Thyme for Tea

Tea Parties: April: A Spring-Thyme Tea


Lore

The theme of this month's party is springtime (and thyme!). Thyme has been a favorite herb since the days of the ancient Greeks, who planted it near their bee-hives so that the bees wouldn't have far to fly. Thyme blossoms yield a fragrant, flavored honey. The honey was thought to have some of the same medicinal qualities as the plant itself, which is one of the best herbal antiseptics available. It was used externally to make a lotion for infected wounds, gargled for sore throat and cough, and drunk as a tea to treat respiratory and digestive infections. During the First World War, thyme was burned in the field hospitals to reduce air-borne infections.

In the Middle Ages, thyme was thought to symbolize courage and enduring love. It was also used as an oracle to foretell death, and many stories were told of the sweet fragrance of thyme lingering after a violent death. This gave rise to the belief that if you brought a sprig of thyme into your house, one of the members of your family would die.

A more cheerful use for thyme: brew a few sprigs with marigold, hollyhock, and hazel to make a tea that will enable you to see fairies on May Eve (the 30th of April).

Decorations

Now that spring is finally here, welcome your guests with pots of petunias and pansies on your doorstep and a colorful spring-time wreath on your door.

Indoors, create a cheerful tea table with a favorite pastel cloth and napkins and plenty of spring flowers, arranged in baskets. In each bouquet-in-a-basket, include a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and sage. For your punch bowl (see below), make a flower-filled ice ring. Fill a bundt pan half partially with water and freeze. Arrange a few pansies, johnny-jump-ups, carnations, rose geranium leaves, orange slices and bits of fern on top of the ice and add water until just covered. Freeze again. Add another layer if you wish, and freeze again. And here are three different ideas for tea-party favors:

  • Give each guest a take-home spring bonnet! At the craft mall, locate some miniature straw hats (these are 3-5" in diameter). Using your hot-glue gun, glue on pretty real or artificial blossoms. Tuck in a bit of rosemary and finish off with a loop of ribbon.
  • Give a green-and-growing favor. Purchase 3" pots of herbs. Set each in the middle of a lacy paper doily, and fold and pleat to form a lacy ruff around the plant. Secure with a rubber band and decorate with a pretty ribbon.
  • Give a seed-package favor. Purchase one packet of herb seeds—basil, dill, thyme, coriander, and chives are good possibilities—and a small terra cotta pot for each guest. Put potting soil (enough to fill the pot) into a small plastic baggie and tuck it into the pot. Tape the seed packet around the pot and add a ribbon and a sprig of rosemary.

Menu

Recipes

Rosemary Cookies

  • ½ cup butter or margarine
  • ½ cup oil
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tblsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine all ingredients except rosemary and mix thoroughly. (If dough seems too sticky, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time). Add rosemary and mix in gently. Form into small balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Bake for 6 minutes. Turn pan and bake 2-4 minutes longer, until cookies are just golden brown and firm. Makes 3-4 dozen.

Rose Geranium Pound Cake

  • 1½ cup sugar
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 3½ cups cake flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped rose geranium leaves

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Butter and lightly flour a 13x9x2" baking pan. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks one at a time. On low speed, add cake flour alternately with milk. Beat in baking powder and vanilla. Beat in rose geranium leaves. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out on to a platter and cool completely.

Rose-Petal Ice

  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 2 cup unsprayed (organic) rose petals
  • 1 cup whole skinless almonds
  • 5-6 drops natural red food coloring

In a large, heavy sauce pan, heat milk, sugar and rose petals (reserving a few for garnish) over moderate heat until almost boiling. Purée mixture with almonds in a blender. Add natural food coloring and strain. Chill thoroughly and process in an ice cream maker. Serve in chilled glasses with a few fresh petals to garnish. Makes 12 three-ounce servings.

Pineapple-Mint Punch

  • 25 sprigs of fresh mint, washed
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 48-ounce can of pineapple juice
  • 6-ounce can of frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 6-ounce can of frozen orange juice concentrate

In a saucepan, cover mint with water, bring to a boil, and remove from heat to steep about 20 minutes. Strain leaves. To liquid, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Pour this mint syrup into a punch bowl. Add pineapple juice, frozen lemonade concentrate, and frozen orange juice concentrate. Add 1 to ½ quarts water. Add flower-decorated ice ring to bowl and serve. Makes about 1 gallon.