Thursdays at four o’clock, Emilie Loring was “at home” to receive guests for afternoon tea. If you’ve read any of her thirty novels, you know how much she loved giving teas.
“If this house were to float down river in a flood your mother would manage a tea party on the roof.” As Long As I Live
A tea kettle, teapot, lemon, sugar, cream, teaspoons and teacups, a plate of cakes (or bread and butter), and dainty linens were the necessary supplies. No additional plate was required, as the dainty treats could all balance on the edge of the saucer or, perhaps, on a small, fringed napkin. On the other hand, if preparations led to a full assortment of sweets and savories, as when the party was quite large, there were stands and plates and serving pots to meet the need.
“I’m looking for tea balls. I have them. Fill the kettle with water while I set up this for Operations Tea Party.” She snapped down the legs of a card table. “We might as well enjoy a touch of elegance with our last meal on earth.” She spread a cloth gay with printed nasturtiums, placed cups and saucers, silver teaspoons, sugar, crackers, jam and cookies…” Beckoning Trails
You may recall the difficulty I had when first I made tea for the Lorings. (See my confession in A Mouse in My Tea.) Now, I know to have both a tea kettle and a teapot at the ready. Fill the teapot with hot water to warm it while fresh water is brought to a boil in the tea kettle. Empty the warmed teapot, add tea–one teaspoon per person and one for the pot–pour on the boiling water, and let steep five minutes.
Tea balls and tea bags would keep the tea leaves out of your cup, but then you’d miss the fun of having your fortune read in the tea leaves.
“Any grounds?” He held out the cup of egg-shell china. She peered into it and nodded.
“Those will do. Now take it by the handle, swing it in a circle three times, turn it over on the saucer quick, and wish. Be sure you wish. That’s right. Give me the cup.”
… “I see a journey,” Jane Mack announced in an “Out, damned spot!” tone, which shot Prue’s body full of tingles even though she had heard the prophecy scores of times before. She hadn’t realized that she had engaged a potential Lady Macbeth as a housekeeper.
Emilie Loring’s stories invariably include tea, and if there is a much-beloved housekeeper, she will be the fortune teller. It was all great fun with no sense of believing any of it; like Ouija boards and palm reading, reading tea leaves had its heyday, and it happened to coincide with Emilie’s days as a hostess.
When I was on Cape Cod recently, I pored through the scrapbook of Miss Mary Cobb, a young lady a year older than Emilie, who lived on Main Street when the Bakers moved to Barnstable. Mary acted in a play with the Bakers, and she lived next door to the Sturgis Library, so it’s sure that she and Emilie were acquainted.
Among Mary’s collected snippets was the fringed, silk cloth that you see above and an article, “Fortune in a Cup of Tea.” It’s precious to read, right down to the insult at the end. Here it is, photographed from Mary Cobb’s scrapbook (Thanks to the Sturgis Library Archives for allowing me to use these images.):
We still can’t tell how Rodney Gerard might get his wish. A 1905 article from the Chicago Daily Tribune instructs:
Fine dust in the bottom of the cup means a wish gratified. At the left it means trouble, and at the right a letter or a journey.
If you are so fortunate as to discern a three-leaved clover in the cup, it’s a good omen, and a key is especially good, but tongs (such detail!) foretell a domestic quarrel.
A little practice will make one an adept in reading what fate has in store in the teacups, and the wise hostess will study the pretty art, and, above all things, refrain from straining the tea which she passes. Chicago Daily Tribune
Shall we all try it? Tell us how you do in the comments section below.