Then, last summer, I fretted about an upcoming interview on national radio to everyone who would listen to my wimpy whining.
Marilyn knew that the interview would likely stir up very painful memories. She kindly offered to be nearby. And she created an afternoon tea party for the CBC Radio team and me after the interview. It was the perfect thing to do.
p.s. The Amaryllis bulbs may re-bloom next winter, if I let the leaves grow after blooming, through the summer months. I stop watering in late August, let the leaves dry, then store the bulbs in a cool dark place for 3 months. Doesn’t always work, mind you, but these enormous flowers are great in the pot or a vase, and are an inexpensive jolt of colour in winter.
Guests included Shelagh Rogers, the celebrated and beloved host of the CBC’s author-interview program, The Next Chapter. Shelagh had read about our old house and garden in my book, A Good Home, and I was pleased to invite her and her colleagues Jacquie and Erin to visit.
We sat around the verandah table, drinking tea from colourful cups.
We enjoyed delicious freshly-baked scones, fruit preserves, Devon clotted cream, and smoked salmon.
The tea was called Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea.
Marilyn regaled us with tea-tales.
Contrary to popular belief, Marilyn said, it was Anna, Duchess of Bedford – a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria – who started the afternoon tea tradition.
Anna had dizzy spells in the afternoon, so the doctor prescribed tea with buttered bread. Soon, the other ladies-in-waiting joined Anna in her chamber for tea and toast. Queen Victoria liked the ritual so much, she joined the tea party too.
We also learned that a teacup handle is called an “ear”. Guess why?
Marilyn explained the markings on the bottom-side of our saucers, which give clues to the origins of each set. We eagerly held out our saucers to learn more.
My husband dropped in to say hello. He said we were all grinning like girls at a tea party. Which I guess we were. Kinda.
Fact is, for one afternoon, I’d become a lady who does afternoon tea.
I imagined that my teenage self would have been horrified.
“But we’re not snobs!” I told her. “And we don’t wear hats! And the teacups don’t match! And there are holes in the old chenille spread – – er, tablecloth!”
But she was not amused.
So I didn’t dare tell her that I could get to really like afternoon tea.
Just as long as the cups don’t match, the tablecloth has holes, no-one has a fancy title, and everyone knows how to giggle.
As Christmas approaches, Marilyn Mirabelli is a very busy woman.
Marilyn, the person behind one of my favorite websites, has a tea catering company called Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you’ll find her filling clients’ orders and preparing to cater afternoon teas for tree-trimming or other Christmas parties. Marilyn Mirabelli knows her tea. And, since 2004, she’s been living her dream of having a thriving tea business.
As you’ll see on Marilyn’s website, she’s revived the afternoon tea in classic style:
“ASimply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teaunfolds with the well-appointed tea table: Crisp white tablecloth and tea napkins; china teapot and cups and saucers; freshly-made tea sandwiches that are trimmed and quartered, small cakes, biscuits, and of course, classic English scones with imported Devon double clotted cream. This is accompanied by the choicest loose leaf teas.”
Marilyn is also a talented writer who produces a series of high-quality, interesting stories on her website. It’s like having some tidbits of history with your afternoon tea, and enjoying it too! Here’s something I learned from Simply Splendid:
“Queen Victoria made afternoon tea popular, very ‘it’. But she did not invent the tradition. That honour goes to Anna, Duchess of Bedford, a Lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and prone to fainting spells in the afternoons. The royal doctor was called; he diagnosed Anna’s fainting spells as hunger from the long stretch between lunch and supper and prescribed a cup of hot tea and buttered bread whenever a fainting spell was coming on.
Anna found this so agreeable, she invited other Ladies-in-waiting to join her. Pretty soon Queen Victoria cottoned on to a good idea and she asked for afternoon tea too. The rest as they say, is history!”
As well as bits of history, you’ll find interviews with interesting personalities on the website. It makes you realize that the person behind the site and the company is both extremely knowledgeable and passionate about afternoon tea.
But you won’t find a great deal about Marilyn herself on the website, so here’s a tidbit about her:
The former journalist and communications consultant says she read a book called Dreams Don’t Have An Expiry Date by Deanna Rosenswig in the early 2000’s and decided to start her tea business. She was determined that her cakes, sandwiches and other offerings would all be made to order from fresh ingredients and she’s kept that commitment. Her tea selections come from estates monitored by the Ethical Tea Partnership.
As the company’s fame spreads, a wide variety of clients – individuals, families and corporate workplaces — have asked Marilyn to cater afternoon teas for special occasions. Former broadcaster/politician Isabel Bassett described the tea Simply Splendid prepared for her daughter’s baby shower as “exquisite… the guests are still talking about it.”
I was raised in the tea-drinking capital of Jamaica – Manchester. Afternoon tea wasn’t just a hot drink: it was an occasion, and for some, an almost-sacred ritual. (See “Afternoon Tea”, Ch. 10 in A Good Home.) So I was thrilled when the Simply Splendid website chose A Good Home as its favorite book for the month of July. It was a great boost – the book had only been released weeks before.
Then, this autumn, Simply Splendid gave me a delightful surprise when they created a special apple cake which they named “Lady Cynthia Cake”.
Within days, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike were trying out the recipe, to oohs and aahs of delight. The cake was served at an afternoon tea in Whitby, Ontario, where it was declared “delicious”. Then, a friend invited me for tea in her home, and surprised me by serving the Lady Cynthia Cake she’d just made. Again, delicious.
Marilyn’s tea blends, cakes, sandwiches and other creations are, simply, splendid. Congrats on living your dream, Marilyn, and we wish you well.
For more information about gift packages, special tea blends or to book an afternoon tea – do visit: splendidafternoonteas.com