High tea reimagined at home

High tea reimagined at home

The ritual of taking high tea is synonymous with a day at the races. The chicken sandwiches, a hot cup of tea and sweet delights are a welcome pause in the afternoon, after a thirsty day of cheering your favourites on the track. Afternoon tea at Flemington has been a catering staple as far back as anyone can remember. It is a tradition that is most certainly linked to Australian racing’s British roots, where taking high tea is part of the culture. Tea is poured from the best china teapots into proper cups and saucers, and a spread of finger food including scones, sandwiches and cake is laid on. Her Majesty the Queen, an avid racing fan, owner and breeder, never misses her afternoon tea, and her visits to Royal Ascot are always accompanied by a spectacular spread in her honour. A Royal Ascot High Tea is a very serious affair indeed, as exhibited in the following numbers from 2019: 240,000 hand-crafted afternoon tea cakes were served along with 220,000 finger sandwiches, 120,000 buttermilk scones, 80,000 cups of tea and 1,200kg of clotted cream.

At Flemington, the ritual of afternoon tea can be traced back as far as 9 November 1889, when it was documented by a writer in the Australasian Sketcher:

“And now that I am on the subject of eating and drinking, I cannot help wondering what a Flemington race meeting would be like without Mrs Chomley’s afternoon tea, which is almost as much an institution of the course as the grand stand or saddling paddock. Here every racing afternoon is the miracle of the widow’s cruse repeated in tea-pots that are seemingly as inexhaustible as their owner’s hospitality.”

In fact, eating and drinking has gone hand-in-hand with the celebrations during Cup Week since the beginning, when the first VRC Secretary Robert Cooper Bagot’s foresight established Flemington as not only one of the greatest racecourses in the world but a place of great comfort and beauty for patrons. He believed that good dining facilities and amenities were essential for a good day, and set about creating the social culture celebrated through food and drink, that Flemington is renowned for today. Among his many initiatives, and those of his successor, Henry Byron Moore, were the facilities where racegoers could enjoy their day, such as ‘Bagot’s Cowshed’ and the Carriage Paddock. Both were in fact a favoured location for afternoon tea, as documented in the Australasian Sketcher on 5 November, 1887. “The tea room under the stand and afternoon tea in the carriage paddock were more favoured than ever.”

In modern times, afternoon tea in the car parks is still a treasured tradition, as are high teas served in the Grandstand and Club Stand. Although they are on pause for this year as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps us away from our beloved track, there is no reason you can’t recreate the same sentiments at home.

Many of the VRC’s catering partners are offering delicious high tea hampers that can be delivered straight to your door. Full of mouth-watering delights, it is a little luxurious treat that will transport you trackside.

However, high tea is also something that you can reimagine yourself. You just need a few key ingredients.

  • Ribbon sandwiches, such as chicken and mayonnaise or smoked salmon and gribiche
  • Scones, with jam and clotted cream
  • Savoury items, such as mini quiches, sausage rolls and party pies
  • Sweet treats, such as macarons or chocolate eclairs
  • Fresh strawberries
  • A tiered cake stand
  • Floral arrangement, these can be from your garden
  • Silverware (a vintage look is a winner)
  • A great tea selection, and the chinaware to go with it
  • G.H. Mumm Champagne (any variety!)

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