What better way to spend a fall afternoon than in the company of friends, sipping hot tea and indulging in sandwiches, scones and desserts? This past Thursday, the Darien Community Association (DCA) debuted its Absolutely Fabulous Afternoon Tea, featuring refreshments by Darien resident Carolyn Eddie, a mother of three and owner of Carolyn’s Absolutely Fabulous Events. The day before the event, I snuck into the DCA kitchen to get a behind-the-scenes look at how Carolyn was planning to make this teatime “absolutely fabulous.”
How did this event come about? I was representing the DCA Greenhouse at the Spring Fair with my friend Robin Ackerman. We started talking to Susan Spain, a board member, about how we missed the Tea Shop in Darien. As we looked around, we all commented on what a perfect setting the DCA would be for afternoon tea, and I foolishly said that it would be the sort of thing I could do really easily. We had no idea of how many people would want to come. At first we thought the library or dining room would be perfect, but after forty people had signed up for both sittings, we realized that we'd be offering our first tea in the Assembly Rooms, which as a Jane Austen fan made me very happy.
What kinds of confections will you be offering? Tea, finger sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries. I’ll be making the Queen’s Coronation chicken sandwiches, with curry powder and almonds. It’s a British dish first introduced for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Egg salad and cucumber sandwiches are traditional, as are scones, fresh from the oven, served with clotted cream and my own homemade strawberry jam. I’m such a purist in the kitchen; I tend to make everything from scratch. I’ve started making strawberry and raspberry jam. Even my children are refusing to eat store-bought jam.
For dessert, guests will enjoy mini key lime pies with ginger, strawberry tarts filled with crème brulée, lemon tarts, chocolate pralines with caramel, cream-filled meringues and chocolate ganache cake made by my friend Denise Cara. I’ll also be serving mini Victoria sponges and mini coffee cake, which is not “coffee cake” in the American sense, but rather coffee-flavored cake.
Where do you find your recipes? I’m a member of the Brit Club in town and I’m always making things for our events. I use recipes from some of the great British cooks like Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver. The Internet is also a great resource and I tend to look at different versions of a recipe and then adapt it to suit.
(Carolyn kneads her pastry dough while we chat). I love this pastry. This is a recipe that a friend of mine gave me back in the UK. It was on the back of a Stork margarine box and they didn’t use real butter, but of course I do in my version. It’s a great recipe, because the pastry behaves so nicely.
At this juncture in our conversation, Carolyn offers to make a cup of tea for us, which prompts my next question.
How does one properly make a cup of tea? Boiling water is the key. Not hot water, but boiling water. You take your teapot and warm the teapot with boiling water. (She pours about ½ cup of boiling water into her Diamond Jubilee teapot, swirls it around to warm the pot, and then dumps it out). Then throw three of your cheap and cheerful teabags in—black tea (I use PG Tips), no strings. Pour in the boiling water, and then let it steep. I only steep mine for a few minutes because I enjoy my tea fairly weak, my grandmother on the other hand used to boil her tea on the stove.
Tell us about the British teatime tradition. In Scotland, where I grew up, we more often had high tea, which is where you have a main meal beforehand. When I used to go to tea with my grandmother, we’d have the meal and afterwards a selection of bread, butter, scones, and cakes. The meringues with the cream were always my favorite.
Everywhere you go in the UK—for a walk, to a garden center, to visit a park—there’s a tea shop, generally serving home baked cakes. Honestly, I went walking in the highlands of Scotland with my friend and our destination was the tea shop in the car park when we got back down to the bottom. It’s just a different culture.
Andrew Marr quoted in his excellent book The Making of Modern Britain that drinking strong tea was one of reasons that Britain never had its own revolution. Let the French get on with it—we’ll just have a nice cup of tea. It’s a truth universally acknowledged: the world always looks better after a cup of tea.
When did you discover your passion for cooking and baking? One of the gifts I received from my mother was free range of the kitchen from an early age. My mother also worked, so I made family dinners. One day, when I was visiting my Aunt Gertie, she made a coffee cake, which I loved. I came back and tried to make it, but I had no concept of how one puts a cake together. IT WAS A DISASTER, but I finally mastered it and it is still a family favorite.
Cooking has always been my go-to thing. If I’m fed up, or sad, or happy, I’ll go bake. It’s just always what I’ve done and always what I’ve wanted to do. I probably should have gone to cooking school, but I majored in Math and became a banker instead, but I have always loved to cook.
What do you love the most about it? I love to entertain; I love to throw parties. I also love a challenge. With this event, the cooking isn’t the challenge, the logistics are. I have to feed eighty people and have just enough food with not too much left over, oh and not run out of teapots!
Of course, this tea would not have been possible without the help of my wonderful friends, many of whom stopped by to wish me luck and then stayed to help out. It is very much a team effort and it's lots of fun.
Tickets for the DCA’s next Absolutely Fabulous Afternoon Teas on November 8 and December 6 are available for members ($20) and non-members ($25) by contacting the DCA, at (203) 655-9050. Click here to view Carolyn’s Absolutely Fabulous Events on facebook.