Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Never Ending Tea Cup Collection

As I browsed through the tea cups at a second hand store recently, I realized my family would exclaim, “Not another tea cup!” if I brought any more home. However, this didn’t deter me.

There I’ll find odds and ends and don’t feel I need to buy a matched set of specific number. Dainty tea cups, cups with saucers, and mugs all catch my attention. Some remind me of tea time at my grandmother’s with dainty cups or gazing at my aunt’s collection of souvenir cups and saucers she displayed, but didn’t use.

My mom began to gather tea cups and coffee mugs in her later years. When I packed to move her from her home to mine, as her Alzheimer’s progressed, I came across numerous tea cups…some she’d purchased and more given her by friends and family.

Sharing a cup of tea with family and visitors had been a sign of hospitality for her mother and later for my mom. So the tea cups accumulated.

Sharing Tea Party Ideas

Since I often write about tea, tea parties, and tea memorabilia, readers frequently e-mail me, to share their experiences or ask questions.

One reader told how her club decided to have a tea party with each person bringing a tea cup and sharing information about it. It could be a cup handed down in their family, one given by a special friend, or one they purchased simply because they liked it.

When a lady in a distant state asked me about tea party ideas for an organization whose activities she planned, I suggested that each person bring a tea cup or mug and share the story. It also might be a good idea to have some extra cups on hand in case someone didn’t have one to bring. She thought this an excellent idea; I’m waiting to hear how it turned out.

Seasonal Tea Cups

Now that spring is here, it’s time to pack away the mugs with snowmen on them and other winter scenes. We’ll bring out those with flowers, birds, and other warm weather decorations.

Since, in our multi-generational household, it difficult to find space for saucers in our kitchen closets, we usually don’t use these items. However, I do like to have them on hand occasionally so the grandchildren know this is part of the ritual of serving tea.

(c)2006 Mary Emma Allen

(I'd enjoy having you share your tea time traditions with me. E-mail: )

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Fascinating World of Tea Cups

Within the world of tea parties, lies the hobby of collecting teacups and learning about their use. This interest also can evolve into accumulating teapots and tea sets, tea and tea party related items…whatever you have space for displaying and storing.

My daughter’s and my problem is finding room in our multi-generational household for displaying and storing those we’ve collected or have had handed down from pervious generations. Currently some of these are packed away in boxes.

At one house where my daughter lived, there was a large old-fashioned kitchen with space on top of cabinets, which ranged the room. Here she displayed teapots, fruit jars, and cookie jars.

Collecting Tea Cups

One of my aunts collected teacups and saucers in her travels and displayed them in her dining room, in a china cabinet and on shelves. Some were decorated with floral and fruit designs; others might have a picture noting the placed where she purchased it. Interspersed among her tea cups were plates from various states she visited.

I recall, as a child, being fascinated by Aunt Freda’s collection. I enjoyed listening to her tell me where and how she acquired them. They somewhat told a story about portions of her life.

A friend collects teacups and mugs to give away. When she needs a thank you or birthday gift, she often places a cup and saucer or mug in a napkin lined basked, some tea bags or packets of hot chocolate. She also might include some cookie treats to accompany them.

Cups and Saucers

When my daughter picked up a pretty saucer at a second hand store and my grandson asked what it was for, I realized that we’d gotten into the habit of using mugs for all our beverages. The grandchildren didn’t know that once cups were always used with saucers.

Most people nowadays use mugs. These often keep the beverage hot longer and make for fewer dishes to wash and store. However, mugs have come into frequent use fairly recently. I don’t think my mom or grandmother even possessed a mug during the days of my childhood. They generally used saucers with cups even though it meant more dishes to wash.

This was a place for laying your spoon after adding sugar and stirring your beverage. You also could place your tea bag here, instead of trying to find a space where it wouldn’t soil the table or tablecloth.

Some people also used saucers for cooling hot beverages! I recall my dad and the hired man pouring their coffee into their saucers, blowing onto it, then tipping the saucer to their lips. This practice was considered acceptable, at least at home. (I don’t think Father ever did this when dining out.)

Tea Versus Coffee Cups

There also was a distinction between tea and coffee cups, as I recall. Those for serving coffee were larger than the ones we used for tea. From this probably evolved the coffee mug that didn’t need a saucer.

Also, in older recipes, like those found in my aunt’s handwritten notebook, you find instructions, which call for a coffee cup or teacup of ingredients. In those days before sets of measuring cups could be purchased, homemakers used a coffee cup when they wanted a larger amount.

QUICK QUICHE to serve at tea time: Grease a pie plate or quiche dish. You can spray with vegetable spray instead.

Using cut-up cooked vegetables like broccoli, carrots, peas, cauliflower, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, etc., place them in the dish. Then add 1 to 2 cups grated cheese of your choice, such as Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Mozzarella.

Stir or blend 4 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1 cup biscuit mix, salt and pepper until well mixed. Pour these over the vegetables and cheese. (You can use low fat milk and cheese, as well as low fat biscuit mix.)

Bake about 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. until tests done.

©2005 Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen writes from her multigenerational home in New Hampshire. She also writes for children and teaches writing and family history workshops. Visit her web site:; E-mail:

A Tea Party Heritage

“Do you know where I can take my children for tea parties?” a reader asked me.
This mother explained that she and her daughters thought it would be fun if they could dress up and attend an old-fashioned tea party.

The ladies at our church decided they’d have a tea party during refreshment time at their annual Ladies Day, using fancy teapots and cups complete with saucers. Accompanying this would be dainty tea time treats.

My mother-in-law related one of the highlights of a tour she and Dad took to the British Isles. She enjoyed afternoon tea served at the various restaurants where they stopped mid-afternoon. Mum mentioned a variety of dainty sandwiches, scones, crumpets and cookies that accompanied tea time.

Tea Parties

Some favorite memories of my grandmother consist of afternoon tea at her home. Every day, at three o’clock, she and my aunts would stop whatever they were doing and take a break. Nanny always had a cup of tea and my aunts usually coffee. Accompanying this might be fresh homemade bread or cake and cookies. What fun to join them.

Whenever friends visited my grandmother in her home or my parents at our farm, tea often was served along with the discussion. In later years, when I traveled several hours to care for my mom, we’d sit down to tea as soon as I arrived. Then we could discuss family news and my mother’s business.

When Alzheimer’s disease necessitated that my mom receive care in a nursing home, our tea parties continued. There might be just the two of us sharing tea and muffins. Or my grandchildren, who enjoyed visiting their great grandmother, participated in this family ritual.

Children’s Tea Parties

My sister and I had tea parties with our dolls and stuffed animals. I still have a few pieces from these tiny tea sets that we received for Christmas and birthday gifts.

We sat our dolls at a small table or on the couch, then served “pretend” tea with bits of cookies. Our cups contained water or juice.

My granddaughter, too, enjoyed tea parties when she was small. Nowadays, tea is my favorite hot beverage and I try various flavors depending on my mood.

Perhaps this tradition would make a fun album to create through one of the family heritage scrapbooking classes I teach.

(c) Copyright Mary Emma Allen

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tea Time, a Popular Tradition

Of all the writing I've done about foods throughout the years, the articles and columns I've published about tea time, tea traditions, tea implements, and accompanying recipes have been most popular. At least I never fail to receive letters and now e-mails about this beverage and the traditions surrounding it.

I thought I'd devote a blog to the topic, posting some of my articles here, along with new informaton and insights.

I hope you enjoy this blog and will share with me some of your traditions.

(Mary Emma Allen, )