The humble tea towel, the one we use to dry our dishes, to wipe the counters down and have proudly on display in our kitchens. But where does the name come from?
The tradition of the tea towel starts with the even older tradition of the afternoon tea. The concept of afternoon tea was born in the 1840's, when The Duchess of Bedford who was one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, was complaining of a “sinking feeling” at about 5pm. She asked that some tea, bread and butter and cake was brought to her room in the late afternoon to fill the void between midday and 9pm when she would eat her evening meal. And that is how the ritual of the afternoon tea was born.
During the Victorian era (1837-1901) tea drinking then became a very big deal and tea drinking for the wealthy came with a whole host of accessories such as; fine porcelain tea cups, saucers, decorative tea pots, tea caddies, silver tea urns, table linens and of course the tea towel.
The tea towel was a towel that would be used specifically for the very special occasion of afternoon tea. The tea towel required a whole host of qualities, that not only looked beautiful and exquisite but were practical too. Tea towels were often embroidered with intricate patterns by the ladies-in-waiting and were present before, during and after the event of afternoon tea. The materials that were preferred was a soft linen, that was not only highly absorbent, but also lint free and the ladies of the manors could put their trust in these tea towels to dry their delicate tea serving set.
Over the years the tea towel then became a household essential as “afternoon tea” became “tea time” among the working classes during the Victorian era and the tea towel was present in many homes across all social classes and not only the homes of the wealthy.
So what can you use your tea towel for? Here are some ideas;
- To wipe down surfaces for food prep and clean up
- Keep them within reach when prepping food to wipe your hands
- You can use them as an apron
- Use them as a cloth to lay out dishes to dry after washing
- Use as a pad to rest hot items on, which have just come out of the oven
- Use as a dry cloth for drying herbs and seeds
- Use as a dry cloth for dehydrating fruit
- To help keep bread warm without getting soggy before being served
- Use as a cover for proofing bread whilst the dough rises
The many uses of the tea towel have become so much so that the tea towel is now a necessity in many of our home kitchens. Given it’s many purposes and uses, the tea towel is quite simply the backbone of the kitchen in our homes.