I have long been a fan of afternoon tea. One of the best I’ve ever had was at the Old Thatch on Shanklin (pictured).
However, when times are tight, even a reasonably priced afternoon tea is out of budget. Luckily, it’s easy to create your own.
As it’s Afternoon Tea Week this week, and the Woodland Trust is asking people to invite a tree for tea, it seemed a good time to share budget afternoon tea tips.
With planning, you can have afternoon tea for little more than the price of some energy for cooking, cheap sandwich fillings, flour, sugar and lemon juice (if a friend has eggs or a lemon tree and is willing to share, you can reduce costs further – and invite your friend to tea to say thanks).
Make Your Own Scones
Scones are one of the first things I learned to cook, aged around 7, and are one of the simplest things to bake.
Just rub together fat and flour (I use butter but others may prefer vegan spread) with salt, sugar and baking powder, then add milk or water. This is a reliable recipe. (Try this one if you’re gluten intolerant.)
If you want to add flavourings, do so before adding the liquid. I hate sultanas and raisins in scones. It ruins the textural perfection of jam, cream and crumb. However, I love grated apple. Grated pear and stem ginger is also worth trying. Or use vanilla sugar rather than caster sugar for a simple but tasty variation.
You can make a scone loaf for slicing, cut circles with a mug (if you don’t have a cookie cutter) or make leaf shaped scones if you get the free Woodland Trust Treeparty Kit.
I’m looking forward to making leaf shaped scones. If you’re a budding Bake Off applicant (and are having lots of people to tea), try making a tree full of decorated scone leaves…
With blackberries, apples, plums, crabapple, haws and a lot more besides available for free, now is a great time to make your own jam.
All you need is lemon juice, sugar and the right balance of fruit to make sure it sets. It also warms the house and makes it smell wonderful (keep lids on pans to reduce the energy required).
OK, you need to plan a few weeks ahead but just because elderflower champagne season has passed, it doesn’t mean you need to pay for drinks to acompany your afternoon tea.
Instead, simmer together a few handfuls of rose petals from flowers that are starting to shed petals. Add honey or sugar and wine yeast, bottle and wait for the fizz to begin.
Alternatively, make blackberry fizz, ginger beer or elderberry port in a similar way – I omit yeast for the port as natural yeasts seem to do the job.
Don’t forget to let the gas out daily or your afternoon tea may be hampered by a shower of fizz…
If you don’t drink, make cordial instead (add sugar and lemon juice to your fruit, boil, strain through old tights (washed in soap free water) and add to water. I reduce my cordial lots to save space in the kitchen. Just adjust the amount of water required. You can also freeze cordial in ice cube trays to use as ‘fruit stock’ in desserts.
Choose Sandwiches Carefully
An afternoon tea can be tasty and frugal if you choose sandwich fillings with care. For budget fillings that still taste great, I go for:
- Cream cheese (spread as thinly as butter) and cucumber, with ground black pepper.
- Egg mayonnaise and cress (or sorrel, if it’s available. Rocket also works, as do chives)
- Tomato concasse with sea salt and basil or mint.
- Smoked salmon pate (made from smoked salmon trimmings, cream cheese, lemon juice and lemon zest. I sometimes add nasturtium pods as a free caper alternative. Young nasturtium leaves also add a delicious peppery bite.)
- As an alternative smoked salmon trimmings sandwich, make a gravadlax sauce with yellow mustard, honey, oil and dill. Use spinach,, rocket or other home grown leaves, and finely chopped spring onions, to bulk up the filling.
Don’t skimp on bread. Either bake your own or get a decent quality loaf *(thinly sliced).
You can garnish your sandwiches with edible flowers for free glamour.
I am a purist who goes for Yorkshire Tea or a strong English Breakfast. However, if you like herb tea, mint is freely available, as is mugwort (which may have health benefits too, though more study is required).
You can also make flower tea, with clover, red clover, rose petals, mallow, borage and dandelion petals, or any other edible flower blend that appeals. This is great for ‘fairy feasts’ – and looks lovely. Add lemon and honey to taste.
Bake a Cake
This is almost always cheaper than buying one. To make a basic sponge, weigh three eggs. Weigh out equal weights of fat and sugar (I like butter best). Cream together the fat and sugar then slowly add the egg before folding the flour in. Bake, let it cool then split through the middle and spread with jam.
There are many other cake and pastry options, from apple tarts and chocolate brownies to carrot cake and jam tarts. Please share your favourite recipes in the comments.
Decorate your cake with seasonal berries and blooms for an easy but beautiful centrepiece.
The one afternoon tea essential you can’t make is clotted cream. However, it costs around £2 (unless you can find a voucher or make friends with a dairy farmer) so is a relatively cheap way to turn afternoon tea into perfection. (If you’re having a fundraising tree party and charge £5 per head, you can cover costs – even if you only have a few guests – and have plenty left over for the Woodland Trust).
Once you have your afternoon tea components gathered together, think about presentation.
If you’re having a tree party, you can make bunting from fabric scraps (or photos from magazines stuck to paper, if you’re short on time.)
You can also cut placeholders out of paper, make invitations with dried flowers or leaves, and make garlands from old and tired fake flowers or fresh herbs (rosemary is a sturdy herb to work with).
If you don’t have a tiered plate to display your sandwiches, make one. Use paper plates with toilet roll innards if you have paper plates left over from a party.
For a more lasting cake stand, try this.
Then, it’s just a case of plating up your food, welcoming your guests and enjoying a well-deserved cuppa.
Making afternoon tea can be a lovely way to spend a rainy day. It’s also a great idea for a community event. Scouts, guides, Transition Town organisers and schools are all ideally placed to spend a morning making, and an afternoon raising money for charity by inviting people to tea. The trees will thank you…
* If you cut the crusts off, chop them into squares and turn them into croutons by tossing them in herb oil and salt then baking slowly. These usually last about a week in a tin – sometimes more – though do make sure they’re properly dried out as it’s moisture than causes mould issues.