My mother was recovering from a nasty bout of pneumonia, slowly and in her own stylish way. “Yesterday I got dressed,” she told me. “Today I got dressed and put on lipstick.’’ “The hairdresser called to see if I was dead,” she continued. She had not missed a hairdressing appointment since 1963. She also never misses tea. Every afternoon at 4 p.m., my mother has tea.
There is a process to it. The teapot needs to be warmed through first before the hot water is added, and she can tell when you skip this step. Always tea leaves, not tea bags. The leaves are strained by her small tea strainer. She even strains the leaves for her dachshund. “No one wants tea leaves in their tea,” she would say, placing the saucer of tea on the floor for the dog.
Milk, cold, is poured in after—never first. Milk in first reveals an awful lot apparently. There is a tray that fits the teapot, the tea cozy, the tea strainer, the cup, the saucer, the teaspoon. The ivory-handled tea knife, the plate with the hot crumpet and the small, starched tea napkin, which must not be confused with the breakfast napkin or the lunch and dinner napkin. They are quite a different size. These all also fit perfectly into place on the tea tray, which is layered with one of her tray cloths, embroidered with her grandfather’s initials.
Sometimes we risk going out for tea. The Dorchester tearoom was considered slightly suspect at first, with fussy, fashion-inspired tea cakes. Olivia joined us there. Olivia used to be our head of design when my lifestyle brand was still running. She is French and terribly chic, so it all felt very fitting to be enjoying Prêt-à-Portea. (Don’t let that little clever pun slip by you.) Olivia enjoyed herself until my mother began telling some family stories, which ended with one about an uncle on my father’s side who died at only a few months old when a wasp flew into his throat. Poor Olivia, I could see her eyes widening in horror. I tried to divert the storytelling by offering her a praline croquant.
Text excerpted from An Entertaining Story by India Hicks with lifestyle photography by India Hicks and Brittan Goetz and food photography by David Loftus (Rizzoli New York, 2020)