J. Randy Taraborrelli’s new book, Jackie, Janet and Lee, offers a lot of insight into the relationship between Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, her sister Lee Radziwill, and their mother, Janet Auchincloss. One of the sweetest tidbits found in the book is that the family used to regularly get together for “Mother Daughter Teas,” where the three women would spend an afternoon shopping, gossiping, and presumably eating tiny sandwiches with their pinkies aloft while Janet doled out motherly advice.
The tradition of high tea is believed to have started in England (of course) in the mid 1700s as a glorified afternoon snack, served between 3 and 4 o’clock. Originally, high tea was enjoyed by the working class, who would eat standing up or on stools, which is where the “high” part came in.
Fast forward a hundred years to 1840 and Anne, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, helped elevate tea from a simple "drink with jam and bread" as the song goes, into a full-blown social event where delicate cakes, hearty scones, and perfectly poured tea were served. It was around the same time that John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, had the brilliant yet seemingly obvious idea of placing meat and cheese between two slices of bread. Thanks to his ingenuity, the tea sandwich was added to the menu. The 1920s marked the height of the craze with family’s pulling out the silver tea pots, the good china, family linen, and the best tea they could buy to entertain their guests. These days delicate slivers of cucumber and butter, egg salad, or thinly-sliced ham finger sandwiches are served alongside the tea cakes and scones, helping high tea become a proper way to stave off hunger pangs.
While people may disagree about whether tea should be served with cream or milk and whether jam and butter or clotted cream is the best accompaniment for scones, one thing everyone can agree on is that tea is best when it’s shared. Mother daughter teas are a particularly fun opportunity for mothers and daughters to dress up, crook their pinkies while eating tiny sandwiches, sip tea, and spend quality time together.
WATCH: The Perfect Tea Sandwiches
Across the South there are tea rooms and restaurants that host proper afternoon tea complete with finger sandwiches, tea cakes, and beautiful china. However, it’s easy to do at home, too. All it requires is cups of tea, sandwiches with the crusts cut off, cakes or cookies, and someone to share it with.