(#3 in the Afternoon Tea series of posts)
I grew up having afternoon tea every day. A large family pot of hot black tea – gumboot tea, as my brother-in-law calls it, to distinguish it from other options. Back then, it was really the only tea we knew. This was before the days of discovering English Breakfast or Earl Grey, and long before lapsang souchong, green tea, and all the various herbal and fruit options there are now. It was before coffee – let alone lattes and long blacks and flat whites – had taken hold in New Zealand too. My father drank his tea black and hot, but the rest of us took it with milk and, at the time, sugar.
Afternoon tea (and to a lesser extent morning tea and supper) was a part of everyday life, a crucial meal we rarely if ever missed. My mother would bake weekly, filling the biscuit and cake tins. When we were sorting through her kitchen after her funeral, I think we all wanted to take one of the old tins or two, just for the memories. Instead, I just took photos.
My father was a farmer, and it was a welcome break for him from the thirsty work of farming. Afternoon tea was always about 3.30. When we were older, at secondary school, afternoon tea would be waiting for us when we arrived home half an hour to an hour later, though maybe there would be a fresh pot of tea. It wasn’t a big meal, but we always had a similar selection.
At our afternoon tea, there are always savoury and sweet options. There was always a buttered cracker, in summer with a fresh tomato slice, appropriately salted and peppered, and in winter with a spread of Marmite and/or cheese. On rare occasions, this was replaced with a buttered fruit loaf. Then there was a biscuit (cookie). It might have been a shortbread, or a vanilla or hokey pokey biscuit, or that Aussie-Kiwi favourite, an ANZAC biscuit. It was definitely homemade, with my mother baking everything one morning a week. The only bought biscuits (other than the crackers) I remember having in our house as we grew up were Griffin’s gingernuts, rock hard until dunked into hot tea, usually only for morning tea or supper, late at night with a cup of tea. Just writing this now has the jingle for the gingernuts running through my head, and my taste buds tingling. I mentioned a while ago I had the urge for gingernuts – it’s been there since I first outlined this post some weeks ago. I’m going to try making some and see how they turn out. I’ll let you know.
Finally – because these things were eaten strictly in order – there was a slice of cake, or a special iced biscuit. Mostly, it was a piece of fruitcake or a plain single layer cake iced , or a slice (raspberry slice), or perhaps ginger creams (hard ginger biscuits joined with vanilla icing), or afghans (a chocolate cakey-biscuit with chocolate icing and a walnut from our trees on the top) or melting moments (rich, buttery biscuits joined with icing). It was a layer cake only on special occasions – birthdays, or when we had visitors.
I had favourites of course. Whilst I loved the spicy fruit loaf, the fruit cake was never my favourite. Anything ginger or spice flavoured (Belgian Slice) was and still is good, and the raspberry slice also stands the test of time.
My favourite was chocolate fudge cake – though probably more accurately it should be called a chocolate biscuit cake – and it only made very rare appearances with visitors, or when there was some left over from a “Ladies, A Plate” event. I used to shave off pieces with my teeth, savouring the taste of the chocolate, the texture of the biscuit, making the experience last as long as possible.
It may sound like a lot, but serving sizes were always small. Go to a café now anywhere in New Zealand and buy a raspberry slice or melting moment or slice of chocolate cake, and they’ll be at least three times the size of the portions we had. (A single serve these days probably has more calories than our entire afternoon tea in the 1970s.) This burst of sweetness and carbohydrate, washed down with a good cup of tea, would keep us all going for the next few hours until dinnertime.