The red sofas in Judy Raatz’s living room pop against the white walls and the golden oak hardwood floor. She has invited her friends to her St. James, Minnesota home on a Thursday for afternoon tea or “high tea.”
The gals sit around the living room, some wearing patterned blouses and others wearing dresses with their sunhats on their head or resting on their laps.
“A high tea, also called a full tea, means you will have three courses,” Raatz explains to her friends while standing at the entrance of her living room. “A high tea also means a cake sitting, and of course, also means high society. The funny thing is what it really turns into is gossip.” The women burst into laughter. “Then I thought,” Raatz continues, “‘Oh my gosh, Sunday, the minister says thou shalt not gossip.’ Oh my goodness. Here we are.”
The dining room table is dressed in a white laced cloth, topped by white glass plates and tea cups with pink and blue flower accents. The center is circled with tea light candles, porcelain dolls and a white center piece filled with pink tiny Gypsophila flowers also known as “baby’s breath.” Hand painted stones sit on some of the glass plates. Raatz’s sister made them a few weeks before the party until she became ill and couldn’t finish.
“Your table is gorgeous,” Raatz’s friends keep telling her.
As the women gather at the dining room table, Raatz hurries off to the kitchen to heat up water for the tea and coffee. She has “flowering tea” today. It’s a kind of tea that begins as a tiny ball, and opens up into a full flower after dropping it into hot water. The tea is passed around the table in a transparent glass tea pot, displaying the blossomed flower.
For the first course of the high tea, Raatz brings out quiche, chicken salad and cucumber cream cheese sandwiches, all miniature of course. The second course is scones with clotted cream and jam, either peach or strawberry. The third course is dessert: carrot cake, tartlets, and cream puffs.
The gals gasp at the sight of the cream puffs, “Oh my gosh!”
Chatter hovers around the table throughout the three course, and Raatz hasn’t sat down. She’s focused on serving her guests, circling back and forth from the kitchen to the table until the final course.
“Now, just think about this,” she says to the table. “This is what the women sat down to [beginning in the 1700s]. They ate their high tea about four, five o’clock in the afternoon. Then they ate again at eight o’clock, a three course meal. Can you imagine?”
Growing up, Raatz and her sisters drank tea “24-hours a day.” She always remembers a cloth on her grandmother’s table with two tea cups and something good to eat.
“My grandmother was very, very English,” she says. That’s where her passion for tea culture blossomed.
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Published in the St. James Plaindealer on August 22nd, 2019.