Party_Tips_By_Nona is a blog by a local girl who is a really good cook, adventurous,inventive and articulate. She has agreed to write for Irish Feast once a month and continues her culinary culture trip with that most Irish of food and drink - a drop of tea.
You’ll have a drop of tea? (or ‘a drap o tay’ in North Antrim) Those few words mean much, much more than a simple cup of tea. It is a welcome, the best of Northern Irish hospitality, a show of love, affection and a willingness to please. As the famous Mrs Doyle says “ah, you will, you will” because in actual fact you have no choice. Once you accept a drop of tea you’ve entered an unspoken contract to sample your hosts’ fine fayre, spend time in their company and enjoy the craic and the gossip! This goes for all social settings from tea at the kitchen table to the drop of strong tea and a wee bun to help ease the conversation at a wake.
The tea itself is very important. I have a sister who makes tea like dishwater (she’ll not mind me saying that!) but I prefer a good strong cup brewed in the teapot as you can easily get a top up to help wash down all the delicious treats. I’m not particular about the cup or mug as long as the tea is hot and strong!
To accompany the tea you may be offered a savoury delight by way of the traditional Northern Irish sandwich and in North Antrim there are a few fine local favourites. Looking back at church harvest teas, GB Parents’ Nights or wakes conjures up memories of rows of neatly cut, crust-less sandwiches on really fresh bread with real butter, served on long sandwich trays with Royal Doulton and Aynsley patterns. The classics of egg and onion, tuna and onion, corned beef and brown sauce served alongside the exotic pineapple and cream cheese and the rather unusual Mars Bar and Apple (whoever came up with the idea of finely sliced Granny Smith apple and Mars Bars on brown bread was a genius! If a little eccentric). My Great Aunt Nellie was an expert at the classic salad sandwich – fresh white bread, butter, a smidge of salad cream, tomato, sliced egg, butterhead lettuce, cucumber and scallion. I loved pineapple and cream cheese – Philadelphia cheese mixed with drained, crushed pineapple on brown bread and roast chicken and grapes – roast chicken, sliced grapes, black pepper and a little spread of mayonnaise on white bread.
Everyone has their own speciality – visitors to our house may have been served cream crackers with grated cheese, sliced fresh tomatoes and black pepper – a perfect treat that looked vaguely cosmopolitan. Or some Ballymena bun with butter and home-made jam. A family friend’s go-to speciality was a little toasted wholemeal bread roll with butter and a pineapple ring – I loved these!
A good drop of tea must be accompanied by something sweet of course and not just a biscuit. The traybake and the wee bun are an expression of Northern Irish kindness and respect for your guests. A sweet and sugary hit from a Caramel Square, an Ovaltine cream, a Butterfly Bun, Raspberry Squares or a simple Top Hat adds to the ritual of the perfect drop of tea. For me, the process and ceremony of making traybakes is extremely relaxing and I love getting the girls involved to make all the old favourites and try some new recipes. Sometimes it is the making and serving of the traybake to friends and family that brings the most enjoyment and satisfaction. For a particularly special drop of tea there is nothing that can beat CAKE! The simple, light as air egg sponge topped with fresh cream and drained, tinned mandarin oranges; a Victoria Sponge with strawberry jam and cream or fresh warm apple or rhubarb tart with cream or custard – I can almost taste it now!
Here is one of these well-loved recipes. If you are new to traybakes I would start with the Fifteen (recipe below) although they are now 30s as you can’t easily buy small cans of condensed milk anymore! These no bake traybakes are super simple and a real crowd pleaser. I would love you to try the recipes and share your stories of your favourite treats for a drop of tea!
397g Can condensed milk
30 Digestive biscuits, crushed (in a food processor or put in a food bag and bashed with the rolling pin!)
30 Marshmallows, quartered (dip the knife in hot water to help you to cut them easily)
20 Glace cherries, quartered
50g Walnuts, chopped roughly
1. Combine biscuit crumbs, marshmallows, cherries, walnuts and condensed milk and mix together well.
2. Lay out a large piece of grease proof paper. Sprinkle with desiccated coconut. Lay out fifteen mixture in centre of the grease proof paper in a large sausage shape. Sprinkle with more coconut and roll up in the paper. You can make two ‘sausage’ lengths of mixture if you wish.
3. Put the rolled up fifteens in the fridge for at least two hours to firm up. When ready, slice into think rounds and put into bun cases. Alternatively you can press the mixture into a baking tray lined with grease proof paper, sprinkle coconut on top and cut into squares.