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Steeped in History: Host A Downton Abbey Tea Party

Updated: May 23, 2023

All the best gossip is shared over a cup of tea at Downton Abbey, whether it's at the home of the Dowager Countess or in the lovely drawing room at the Grantham house.

Luckily for us, when we have scandalous tales to share today, there are a number of beautiful books that feature the teatime specialties popular during the Downton era, making it quite simple for us to create our own Edwardian teatime spread as a backdrop for our conversation!

One of my favorite Downton Abbey inspired cookbooks is The Official Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Cookbook, published by Weldon Owen.

This beautifully illustrated volume features recipes for each of the three major courses served at a traditional tea party:

  • Pastries, Buns & Biscuits

  • Cakes, Tarts & Puddings

  • Tea Sandwiches and Savory Bites

(Plus an extra section for preserves and spreads.)

As you would expect, many of these recipes are aristocratically elegant and will require an utterly delicate touch to create, but thankfully the authors have included a few less complicated dishes for the home cooks among us.

For your Downton Abbey tea party at home, you'll want to serve at least one food item at each course, along with several flavors of tea. Collect your best dishes and teacups (even if they don't all match), and try to find a tiered server. If one is not available, an array of cake stands or platters will do nicely to present your teatime treats.

The pastry course is first, and scones are by far the most popular item served at tea parties of all persuasions, even today. The Official Downton Tea Cookbook includes a simple recipe to make your own traditional scones with currants (pg 21), and these come together much like biscuits do, baking in just 10 minutes. Serve these with jam and clotted cream, and note that the book reminds us that proper etiquette dictates guests should tear the scones rather than cut them with a knife!

Following the scones, your next course will be a sweeter, small dessert item. While the Downton cookbook includes elaborate recipes to make your own macarons, tuiles, eclairs and more, I'd recommend baking individual Sticky Toffee Puddings (pg 81). The process is just like baking a cake, which you're likely to have done before, and you'll just need to get hold of some small ramekins to bake the individual puddings in.

The third course at your Downton Abbey tea will be small, crustless sandwiches. The book recommends cucumber, roast beef & chive, and smoked salmon & dill fillings, and points out that in the Edwardian era, tea sandwiches were cut in long rectangular shapes, as opposed to the triangles common today. If you're feeling adventurous, you might like to try to make puffy cheese Gougeres (p 115) or mini pork pies (p 112).

Remember to plan ahead and address some of the special items your guests may need, such as sugar substitute, gluten-free items, or caffeine-free tea options.

According to the Downton Abbey cookbook, the hostess should pour each guest their tea, but the guests themselves should add any milk, sugar or lemon to taste. The saucer should remain on the table when tea is sipped, and did you know that holding your pinkie up while drinking is actually considered rude?

Encourage your guests to wear their loveliest dresses and possibly hats. You may even wish to play a casual Downton Abbey trivia game, with a teacup as a prize!

Enjoy your Downton Abbey tea party, and be sure to keep any gossip you hear to yourself :)

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