Tea Time in the 1940s

IMG_0001Recently 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 HostessRecipes1940


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.

3 Responses to Tea Time in the 1940s

  1. Diane O'Shea August 4, 2016 at 3:47 am #

    I truly enjoyed this post – I had flashbacks to fun 4H days when we made these kinds of sandwiches. The checkerboard ones were a real trick but great fun to try. I see in the picture cornucopias – they were fun, too! Interesting how “afternoon tea” has evolved in any of the former Canadian Pacific hotels across Canada and at a price. I was so thrilled to celebrate a milestone birthday in the Empress in Victoria with such a treat and have proudly used photos from the event in my Food and Culture classes.

  2. Mary Leah de Zwart August 4, 2016 at 7:44 am #

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post.

    • Mary Leah de Zwart May 2, 2020 at 9:37 pm #

      I should add, this post was written by Linda Peterat, and it’s one of our most popular posts. – Mary Leah

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