BODY IN THE SNOWDRIFT. Those brownies are awesome, chock full of cherries, walnuts and chocolate chips. Real diet food. Right. They were a big hit. When one of the Mystery Monday group was heading for another event in a nearby town, she offered to provide Glad's Brownies.
Oh, no, said the event sponsors. The Board of Health has banned homemade goods from public events, although store-bought stuff is fine.
When I heard that, I was stuck halfway between appalled and amused. I settled for the latter. What happens if you arrive with a plate of Glad's Brownies in that town? I could picture it: the Board of Health lined up with rolling pin weapons, confiscating errant chocolate chip cookies and cucumber sandwiches, shouting, "Put down the brownies and nobody gets hurt!"
Can you imagine the Police Log item on that one? "2:45 PM, fourteen ladies taken into custody for baked goods violations."
4 squares unsweetened chocolate (Valrhona is a good choice)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sifted flour
1 cup dried cherries
1 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chunks or chips (milk or semisweet)
Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and lightly flour a 13"x9" pan. Melt the chocolate squares together with the butter. Cool it slightly and beat in the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the flour. Mix well, then add the cherries, walnuts and chocolate chips or chunks. Put the batter in the pan and bake for about 35 minutes. Be careful not to overbake. Cool in the pan and serve. Makes a very generous 1 1/2 dozen.
You may vary this recipe by substituting dried cranberries, golden raisins or dark raisins for the cherries and pecans for the walnuts. Attributed in the book to Faith as a child, this recipe is actually the creation of the author's dear friend Gladys Boalt, who lives in Stormville, New York