Afternoon Tea 1914
by Paul Fischer, Denmark 1860-1934
A conscientious homemaker has a heart for hospitality, but it can seem daunting if it is not a familiar activity. We read in the Bible that the elders of the church must be "given to hospitality." (1st Timothy 3:2) That can occur most easily if it is practiced. Very few women are instantly at ease or are expert in hospitality at first. The knowledge of it must be gained little by little, and so today I would like to offer a few ideas that other people have lent me, to enable hospitality.
Start small. Try one or two guests at a time, instead of a big crowd. The easiest thing to plan is a pot of hot tea with sandwiches. You do not even have to make the sandwiches. Arrange the sandwich supplies in an attractive way on a platter and allow your guest to help herself. Hot tea is the best cover for everything, I always say. If all you have is crackers and cheese, hot herbal, green or a high quality black tea (like Yorkshire Gold) makes it all taste wonderful. People pay a lot of money to go to tea rooms that serve such simple food. Your hospitality in this simple way will be greatly appreciated, and I suspect you'll receive a phone call or card telling you in enthusiastic terms just how much.
Make a list divided into several possible sections: food to buy, food to prepare, plates and table settings to get out, housework to be done, people to call, clothes to wear, invitations to send (or phone calls), favors to make (or gifts) and anything you can think of that will make preparations easier. Then check off your list as you fulfill each item. You can give some of these tasks to helpers if you like.
Use the grocery store. The bakery and deli are good resources for foods you do not have to prepare yourself , and this convenience is tantamount to having good help, which is hard to find sometimes. The frozen food supply at your local grocery store has tea foods in the form of individual serving sizes of savory foods. The produce department may have fresh fruits and vegetables already cut and arranged in a covered dish, but check the dates and be discerning about freshness. Using your grocery store as your cook is a good idea if you are uncertain about showing hospitality. The point is not where the food came from, but that you are inviting someone into the warmth and cheerfulness of your own home and sharing your table with them.
If you want to do it yourself, this new special tea-time issue, which covers spring, summer, fall and winter,
has some ideas you could follow, and is available postage free from www.victoriamag.com and at Walmart magazine section for the same price. I've got a copy of it and decided it really is a classic like it says, and is worth keeping. The photos are from older editions of the original Victoria issues and of course are lovely and will spark your interest in having tea. I have made the turkey-avocado tea sandwiches on page 54 and they were not difficult and tasted great.
If you are only inviting one or two people, the cost of two things at the bakery or small items at the deli, will not be so enormous. Getting things pre-made from the grocery store shows you for sure how things will "turn out."
Several shades of pink are available at dollar stores nationwide.
Dollar stores are now selling the square paper plates in large and small, and silver looking forks, knives and spoons. So, you do not even have to worry about dishes if that is what is making you hesitate about entertaining.
Get everything ready the day before the event. Find a place to stack the dishes and cutlery you intend to use and get out the teapots, cups and the tea bags, tablecloth, napkins and serving dishes. Put the prepared food on plates in the refrigerator, covered. Find other things you'll need and assemble them, so that you do not have the awkwardness of digging for them when company arrives.
Go to bed early and get enough sleep so that you'll wake up early and feel less stress the next day. Lay your clothes out so that you don't have to rifle through the closet and drawers looking for just the right outfit. Find a special apron just for that day.
If you are just getting used to extending hospitality, start with one or two guests, and do not feel you have to serve them in the dining room. A table pulled up near a window in the living room might be just right and will not feel too formal.
Create some kind of centerpiece that goes with the occasion. The simplest, which can also be bought at your dollar store or grocery store is a candle or fresh flowers, but for a simple tea, a special tea cup filled with flowers or some other creative thing will do. Centerpieces make the table setting seem more organized and orderly and give a pleasing spot where the eyes may rest.
Get a co-hostess in your family to help you. If you feel stressed about having someone over to share a tea or a meal, engage someone to help you. A sister or daughter can be a great help. Children love to be chosen as door-men or coat-ladies to greet guests, and they can be a great asset when preparing a room in which to entertain.
Do not be rushed time-wise. Give a head start on the event so that you won't feel pressured and lose the enjoyment of it.
Establish a time limit for guests by indicating on the invitation, or verbally, that you are hoping to have them take tea with you beginning at 1pm and possibly going until 3pm or whatever you are comfortable with. Keep in mind the needs of your family, what time dinner has to be prepared, and the schedules of your family members, but it is wise to give yourself a limit, so that you do not wear them out or run out of things to talk about.
Make at least one room presentable, whether it be the dining room or the living room. Guests need not tour the home or make themselves at home in every single area of your house. Sometimes hospitality gets put off because the homemaker is trying to get the entire house presentable, which could in some cases take years. I probably need to paint the walls and get the carpet replaced, and buy some new furniture, but if I wait for that to happen, I will be years before I can show hospitality to anyone.
Make the front door area, both outside and inside as presentable as possible by sweeping the porch and getting rid trash or clutter that is not part of the decor. Hang a wreath on the door or put a pot of flowers on the porch, just to make it seem like you are expecting company. You can even make a hand-written welcome sign or get someone in the family to do it.
Remind your guests that you are expecting them and ask them if everything is working out for them to come. Guests these days are good at forgetting and not showing up at all. They do not realize that the hostess has prepared something for them and is waiting for them.
Make the best of things if no one comes, and use it as an opportunity to record your efforts. Take pictures and make notes in your homemaking journal. In some old journals of relatives that I have read, the homemaker kept a record of everything she served to guests, every single time, so that she would not repeat the menu if she invited the same people. Sometimes they wrote about what they wore and what the guests shared in their conversation. If no one shows up, you can go to your neighbor and ask her to come and have tea with you, or you can share it with your family, whom I know will love it best.
The Hatch Family
by Eastman Johnson, American 1824-1906
Practice on your family or a few family members if you are still uncertain. That way, you'll be able to see problems that might come up or ways to better serve your guests.
Practice makes perfect, and hospitality will not always make your nervous. Those who do it with ease are those who are used to the routine and know what to expect. If you want to become good at it, you have to practice, and the best thing is to practice on family and close friends.
Other verses on hospitality:
1st Peter 4:9
Go here to print this lecture for your homemaking notebook.