28 June 2011

In a Pickle

From the Thunder Gods of Sweat to unseasonable rain showers in one little week, my goodness... thankfully, tea is tasty in any weather. Trixie has been in the kitchen making cold-infused Kusmi Troika for our operatic pique-nique later in the day, so the whole house smells wonderful. And while it does, I am going to tell you a story about my youth:

My dear mama, who some time back left this earth, loved preserved foods of nearly every kind, including sweet jellies and jams, savory chutneys and pickles, and even some things I prefer not to divulge. Oh yes, mama had to have her preserves! Every day, pickled this and candied that found its way to our table, and I grew to love a wide range of preserved fruit and vinegar-soaked veg thanks to it being in front of me at every meal, and to her gentle encouragement to "just try a little bit, give it a go, sweetie."

Flora Sweepings -- as mama was called before she met and wed my papa Mister Fannings -- came from sturdy farming stock and knew a thing or two (or twenty) about "puttin' up" food for the long Winter, and all that. Mister Fannings was a smitten city fellow who eventually convinced Flora to give up farming ways for a modern urban life {a very romantic story for another day}. Over time, Flora dispensed with trying to create The Back Forty on apartment-house balconies and became, instead, a connoisseur of store-bought (some may find that, well, tragic; I prefer to think of it as adaptive). Excursions to exotic emporia were routine by the time I appeared on the scene, and I did so enjoy trailing after mama on these merry jaunts to shops now known only in memory...

Well, you might guess what happened: I mean, how many people fill their shopping baskets with two dozen kinds of preserved foods at one go? One day a gent, who was sharing samples of his latest pickled creation in one of these fancy shops, spied my enthusiastic mama with her hoard; and when she got 'round to tasting his New Item (and telling him how much she liked it) he asked if he could name it after her. Flattered, flabbergasted, and delighted that someone finally understood her passion, she said OK.

Need I mention that the New Item became a popular success? And that the gent eventually sold his winning recipe to a larger firm? Yes, it's all true... and every time I go to the store I feel I am communing with dear mama, for there is her name (um, almost -- I'll get to that), bold and bright for all to admire, on the handsome jar of Mrs. Fanning's The Original Bread'n Butter Pickles... The reason why the final S got lost (so they tell me) is because it doesn't look as neat and trim to have "s's" on a label... Do what you must, Company People, I know it's still mama's pickle.

With a tear welling up in my eye, I'm off to make pickle sandwiches for that pique-nique of ours -- blowing y'all a tea-stained kiss,
xo, Dustin

21 June 2011

A Teacup for Tuesday: Queen Anne {Pattern No. 8425}

Greetings, kiddies! Hot, hotter, hottest... welcome to Summer! We are moving gently today, trying our best not to stir up the Thunder Gods of Sweat -- it is Tuesday, however, and that means it is time to show you another of Trixie's teacups. Today's example is, we feel, a cooling one -- turquoise and white with subtle colors added -- which we hope will enable you to feel comfortable, whatever the weather where you are today.

Depending upon one's source, this set was either made under the auspices of the grand ceramics house of Shore and Coggins, Longton (Stoke-on-Trent), Staffordshire, or Ridgway Potteries, Ltd. Either way, today's cup and saucer set was sold under the Queen Anne label, and the eagle-eyed will see that the cup's mark says Ridgway... Shore and Coggins closed down in 1966, but not before providing tea drinkers with gazillions of pieces of best-quality wares. As these labels are less-known outside of Britain -- taking a back seat to Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Spode, and others  -- the aware collector can find many Queen Anne, Bell, Colclough, Adderly, or Royal Vale pieces for not so much money if she keeps her eyes open.

Note the perfectly egg-y Leigh shape! Regular readers of this weblog already know how much I adore the smooth, generous lines of the Leigh... on top of all that, this is a larger cup which holds about eight fluid ounces (vs. the more common six), so I would call it a Breakfast Cup. Trix has a pair of these sets and we do enjoy using them in tandem sometimes, although we usually prefer to enliven the tea table by using different sets of teaware altogether. Life, being short, needs all the variety we can squeeze into it... but I digress.

Other than the hand-applied gold on handle and edges, there is no hand-painting on this set -- it is a thoroughly modern polychrome transfer which looks good with so many other patters and styles. Admittedly, this is the sort of design you are either going to admire or... not. I grew up with people who thought the absolute world of mid-century style, and after a long season of detesting the starkness and lack of doodads, I softened into quite an admirer (lucky for Trixie).

Today's tea: it MUST be iced, or at least mightily chilled, and a clear, clean Ceylon (as black tea from Sri Lanka is still called) sounds fabulous right about now... and, as if on cue, there is darling Trix calling me into the parlor for some, so I bid you a tea-stained and utterly fond farewell until the next time,
xo, Dustin

14 June 2011

A Teaglass for Tuesday: Celebrating National Iced Tea Month

When warm weather decides to appear, it often makes a bold entrance. Fortunately, Trix and I are ready for the present wave of heat (well, sort of ready) with glasses of cold-infused tea made in the time-honored fashion: Rinse tea leaves of your choice with hot-hot water; put leaves into a sparkly clean Mason jar; fill jar with cold tea-making water; close the jar, put in 'fridge, and let infuse for 4 or more hours, even overnight; your tea is then ready to drink as-is or diluted with more cold water, to taste. Additions of flavorings, sweeteners, fresh fruit, even ice cubes are up to you... tea made in this way is just so refreshing it doesn't really need anything else put in (although you see I could not resist a little ice today).

I like to use infusion pouches because they make the set-up and clean-up very easy, but if you want to plunk the leaves right into the jar, loose and unfettered, go right ahead. You can refill the Mason jar several times, adding more leaves if you want to, but please start afresh after 2 days, to keep everything safe and sane. Put the spent tea leaves on your garden plants -- this is "upcycling" of the highest order!

Cold infusion is particularly good for green and white teas, yielding such mild infusions that you may pinch yourself (especially if you are new to greens and whites, which, after black teas, can seem, well, less exciting -- a topic for another day as I have so very much to say on the matter, such as How to Utterly Enjoy Green and White Teas, mmm).

At left you can see one of my all-time favorite tea for cold infusion: New Vithanakande Estate FOP long leaf (the link takes you to a similarly delicious grade from the same estate, sold by our friends at Silver Tips Tea). It is low in tannins and naturally mild in flavor but infuses to a lovely deep color, gorgeous in a glass. A tremendously satisfying "tea" taste, so much smoother than that famous tea in the yellow box. An excellent value and a great introduction to higher-quality teas for the neophyte.

Crank up the fans!! Wishing you glasses-ful of your favorite cold tea beverage, and sending all my love, Dustin

12 June 2011

Better late than... well, you know...

HM Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her birthday at LEAST twice each year: there is her actual birth anniversary on the 21st of April; and there is The Queen's Official Birthday, a prettier day in late Spring on which HM can hear cheerful sentiments, bestow Birthday Honours, watch the Colours do their Trooping, et cetera, which this year was the 11th of June (only yesterday!). People of the United States join in the fun, as our own government makes a commemorative statement on our behalf.

At our house the celebration is fairly modest, with teacups raised in quiet salute to one of the longest- and proudest-working women of all time, anywhere. Cheers, Lilibet! Oh yes and thanks for naming Colin Firth among the birthday honourees -- very cool: CF becomes a CBE.

As if all this weren't enough, The Queen's husband and consort HRH Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, turned 90 on Friday, whereupon The Wife made him Lord High Admiral of the Royal Navy (how's that for a birthday gift?); so it's cake and ice cream all 'round. The venerable D of E says he is now ready to relax a bit and let some of these youngsters take on more of the Royal engagements... after the wedding in April, and these birthday parties all weekend, and, and, and... fair enough, we say. Go visit your family in Greece... or is it Denmark?

At top-left you can catch a glimpse of our favorite Coronation teaware image, the enigmatic portrait used by Royal Tuscan on cups, saucers, plates, and more which pushes past the patriotic red, white, and blue into a near-rainbow of color for the four Royal plants (Rose of England, Thistle of Scotland, Daffodil of Wales, and Shamrock of Northern Ireland) and the Crown. Royal Tuscan was long ago rolled into the venerable Wedgwood family of potteries, and now The Big W, too, has itself been rolled into the Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton Group. sigh

We also like this new picture {borrowed with gratitude from the Royal Household} very much.

And... here it is! The news all Royal-watchers have been waiting for -- the plans for The Queen's 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations are beginning to pour forth! It is all we can do to stay in our seats. More, oh yes EVER so much more, to come about that... {here Trixie fans Dustin's rapidly overheating brow}. You just wait and see -- or don't wait -- follow the link in this paragraph to the BBC, where they already know so much more about this stuff than we ever shall (although we won't quit trying).

... Dustin, overcome, has gone to lie down, so I'll say good evening to you all, flapping my recently-much-practiced Royal Wave in your direction... Happy Birthday, Everyone! xo, Trix

01 June 2011

Welcome to Wednesday: Ridgway (should we say Widgway?) WINDSOR... and more

Well wow, Wonderfuls! Here we are again with a very handsome English teacup and saucer set to show you:
maker: RIDGWAY, Staffordshire
pattern: WINDSOR, red version (often called Red Windsor)
manufacture: high-fired earthernware with red transfer and clear overglaze; hand-applied red enamel on cup handle
circa: second half of 20th century -- reproduction of the original pattern

Other potteries, such as Burleigh, call this pattern Asiatic Pheasant(s) and it can come in various colors ranging from pastels to deep shades; Ridgway made Windsor in deep green, a multicolor version, and this fabulous goes-with-nearly-everything red which seems to be the hottest of the versions on collectors' websites such as hmm hmm.

See the mark at left... whenever you read something like "detergent proof" or "oven safe" in a mark, such as in this one, you can be sure it is of relatively recent manufacture; despite the makers' guarantees, however, we always wash our vintage teaware by hand (thank you, Trix! She is so marvelous at it). It is such a tactile pleasure that we want to play with our collection as much as possible, another reason why hand-washing is best.

Ridgway is one of the Stoke-on-Trent potteries that has kept the lines of several former companies alive - for instance, Booth's "Washington" is now Ridgway's "English Garden" (both of which we will show you on another day), etc. I really love the scalloped edges of these saucers, which carry forward the 19th-century style even as the cup handles have been simplified (and made therefore slightly less prone to chip); they have a heft and dimension that feels so good in the hand that even an everyday teatime feels celebretory.

Red transferware happens to go really well with Imari-style ceramics (about which we have regaled you and shall continue to regale you for some time to come); it also "does" beautifully for the Winter holidays, Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, and any other red-letter day such as a birthday. Red is just so... RED! Can't seem to get enough of it. Makes everything else on the table look good. Trix did well to pick up four of these Windsor sets one day at our favorite local emporium, the Antique Society, for some ridiculously affordable price.

We are often asked about the storage of teaware... How do you do it? they cry, with upturned faces and tense brows... Look around your abode for old t-shirts, flannel pj's, even thick cotton socks (washed, please); cut them into circles and squares to fit your dishes (it's OK to let the cloth extend a little beyond the edges of your dishes); gently stack two or three sets high on secure shelves, paying mucho attention to placement of cup handles and saucer edges... of course you want to put larger/heavier sets under lighter/smaller ones... as much as possible, keep same sizes together to minimize the heartache of breakage. Old clothes rarely look attractive as dish separators, but let me put it to you with some vigor that not only are you recycling in a creative way, but you are doing your old dishes a favor by cushioning them better than if you were to use those flimsy, scratchy grey circles that can be found at housewares shops.

If you are the envy of all your friends and have bunches and piles of cup and saucer sets, it is a very good thing to rotate several sets in and out of use at the beginning of each season (yes, we DO do this). Staves off boredom, gives all your lovelies a chance to be admired, and reminds you how excellent you are at collecting vintage teaware. If you have more sets than can comfortably be stored in your cupboard, and you have to (gasp!) pack some away in boxes, we recommend "banker's" file boxes because they hold plenty but are still lift-able when full... separate cups from saucers; wrap saucers in well-padded stacks, then wrap each cup separately... we find that one banker's box holds a couple dozen sets of standard-sized cups and saucers, even with the copious amount of tissue and bubble with which we smother them. Spare yourself future frustration by listing the contents on at least one end of every box (one might think this was a self-evident procedure, but no; occasionally even we have neglected this step, to our later chagrin)... I now step down from my soapy box because I want to share something exquisitely nifty:

Tea people who visit Asia are superb people to know, especially when they go out of their way to share treasures gleaned in their travels. One such person -- the effervescent Marmalady -- brought not only some bodacious 20-year-old Buddha's Hand oolong tea directly from the garden in Taiwan but her handsome husband as well; and we all got together on a recent (blustery!!) morning to show the squirrels and blue jays how to infuse such fine stuff in a local park. As you can see {at left}, even a cold morning can be made better with really fabulous tea and some chocolate-coated biscuits. Yum yum yum yum and yum. Thank you M'lady! And thank you Ms Gillian Cale of VisitStoke.co.uk for supplying our new blog decoration, which can be found in the upper quadrant of our left-hand column... Go Stoke!

Until the next time, we wish you all a very happy June, with gallons of tea and plates-ful of your favorite goes-along-with,
xo, Dustin