Today (it feels like you’re right there with me, doesn’t it?), we jumped into a cab and I heard my tension-ridden voice bark at the driver,
“Lanesborough Hotel. And step on it! We’re late for tea!”
Have I become too English?
Not quite yet. How do I know? Because of this. I was sitting there at tea, scanning the three-tiered stand of sandwiches and pastries, many of them quite appealing, but one of them, at least to my sensibility, extremely curious, bordering on, with respect to our English hosts, bogus.
Here’s the thing. Hard as I try, I cannot get my head around the idea that a cucumber sandwich is an actual sandwich.
Three razor-thin slices of cucumber between two diagonally cut pieces of bread – a sandwich?
It seems like a bluff to me. How can just cucumbers be worthy of the word, “sandwich”? Is there a lettuce sandwich? Is there a parsley sandwich? Is there an arugula sandwich? Maybe. If you’re poor. But this is the Lanesborough Hotel. They’re charging heavy poundage for this “tea.” And they’re thin-slicing a vegetable and serving it between two pieces of bread?
I’m sorry. To me, a cucumber sandwich is a bookmark for a real sandwich that has not yet arrived. A sandwich with meat in it. Chicken. Smoke salmon. Ham, if you must. For all I know, these cucumber sandwiches once did have meat in them, but somewhere on their way to the table,
The meat fell out.
I am not singling out the Lanesborough. We have enjoyed “High Tea” at many locales. Harvey Nichols. Fortnam and Masons. The Chesterfield Hotel. And on each and every occasion, arrayed on the tray, along with the legitimate sandwiches, is the counterfeit
A garnish, passing itself off as a sandwich.
One can imagine the origin of such a culinary scam:
An “Aristocrats Only!” gathering at a baronial estate. The company has arrived. It is almost time to tinkle the little bell, indicating “It’s ‘Tea Time’.”
Suddenly, Netty, the sweet but slightly dim servant girl, comes scurrying in from the kitchen. She catches the mistress’s eye, indicating there’s trouble. The mistress excuses herself from the company, heading over to the quivering Netty.
Why, Netty, you look chagrined. Whatever is the matter?
I’m sorry, Mistress. I don’t know how it happened, but I fear that we have seriously miscalculated the number of sandwiches that will be required for the “tea.”
Not enough sandwiches! How is that possible?
We miscounted, Misstress. Arithmetic is not our strong suit, I’m afraid.
Well never mind. It can’t be helped at this point. Though you can expect serious repercussions down the line.
Will there be sackings?
We will discuss that issue later. The question is, what to do now?
We could cut the sandwiches we have in half.
Cut the sandwiches in half! Dear God! They are already cut in half. Are you proposing cutting them in quarters?
Just this once.
That will not do! I can just imagine the gossip. ‘We had “quarters” for tea at the Almondsbys. It will be the talk of society for years to come!
Well then what should we do, Mistress?
Let me think. I know. Do we have any cucumbers?
Tons, Mistress. We used them as a garnish for the smoked salmon sandwiches.
All right then. What I want you to do is to slice the cucumber everso thinly, and place two…make that three…slices of cucumber between two pieces of bread.
I am not following you.
It’s very simple, Netty. We will use cucumbers as a filling.
In a sandwich?
A sandwich with cucumbers in it?
Nothing else? Just the cucumbers?
A raw vegetable, between two slices of bread?
A cucumber sandwich.
Desperate measures, Netty. We are inventing a new sandwich on the fly.
A cucumber sandwich.
Will you stop saying that!
It sounds ‘orrible.
It’s the best we can do.
Might as well trot out a peas sandwich.
That’s ridiculous! The peas would all roll off the bread!
Not if they’re mashed peas!
Enough! After you have produced the requisite number of these sandwiches, you will set them out on the serving trays, interspersing them with the other sandwiches.
You mean, the real sandwiches.
It’s a real sandwich now, Netty. And it is we who will have introduced it.
I’m sorry, Mistress. I can’t go back oin the kitchen and tell Cook to whip up some cucumber sandwiches. The woman ‘s got sharp implements at his command. She’d cut me ‘ead off!”
Tell him those are my orders.
She’d never believe me. She’d think I was ‘avin’ ‘er on. I can just ‘ear ‘er now. “‘Cucumber sandwiches.’ It’s blewdy ridiculous!”
What about cucumber sandwiches with cream cheese?
(AN IMMEDIATE “ONE-EIGHTY”) Ooh, that would be loovely!
A Great Moment In “High Tea” History. Courtesy of “Just Thinking.”
Headline read in a local newspaper:
Kitties Step On The Gas And House Burns