Summer Tea Party

II by Miche Genest I Photos by Cathie Archbould II
Boreal Chef ~ Summer 2012 (V6I2)
I came late to the enjoyment of tea parties. I was a tomboy who eschewed dolls, dresses, and tiny tea sets. When enrolled in the Brownies program as young girls, my friends and I were asked to serve our mothers tea and toast in order to earn a badge. This was both stressful and mortifying. The tea table was fraught with opportunity for social gaffes: the cups, so delicate! The sandwiches, so dainty! The conversation, so correct!

   Then I discovered the early-twentieth-century British authors. Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh--writers who exploited the tea table to illustrate the chafing of youth against the restrictions of the old order, the subtly shifting balance of power between the classes. Oh, how my rebellious teenage self ate this up, as it did these lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” on the debilitating effect of cakes and social constraint: “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?”

   The tea party remained attractive only as a subverted convention encountered in books until July 2011, when for the first time I attended Tea On The Tarahne, in Atlin, B.C., the tiny northern jewel that Yukoners recently voted in this magazine as the “Best Yukon Community That’s Not in the Yukon.” The tea is an annual fundraiser for the Atlin Historical Society, and it is so popular that there are two sittings--one at noon; the other at 2:30 in the afternoon--and both sell out.
   Atlinites come in from their off-the-grid homesteads, from their tiny, colourful houses, from their cabins scattered along the clear, bright creeks that empty into Atlin Lake. They dress in turn-of-the- century clothes or the closest approximation they can find and crowd up the stairs and onto the upper deck of the MV Tarahne, the motor vessel that once sailed upon Atlin Lake moving goods and people from 1916 until the mid-30s.

   The scene is resplendent with linen and lace, top hats and white shirts, bright tablecloths and china, flowers, and scrubbed, shining faces. Courteous little girls in summer dresses dart to and fro with plates of goodies, saying things like, “Would you care for a crab bite?” The ladies who serve tea stop to chat, old-timers greet each other with slaps on the back, and conversations leap across tables. And a visitor from Whitehorse, with a long- standing disdain for tea parties, relaxes into a really good time. Ladies and gents, this tea party is a total hoot--not stuffy and no social constraints in sight.

   I think it was the fun of having a sponge bath from an enamel basin and getting dressed in a wall tent on Lina Creek, piling into a dusty pickup in our long dresses and top hats, and bumping along the road to town that set the tone for sheer enjoyment of what was to come. Northerners delight in contrasts, and there is no contrast more delightful than the rough-hewn and the elegant side by side.

   One day soon I might work up the nerve to tackle the Commissioner’s Tea in Dawson City. In the meantime, here are some summer delicacies suitable for the at-home northern tea table.
Roasted Strawberry Bruschetta

There are many ways to roast a strawberry: long and slow, fast and furious, salted or unsalted, and with vinegar or without. In order to get the right caramelized, sweet-and-tart effect, the trick is to cut the strawberries in quarters and roast them quickly at high heat, almost, but not quite, letting the birch syrup burn. (Be bold, but not over bold.)

1 lb. (454 g) strawberries
2 tbsp. (30 ml) balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. (30 ml) birch syrup
Kosher salt
Half a baguette
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 450° F (approximately 230° C). Wash, hull, and quarter strawberries. Combine balsamic vinegar and birch syrup, pour over strawberries, and toss gently.
2. Spread berries out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with Kosher salt.
3. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes or until the birch syrup and vinegar mixture is bubbling and the berries are slightly browned on top and caramelized around the edges. They should stick to the paper slightly.
4. Cut the baguette into 1/4-inch slices and spread out on one or two baking sheets. Broil until the first side is toasted--about 1 minute.
5. Brush the untoasted side with olive oil and return to the oven for 1 minute.
6. Place 3 to 4 strawberry quarters on each slice of baguette. Arrange on a platter garnished with fireweed tips and rose petals and serve.

Makes about 20 pieces.

Smoked Salmon on Ciabatta with Lemon Spruce-Tip Butter

8 oz. (250 g) smoked wild salmon
1/4 cup (50 ml) salted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 ml) spruce tips, finely minced
2 tsp. (10 ml) grated lemon zest
2 tbsp. (30 ml) finely chopped red onion
1 tsp. (5 ml) chopped spruce tip
7 or 8 thin slices ciabatta or other rough country bread

1. Whisk together butter, spruce tips, and grated lemon zest.
2. Spread ciabatta slices with spruce tip butter and cut each slice into small squares.
3. Arrange a slice of smoked salmon on each piece of ciabatta and garnish with a small pile of chopped red onion and spruce tips.
4. Arrange on a platter and serve.

Makes about 25 pieces.

Rose Petal Meringues

4 egg whites
1/4 tsp. (1 ml) cream of tartar
1 cup (250 ml) sugar
1/4 cup (50 ml) dried rose petals
1 tsp. (5 ml) rosewater

1. Preheat the oven to 225° F (approximately 125° C). Line four baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine sugar and rose petals in a food processor until the rose petals are the size of ground pepper. Set aside. Beat egg whites until slightly thickened and frothy. This happens quickly--don’t wait for the egg whites to turn white; just thicken and form large and smaller bubbles--then add cream of tartar and rosewater, still beating, until the egg whites start to take on a uniform colour. Now slowly add the sugar mixture, still beating, until the egg whites stand up in stiff peaks.
3. Make loonie-sized meringues by dropping the egg-white mixture from a teaspoon onto the parchment-paperlined
baking sheets. Or get fancy with a pastry bag and a notched nozzle.
4. Bake for 45 minutes or up to an hour if your meringues are larger than 1-inch in diameter. The bottoms should be pale brown and the tops just off-white. Turn off the heat, open the oven door, and leave the meringues in the cooling oven for 5 minutes. Remove and cool on racks away from drafts. Store in a covered tin.

Makes about seventy-five 1-inch meringues.
Savoury Summer Tart or Tartlets: Garden Greens, Dried Fruit, and Walnuts in Rose and Saffron Pastry

Adapted from Cristoforo da Messisbugo’s Torta d’herbe, from Festive Feasts, by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson.

A scant 1/4 cup (50 ml) sugar
10 saffron threads (about 1/4 tsp. or 1.25 ml)
1 tbsp. (15 ml) dried wild-rose petals
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (125 ml) cold butter
3 tbsp. (45 ml) rosewater
1 tbsp. (15 ml) cold water (in reserve)
1 egg, beaten, for glazing pastry

1. Combine sugar and rose petals in the bowl of a food processor and blend until the rose petals are the size of coarsely ground pepper. Add the saffron and pulse. Add the flour to the bowl and pulse once or twice.
2. Cut the butter in small pieces, add to the bowl, and pulse until the butter is the size of dried peas.
3. Beat the egg yolk with the rosewater, add to the bowl in two or three batches, and pulse briefly after each one. Pinch the pastry between your fingers to test if it clumps together and will roll out nicely. If not, add the tablespoon of cold water and pulse.
4. Dump the pastry onto a piece of waxed paper, press lightly into a ball, wrap, and chill for 30 minutes.

2 lbs. (900 g) mixed garden greens, such as spinach, chard, and arugula, or a combination of wild greens in season, such as young dandelion leaves and fireweed tips or plantain, chickweed, and lamb’s quarters. Choose greens that wilt easily (spinach, plantain, or lamb’s quarters) and sturdier types (arugula and kale).
Extra virgin olive oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. (30 ml) finely chopped dried apricot
2 tbsp. (30 ml) sultanas or currants
1/2 cup (125 ml) walnut halves (pieces are okay if halves aren’t available, but remember that the smaller the piece, the more the processing and loss of flavour)
6 dried mission figs, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml) cinnamon
1 tsp. (5 ml) freshly ground nutmeg
2 tbsp. (30 ml) bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat 2 tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil in a cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Add the tougher greens first, followed by the more tender, and sauté until wilted but still bright green. Remove from heat and let cool. Squeeze greens to
remove any liquid, then chop roughly and place in a bowl.
2. Add beaten egg to wilted greens, mix well, and then mix in dried fruit, walnuts, spices, salt, and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 350° F (approximately 180° C). Bring pastry out of fridge, cut in half, and form each half into a rough ball. Now you have a choice: to make one big pie or tartlets of various sizes. If pie, use a 9-inch pan. If tartlets, which are more elegant and therefore more suitable for a tea, try the 3-inch or 1 1/2- inch size and be prepared to roll and cut, roll and cut.
4. Roll out the first ball of dough until 1/8-inch thick. Drape lightly over the pie plate or cut into the right size for your tart moulds. Press the dough gently into the plate or mould.
5. Sprinkle the bottom of the pie or tartlets with bread crumbs. Spoon in filling. For 3-inch shells, use 2 tbsp. (30 ml) filling; for 1 1/2-inch shells, use 1 1/2-tsp. (7 ml) filling.
6. Roll out remaining dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Drape over top of the pie. Clean up edges and crimp bottom and
top layers together. Brush with beaten egg. For tartlets, cut pastry into circles, brush with beaten egg, and set on top of the filling at a jaunty angle. Don’t worry about joining the top and bottoms together.
7. Bake tart for 45 minutes at 350° F or until pastry is golden brown; bake 3-inch tarts for 30 minutes and 1 1/2- inch tarts for 25 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Makes one 9-inch pie and about eighteen 3-inch tartlets or forty-eight 1 1/2-inch tartlets. Y


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Carcross, Yukon Y0B 1B0

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