The Duchess of Bedford started the tradition of afternoon tea simply because she was hungry. But the practice turned into a social occasion. At the Banff Springs Hotel

Time for Tea

My family and I were invited to the castle for some tea. Okay it wasn’t the Buckingham Palace but a castle just as majestic and just as stately. It was a castle nestled in our snow covered Rockies — the Fairmont Banff Springs.

My family and I were invited to the castle for some tea. Okay it wasn’t the Buckingham Palace but a castle just as majestic and just as stately. It was a castle nestled in our snow covered Rockies — the Fairmont Banff Springs.

When I told the family there was some enthusiasm and some resistance. My daughter who believes tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off and small dainty cakes served in delicate china was actually her noble fate, was very excited, while my son and husband declared that tea sounds like a “girl activity” asked to be opted out.

Since I wanted it to be a family event, resistance was futile. So off to the castle we went.

Reaching the hotel in Banff and seeing the opulence of Banff Springs had both my husband and son taking on the persona of proper Englishmen. My son appeared to be standing a little straighter and walking with more purpose while both of them seemed to have an English accent creeping into their speech.

The hook, however, came when we entered the tearoom at the Rundle Lounge of Banff Springs. A table formally set with pristine white tablecloth with porcelain white tea cups overlooking the Bow valley river with the great Rocky Mountain in the background, awaited us. Everyone had the “wow” and stunned look.

Suddenly a “girly” event turned into a “family” affair.

Once we were settled into our blissful spot, our server, Ngaire Segrave, rolled out a tea cart with glass jars filled with loose teas. With her Australian accent, which I thought was very fitting, she talked about the 12 Banff Spring tea blends, letting us sniff and ask questions. She showed us a variety of teas from black, herbal to organic blends.

For the kids, neither one being real tea drinkers, Segrave enticed them with a bubble gum tea with tiny gum balls nestled in the leaves — the tea was caffeine-free, pink and tasted like bubblegum! What kid doesn’t like bubblegum?

The decision for me was a little more difficult. How could I pick just one out of 12? To help me decide, Segrave left me with the menu. Besides the description of the teas the menu also has the story of how the whole tea tradition began and why afternoon tea began to take on a “girly” connotation.

I was transported back to 1840s when Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, was credited with the invention of the tradition of afternoon tea.

Traditionally dinner was not served until 8:30 or 9 in the evening and the Duchess often became hungry, especially in the summer when dinner was served even later.

She ordered a small meal of bread, butter, and other niceties, such as cakes, tarts, and biscuits, to be brought secretly to her boudoir. When she was exposed she was not ridiculed, as she had feared, but her habit caught on and the concept of a small meal became popular and eventually became known as “afternoon tea.”

Even though the Duchess of Bedford had started having afternoon tea because she was hungry, this was not a meal for pigging out. Ladies sipped their tea and nibbled sandwiches and cakes. It had become a social occasion for showing off clothes and catching up on gossip not for real eating.

Segraves’s question “did you decide on your tea?” warped me backed to the present. After careful deliberation I decided to have Vanilla Orchid which had the flavour of vanilla and a splash of pomegranate.

As we waited for our tea to steep, we were served fresh seasonal fruit to cleanse the palate. Then came our tier of delectable pastries, sweets and dainty sandwiches. The sandwich selection included cucumber, smoked salmon, egg salad and spicy ham with cream cheese. The sweet selection included tiny crème brulees, small chocolate cakes, cream puffs and lemon tarts with torched meringue tops.

Sticking to the English tea tradition, warm Victorian scones were not forgotten with, of course, their side kick, clotted cream and strawberry jam. Clotted cream, also called Devonshire cream, is a thick cream made by heating milk until a layer of cream forms on its surface that is then cooled and skimmed off.

Maybe we were all feeling a little bit nostalgic about the tea experience or it was the tranquility of the snow cover mountains, but as we leisurely nibbled and sipped, we all began to reminisce about the forgotten family memories.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our Banff Springs tea experience that we decided that another one was in order before be back tracked to real life. Our next afternoon tea took us Fairmont Lake Louise.

The experience was very similar to Banff Springs but at Lake Louise, the table setting was less formal and more intimate. Overlooking the lake, tea was arranged on coffee table with couch and chair setting. Their palate cleanser, fruit cocktail sweetened with a touch of cointreau was more complex and the dainty sandwich and petit four cakes met up with high Fairmont standards.

My family loved the whole afternoon tea experience. We don’t have time for such old-fashioned pastimes, but a visit to Banff Springs and Lake Louise made me realize that it was time to bring it back into our lives.

Banff Springs White Chocolate Crème Brule

1L whipping cream

300g granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean

250 g white chocolat couverture

30 Egg yolks

1L Milk

Bring to a boil cream, sugar and vanilla bean (boiling will extract the vanilla flavor from the bean). Remove from heat and discard vanilla bean. Mix white chocolate into hot cream mixture until melted.

Whisk the yolks until smooth, then mix in the milk. Strain the yolk/milk mixture. Mix in the warm cream/sugar/vanilla/chocolate mixture to the yolks and milk. Using a ladle skim off top of mixture (excess aeration or bubbles). Divide mixture into ramekins and bake at 150 degrees in a warm water bath approximately 40 mins (if only convection oven available, cover top as well). Brule is finished baking when set. Cool in fridge if you like or eat warm. Finish top with caramelized sugar.

NOTE — for additional choices add berries, jam, flavored ganache, etc. to bottom of ramekin . Makes approximately 20 5oz ramekins

Chateau Lake Louise Buttermilk Scones

500gr all purpose flour

100gr icing sugar

25gr baking powder

180gr butter, cubed and chilled

180ml buttermilk

4 eggs

Combine and blend flour, sugar, and baking powder. Cut butter into flour mixture and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Combine buttermilk and eggs and mix into flour mixture. Just mix until flour is wet. Do not over mix. Turn dough over onto a well floured surface and pat down into a rectangle about 2-3 inches high.

Fold dough over by bringing the sides towards the center of the dough. Roll dough down to an inch high. Cut with biscuit cutter and place scones onto a baking tray lined with baking paper about an inch apart. Continue cutting, minimizing wastage. Take excess dough and gently roll out one more time.

Brush tops of scones with milk or a beaten egg. Place tray in preheated oven 185°C and bake scones for 18-20 minutes.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com

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