Author Archives: AEBH

Proper Tea

Informant was raised in an upper middle class household in suburban Connecticut, by parents of English and German extraction.  Her grandfather was one of the first of the ‘Mad Men’ and her parents were the first wealthy generation of her family.  She attended boarding school in upstate New York, and went home on the weekends.  Her family’s emphasis on understanding how to assemble and consume a proper English-style tea seems to emphasize in-group identification with the upper middle class, as opposed to their actual, slightly more humble, origins.

I think we were the last class of the Victorian era, because my mother had the last of the Victorian headmistresses. Part of being a young lady or gentleman was participating in afternoon tea, you know, correctly.  She made sure we learned how to prepare and serve and take tea the in the proper way. It was just afternoon tea, but there were special occasions when we got high tea as well.

High tea is supper, but early with tea, sandwiches, scones and crumpets and whatnot, and it’s savory as well as sweet. It’s a light meal. I spent Sunday afternoons being taught how to pour tea and eat a sandwich like a lady and not like a street urchin.

First of all, you have a pot of tea, and you don’t have tea bags, you don’t have mugs with tea bags in them, you have a pot of properly brewed tea, tea spoons, cups, saucers, cloth napkins… this training did not include treats because it’d have blown our little minds.

You always pour the cup on the saucer, you hand it to your companion or companions, you don’t just put things down in front of them, it’s about graciousness, not, you know, feeding. So you have a dish of sugar, tongs or a spoon for the sugar, and a proper small china pitcher to contain the cream, all of which you pass from hand to hand, never letting anything touch the table if it is about to be used.

You have to have a designated host or hostess, or it’s just chaos and pandemonium. That is the person who, you know, pours the tea and hands you—HANDS YOU—your cup on the saucer and all of that sort of thing.

Context: interviewer and informant were sharing an informal afternoon tea, and informant became agitated when interviewer failed to pass a sugar bowl correctly.

Dried Fruit Strudel For Company

This was collected while the informant was in the hospital, recovering from surgery.  She wanted the interviewer to prepare the strudel for visitors, so that she could be a good hostess.

Informant: I wish you would try this, but you probably can’t do it. But I’d love to taste it again and have it for when they visit me. It’s something that Eastern European Jewish people would make for company. Dried fruit is expensive, but it keeps well, and then if you can make the dough right, well, they know you’ve got it.

Interviewer: It?

Informant: You know, that you’re good at figuring things out, patient, a good homemaker and what have you.  My mother couldn’t always do it just so, and she did it a lot, but when she did it right, oh, it was like candy. It was chewy like candy. It’s not a recipe, she just knew how to do it sometimes. She just learned and she did it.

Look, so I don’t remember everything but I know the dough had oil and salt and water in it but no egg. And she kneaded it and kneaded it and kneaded it. She had very strong arms and hands.

So then I don’t remember too well. But I think she let it rise? With a cloth on it. For as long as it would take to make the filling.

For the filling I know she said you had to boil it to make it chewy. This is the first part you probably won’t be able to, to—you know, because you can’t get the thing. The grinder. For the fruit. But I think she used cherries and prunes and grapes. All dried, you know. And she boiled them with orange peels which she would save and dry out and grind up into a very fine powder. You probably don’t have time.

But she boiled it all and she said boiling it was important. And she put down maybe some nuts or some toasted stale bread or something, I don’t know.

And she’d put that aside to cool after she ground everything up.

Interviewer: Did she put the bread in the filling? Like crumbs?

Informant: No, on the dough.  Walnuts.  Sometimes walnuts instead of bread, if we had.  And the dough she would roll out at first and then when she felt it was the right time, felt the dough, she would just pick it up on her fingertips and she would stretch it until you could read a newspaper through it. I tried.  I never had the patience for it. On a piece of clean linen, she would roll it out. I don’t think you can get plain clean linen like that now. And then she’d put the fruit on it and the nuts or crumbs or what have you, and she’d pick up the end of the cloth and it would just roll itself up. And then so you bake it and it’s done.

Interviewer: Did she put oil on the dough? Or sugar?

Informant: She wouldn’t have used any sugar. Oil or margarine. And then more maybe on the outside. And then just enough sugar to make it sparkle a little bit but not so much you could see it from across the room.

Interviewer: Well, I’ll try.

Informant: She would cut it crosswise before she put it in the oven. Not all the way through.

Chicken Soup

Informant was asked if she knew any good cold remedies.

Informant: So if you’re not feeling well, you should have a lot of fluids and mostly chicken soup, if you can.  Water and what have you is for the birds.  And sweet stuff won’t help unless it’s orange juice.  Fresh squeezed.  But soup, soup is what you really should be having.

Interviewer: So just a can of soup is okay?  Like Campbells?  Do you add anything to it?

Informant.: You know better than that.  You don’t open a can of it.

You need the vegetables, you need them to cook together.  Just opening something doesn’t give you anything.  It’s the making of it that makes it do for you.

Interviewer: Okay, so–

Informant: So you know, you start with a pot of water and what they used to call soup herbs.  Soup herbs, you’d get at the green grocer tied up together in a bundle and it was a little parsley, a little dill maybe, a parsnip, a carrot, some celery with the leaves, and you put that in your water with enough salt to make the water taste like something.

And then if you have it and you have the, you know, you feel you can do it, you put in a whole chicken and you just put it on the low fire.  And you let it go.  You don’t want to boil it all the way up, you want just small bubbles, you want to keep it clear and it keeps the meat from being tough, if you don’t, you know, if you let it boil and what have you.

So you don’t have a chicken, so you use maybe bones leftover from your roast chicken or I don’t know you can still, if you can, if you can get them, but chicken feet make a very rich-tasting soup, and depending on the butcher, maybe you don’t pay for them at all.

But you put these all together and you cook it for a couple of hours and you put maybe a little pepper or lemon juice in it if you want something more to it, rice or kasha [buckwheat groats] if you want it substantial, and then you throw away your soup herbs and you shred any meat you want to have with the soup, or you save it and you make chicken salad, but you can put more vegetables and heat them through and let them get soft before you eat it.

And don’t skim off the fat, that’s the best part.

How to talk about dogs on the internet

So on the internet, mostly on Facebook groups and some subreddits, there’s this sort of new vernacular that’s developed around sharing pictures and memes of dogs. Instead of puppies and dogs, they’re called puppers and doggos, and different breeds sometimes have their own nicknames. The shiba inu sometimes gets called a shibe, and there’s a fluffy white dog breed, a Samoyed I think, that gets called a cloudo, because it looks kinda like a cloud. Anyway, beyond that, there are these tropes and speaking patterns that people use to caption and comment on these memes. People will say, “good boy does a v heckin good trick!” But they’ll capitalize “good boy,” put a space between each letter and slap an E on the end. This usually has lots of variations, like cloud boy, smart boy, or whatever is relevant to what’s happening in the image or gif. And instead of saying “very” they just use the letter v. It’s kind of weird looking from the outside, but at the same time these communities are very wholesome, and the whole vernacular is a fun in-joke on the internet.

Jokes spotlighting concerns about masculinity

Informant is a 77 year old male, American, grew up working in his father’s bakery in Boyle Heights.

His father, who came of age just before WW2, shared a wealth of proverbs and dites with Informant, mostly disparaging toward women or somehow engaged with how to be a manly, which might have been of great concern during a time when women were flooding workplaces while men were fighting overseas.

Informant: If I missed an opportunity or something, he’d say to me, “Alan, if you fell into a barrel of titties, you’d come out sucking your thumb.”  I know he got that from his boxing buddies but it’s a little late to ask for details.

His favorite joke was, “You know why cavemen dragged their women around by the hair, right?  It’s because if you drag em by the feet, they fill up with dirt.

There’s more, but I can’t tell you, it’s too–it’s too much.