flowered china teapot and cups on lace

image: teatime image from cover of the mystery novel The Killings at Badger's Drift

|| 6 August 2020

Afternoon Tea Menu

Whenever I read mysteries, I am always alert for instances of afternoon tea drinking. Particularly I am interested in what the characters eat with their tea at teatime.

The most elaborate tea menu in my memory was in The Killings at Badger’s Drift, a mystery novel by Caroline Graham. First published in 1987 the book was revived in a Felony & Mayhem Press edition in 2005.

In the beginning of the story, Miss Simpson, a spinster of certain age, is striding through the woods and discovering a rare plant. She immediately begins planning the tea at which she and her friend Lucy will celebrate her botanical discovery. Miss Simpson is determined to outdo her friend with a more elaborate teatime menu than her friend has served her. The passage reads:

She rose to her feet, full of excitement. The important thing now was the tea. She had made notes last time when Lucy had been out of the room refreshing the pot and, whilst not wishing to appear ostentatious, was determined to double the choices of sandwiches, have four varieties of cake and finish off with a home-made [wild plum] water ice.

She saw the inlaid Queen Anne table covered with her great aunt Rebecca’s embroidered lace cloth, piled high with delicacies. Date and banana bread, Sally Lunn black with fruit, frangipane tarts, spiced parkin and almond biscuits, lemon curd and fresh cream sponge, ginger and orange jumbles. And, before the ice, toasted fingers with anchovies and Leicester cheese.

Just as well that Miss Simpson is murdered before she can actually prepare and serve this afternoon tea. Should these two elderly women actually consume all the offerings of this planned tea, there would surely have been two deaths instead of one.

One general rule of fiction writing is that the beginning should define what sort of book the reader is about to read. First pages introducing elderly English spinsters and teatime suggests a cozy mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh. In fact, the denouement of The Killings at Badger’s Drift involves the kind of dark depravity that would be more likely found in one of the rougher hard-boiled mysteries.

But if you need ideas for an elaborate teatime, Miss Simpson’s menu would surely provide you inspiration.

be chic, stay slim — Anne Barone