It’s the sandwiches that require the most attention. “You expect beautifully cut, even sandwiches, with an equal amount of filling, and very little bread. Plus, the crusts must be neatly cut off, a palette knife or spreader knife used for butter and jams, and the sandwiches should always be stacked (it stops the bread from drying out). I never stray away from cucumber, egg, ham, chicken, or smoked salmon.
Of course, a proper spread extends well beyond the sandwiches. The scones (pronounced scons) should be served warm, fresh, and fluffy, and slathered first with jam, and then clotted cream—jam before the cream. The tea (all loose leaf options should be “wonderfully brewed” and always served with a strainer. And as for the pastries, everything from mille-feuille and petit fours to sorbets and marshmallows are acceptable—during the holidays, mince pies, Christmas cake, and Eccles cake (a traditional, round cake filled with currants and cased in a buttery, flaky crust) all make an appearance. Afternoon tea has somewhat evolved slightly since its inception. The idea was originally conceived during the Victorian era by Anne Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, who got peckish (a Britishism for hungry) between lunch and dinner, and since then, foie gras sandwiches have gone in and out of style and the bread used has switched from brown to white and back again.