Dear Tea Friends,
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— Andrew M. Greeley
Once upon a time, I lived in West Texas smack on the border with Mexico. In those days, our neighbors didn’t hang up stocking to be filled by Santa. On Epiphany Eve, children placed straw-filled cowboy boots, at the foot of their beds, to feed camels ridden by Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem. On January 6th, Three Kings Day, families enjoyed the presents left by Melchior, Gaspar and Baltazar. A crown-shaped sweet bread, Rosca, baked with a small doll inside, representing the Christ child, is eaten on Día de los Reyes. Whoever finds the doll must host a party on February 2nd, to honor the day Mary presented her baby at the temple.
In France the Galette des Rois might contain a bean and the one who discovers it is dubbed king or queen and awarded a paper crown. When I lived in London, a neighbor invited me to share a cuppa tea with slice of brandy-soaked 12th Night Cake.
Families bid a fond farewell to the holidays in Ireland, too on the January 6th. The feast went by many names, Little Christmas, nollaig na Mban, or Women’s Christmas, but it was celebrated with a splendid tea party to which only women were invited. This charming custom originated in rural communities, but in recent years it spread to cities especially those with large Irish emigrant communities in Canada and Australia.
A women’s tea with all the trimmings could be a dainty afternoon tea or a heartier high tea supper. Milk, butter, cream and cheese were abundant so a quiche would be appropriate. Tiny boiled new potatoes topped with sour cream and a dollop of caviar would be an elegant addition. Salmon tea sandwiches or a mousse would be rich and delicious. Brown or white soda bread, barm brack, scones and farls, bread cakes leaved with soda and buttermilk, are typical baked goods.
Traditionally, a boiled fruitcake with marzipan fondant icing or Porter cake, a fruitcake made with Guinness stout, was the grand finale. Some people followed the custom of placing a ring or coin in the cake to predict future marriage or wealth. In addition to a steaming cuppa of the finest tea, it was the custom to offer guests a glass of sherry or wine. Legend holds that on Epiphany the water in Ireland’s holy wells was changed to wine by the three Wise Men.
Hard-working women, wherever they live, deserve a day off as a reward for all the holiday shopping, cooking, cleaning and posting of presents to faraway folk. Men are supposed to pamper the ladies by taking up their work for the day. Any fellow who doesn’t don an apron and do his share of housekeeping on January 6th is said to risk bad luck for the rest of the year!
You might like to celebrate Little Christmas and National Hot Tea month with the gift of a tea class or tea tour for yourself or a friend. My English-French tea traditions tour will be hosted on Saturday, January 20th in New York City and on Friday, January 26th, I’ll co-host a Harney’s Tea Tour with the grand Tea Master himself, John Harney in Millerton, N Y.
Visit www.teawithfriends.com for tour dates, class descriptions and additional details. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phone TOLL FREE 866-616-1154 OR 201-222-1154.