High tea for national afternoon tea week finale

When I posted about treacle scones a week ago today, I had no idea it was national-afternoon-tea-eve; I only discovered it the day after, and through the week I’ve been sharing my thoughts on what must be a national institution, afternoon tea.

But wait, what about high tea? Is that the same but bigger? or is a whole different thing served at the end of the afternoon and on the cusp of the evening, or even early evening? I’ve read various explanations of high tea, and afternoon tea, and the difference and origins… some suggest it’s all about class – that afternoon tea was for upper class ladies to socialise in each other’s homes with elegant refreshments, that high tea was for the workers who came home very hungry and had a meal called ‘high’ because it was eaten at a table and ‘tea’ because that was what was drunk… Well, I accept the afternoon tea explanation, but not the high tea one; people coming home from a hard day’s work would have a meal and they would drink tea with it, and they might call it dinner, or tea, but it wasn’t the same as high tea.

I looked for a dictionary definition:

a light meal eaten in the late afternoon or early evening that usually includes cooked food, cakes, and tea to drink

a meal eaten in the late afternoon or early evening, typically consisting of a cooked dish, bread and butter, and tea

Well… that being so, to finish off national afternoon tea week, let’s have high tea… I am going back to when I was young and very occasionally we would go to visit friends and family, or have them visit us, and we would have a salad, sandwiches, cakes, scones and tea – well, us children had fruit squash! Now I have to explain, that in those days, salad was much plainer and less fancy than it is now. At home, everything came from the garden, so all the vegetables were as fresh as could be and served in a very simple way; I guess people (maybe even me) would be very sneering of what was on offer then, compared to our slaws and beans and fruit mixed in and mayonnaise and pasta and rice…

A very traditional salad would include

  • lettuce, usually round, occasionally cos
  • watercress, broken into sprigs
  • mustard and cress/cress
  • tomatoes, whole or quartered
  • radishes, whole to be dipped in salt
  • spring onions, topped and tailed, sometimes halved lenghtways if they were very big
  • cucumber, in slices
  • celery, in sticks served in a jug
  • beetroot, boiled, sliced and served in malt vinegar
  • sliced Spanish onions (we never had this at home)
  • dried fruit such as raisins or sultanas (we also never had this at home)
  • pickles – onions, walnuts, piccalilli

All these items would be served separately, except sometimes the whole tomatoes were put in the bowl of lettuce – which would be a nice bowl, probably glass. As well as the usual serving spoons and salad servers (large spoon and fork) there would pickle forks – with long handles to reach to the bottom of jars, and with a prong at the end of the tine to spear elusive onions. Salad cream would be on the table as well as salt and pepper, and mustard for cold meat – usually ham or beef, sometimes tongue. We never had corned beef at home because having been through the war and sometimes eaten bully beef for months on end, sometimes in hot countries where he had to pour it out of the tin as it had melted, Dad couldn’t abide it. he didn’t like spam type products, so we never had those either. Sometimes we had hard-boiled eggs, or grated cheese, and to go with it all was bread and butter.

Sometimes, we might have jelly or trifle (left over sponge cake, jelly and custard) cold sponge and custard, tinned fruit and evaporated milk or banana custard to finish, but more usually it was a delicious home-made cake!

This all sounds very retro… but will such salads ever be back in fashion? I doubt it!

Links to my afternoon tea stories:







… and indeas about the origins of high tea:



… and some lovely ideas!


… and a link to my e-books and my recently published paperback, Radwinter:



One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.