Sandwiches at tea-time
Sandwiches have been a strong favourite for the afternoon tea party. They are what I classify as being a variation of the staple core carbohydrate, bread. Bread and butter has been evident on the English tea table from the early 18th Century. It has remained there, in a variety of forms, to the present day.
The afternoon tea party sandwich is a finger food, comprised of two thin slices of good white or brown bread, each buttered on one side and surrounding a simple filling. The crusts are removed. The final shape is usually very practical for eating whether it is fingers, squares, triangles, circles.
The advantage of the closed afternoon tea party sandwich is the ability to eat the little morsels without soiling the fingers with any butter or fillings. These small sandwiches are ideal to serve at a cocktail or drinks party, a wedding, christening or garden party. All of these were originally a form of tea party.
I always remember the day we collected our new Jack Russell puppy when I was about ten years old. It was tea-time and to this day, I remember the cucumber sandwiches. The bread of each delicate thin white sandwich was cut around a single slice of cucumber. It was the first (and last) time I have been served round sandwiches!
It is easy to forget that these simple morsels were once more complicated to produce as a delicacy than they are today. Friends of my mother have regaled me with tales of making sandwiches when they were unable to cut the bread slices very thin. They would make the overall sandwich, probably still with the crusts on, and then flatten it with either an iron or rolling pin. Finally they cut the crusts off and cut the overall sandwich cut into fingers or triangles.
Afternoon tea party sandwiches come under the heading of elegant economy. They incorporate care in the presentation and preparations with simple and inexpensive ingredients. Always use butter (making sure it is malleable to ensure you get a thin layer across each bread slice). Never use margarine. Apart from the taste, margarine leave a greasy taste in the mouth and soaks into the bread. Butter is a natural pure fat and acts as a barrier between the moist filling and the drier bread. This is especially important when making a few hours ahead.
Afternoon tea party sandwiches embody simple balanced flavours. My favourites are plain cucumber, plain tomato, perhaps a good smoked ham or egg mayonnaise with cress. None has a strong flavour, nor is the intention to fill you up. They are merely an accompaniment to the tea drinking. They do not constitute a meal.
How to make Cucumber Sandwiches
See my little video about making cucumber sandwiches here. Apart from serving them for an afternoon tea party, you can make these as accompaniment for early evening drinks, and any other entertainment that needs finger food.