Last week I wrote about my mother’s recipe book. Today’s topic is her cups and saucers. I usually refer to these as “lady cups” because they were used by Mum’s friends for their formal afternoon teas. I brought back three sets from New Zealand: a blue patterned one, a yellow floral set and an assorted group. They all were made of delicate china and decorated with flowers. That seemed obligatory for the species.
I describe them as cups and saucers but they included matching plates. It required dexterity and practice to juggle a plate of food, a cup of tea with its saucer and to carry on a conversation. I can’t remember Mum having any convenient side tables in the sitting room. The odd man such as a minister attending a church group always looked uncomfortable sipping his tea from a little china cup.
Afternoon teas were big social occasions. The cups saucers, plates, little cake forks and teaspoons would be taken from the china cabinet and washed even if they were not dusty. As well as church women, Mum entertained members of her various singing groups. She would cook for these occasions for several days. I don’t think that the menus was actually proscribed but there were always hot and cold savoury items followed by biscuits or squares and then cakes, eaten in that order.
Savoury food might include hot little pies, mousetraps, scones of various types, ginger gems, pikelets and cheese straws. Various women were known for their specialities. Alison J. made the best fluffy pikelets covered with raspberry jam and cream. The biscuits might be afghans, peanut brownies, anzac biscuits or Mum’s famous ginger crunch slice. The cakes usually included a sponge with whipped cream and jam in the middle and maybe a chocolate or spice cake. All the ladies, even the skinny ones,ate a hearty afternoon tea.
I was always intrigued by the contents of the sugar basin. Mum provided little sugar cubes along with silver tongs for serving them. Whenever i got the chance, I would sneak a cube. They seemed so exotic. My sister and I liked coming home from school after an afternoon tea. The ladies would be gone to welcome their own children and the leftover food would be sitting on the kitchen counter. We were allowed to help ourselves to more than one item. The normal after school allowance was one biscuit each as any more would spoil our appetite for the evening meal.
I am not sure whether all my family members really want to keep Mum’s cups and saucers. However since my husband and his friend went to a lot of trouble to pack them safely in our luggage they are available. Amazingly everything arrived whole. I have kept a couple for myself in New Zealand just in case we can return there to live. All this china has so much history that it’s a shame to forget it.