30 Jun the importance of tea + talk
We love vintage collections that evoke nostalgic childhood memories. Natalie Ritchie explains why her little collection of teacups brings back time well spent with the women in her family.
When I was a child, afternoon tea was a place where so many good things came together – the joy of company, the self-respect in giving yourself a dose of well-deserved leisure time. Heirloom plates handed down from great-aunts, poppies on the table carefully arranged by hand, or pansies wrapped lovingly around the serviettes. The ceremony of tea-pouring and, of course, the cakes.
I spent school holiday afternoons baking in the timber-lined kitchen of my grandmother’s old Queenslander. She and I would leaf through her hand-written recipes looking for something new – ginger slice, Kentish cake and jam drops are some I remember. Nana had run a cafe for American soldiers in Australia in the War, and loved to cook. She once showed me the 72 certificates she’d won for 1st, 2nd or 3rd places and Highly Commendeds out of 73 categories she’d entered for cake-making and jam-making in country shows.
When I grew up, I wanted to keep all that tea-ness alive. Not just those memories, but the values of that era. I had a vague idea I wanted to build a collection that evoked Australia somehow.
My collection is only six cups so far. I add to them slowly. The quest gives those country towns I drive through on long journeys another purpose. Secondhand furniture shops in dusty main-streets take on an added lustre when there’s the promise of a tea-cup discovery inside. My favourite cup in my collection is one of lapis lazuli and gold. The colours are so lavish, it’s like drinking from something made for an Egyptian princess. Each cup I find is a little lode of civility, a piece of the past and all the smart things the past knew how to value, fixed into clay.
Although I didn’t see it as a child, I now know that those tea ‘ceremonies’ were places for a special form of woman-power. That power was conversation. The lemon condensed milk slice was divine, and the tea restored us, equalised us, uplifted us. But the food was just a supporting act. The real purpose of those afternoons was to talk. When our mothers and aunties and grandmothers got chatting, they were fixing on the truth as only women can. They were bringing the point of all our lives to life. They were being the centre around which the world spins.
Photos from top: Natalie with her mother, great-grandmother and little brother, little Natalie on her way to tea, three generations of Natalie’s family around the kitchen table, family around the table with Natalie’s mum on the far right.
Natalie Ritchie is a single mother of two boys.
Words + Photographs : Natalie Ritchie