Recently I went for afternoon tea at a heritage house that claimed to serve tea as it would have been in the 1940s. When we were served rolled sandwiches made with tortillas, too many tea biscuits, and no butter tarts, I went to my cookbook collection in search of what would have been appropriate for a 1940s tea. If summer is making you think about hosting an old fashioned tea on the lawn or you are in charge of afternoon tea in a heritage house, here is what would likely have been served back in 1940 in British Columbia.
Small tea biscuits with or without currants in them and served with strawberry jam and clotted cream are a standard for afternoon tea. The sandwiches should be small with lots of white bread and some brown. Most bakeries will provide if ordered in advance, long horizontally cut and trimmed “sandwich loaves.” These are needed to make rolled, ribbon and checkerboard sandwiches. Common fillings are simple: Hard cook eggs and separate whites from egg yolks. You can mix the egg whites finely chopped with cream cheese. The hard cooked egg yolks can be mashed and mixed with salad dressing. Or you can simply mash the whole hard cooked egg with salad dressing and seasoning or herbs to create “egg salad”. Ham can be chopped fine or ground and mixed with sandwich spread. Canned or cooked salmon can be mashed and mixed with salad dressing and finely chopped pickles. A common tea sandwich can be made by cutting diamonds or circles in sliced bread, spreading each with cream cheese and topping with a thin cucumber slice. Tea sandwiches should be served with lots of pickles – dill pickles, sweet mixed pickles, cherry olives, pickled onions, beet pickles, pickled peaches, mustard pickles — all are a part of tea in the 1940s.
Sweets served in the 1940s are also quite simple. An easy and good assortment could include macaroons, butter and lemon tarts, shortbread, ginger cookies, oatmeal crackers, brownies, chews, oatmeal cookies with date filling, or dream bars. The most exotic ingredients in these cookies and bars are raisins, coconut, dates, and nuts. Now all those things sound like food that should be a part of tea in the 1940s!
Click here for some typical recipes from The Happy Hostess: Recipes1940
Driver, Elizabeth (2005). Edith Adams Omnibus. North Vancouver, BC: Whitecap Books.
The University Women’s Club of New Westminster (1938). The happy hostess. New Westminster, BC: Author.