Tea Room

Have you ever wondered how many groceries are purchased for each Victorian tea season or how much preparation work is done before the scones, sandwiches and desserts are produced?  I thought not,  so over a cup of tea (of course!) our kitchen coordinator Leona, who actually deals with these issues, sat down and thought about it.  Even we were a bit surprised about what she discovered.  Called for a second cup of tea!

Bear in mind all the calculations are approximate but we have been at this long enough to know we are close.

Our guests see and enjoy the finished products. Even our buffet ladies and servers may not be aware of what happens before those ready to serve items arrive upstairs.

There are 36 loaves of bread ordered for each tea plus additional loaves at Christmas as we prepare to feed an increased number of guests and volunteers. That is 360 loaves as a minimum.  We get closer to 400 when the Christmas tea is added.  We remove 18,550 inches of crust.  That is 1545.8 feet or 515.2 yards.  For those who prefer metric that is 47,117 centimeters or 471.1 meters.  Thank goodness for electric knives and May, our principal crust cutter!  And no, we have never considered making our own bread.

We produce 3500 scones, 6,960 sandwiches and 3,100 desserts each season. There are 350 children’s meals each consisting of a cheese, fruit or veggie starter, sandwiches and a special dessert.

Our King Cole Tea is flown in from beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia. Who would have thought!  We purchase 24 pounds of loose tea annually.  From this 48 recipes of tea brew are produced yielding 960 cups of brew.  This will eventually be translated by the tea makers into 1920 pots of tea to arrive at a grand total of 15,360 cups of tea – more or less!  We believe it to be the perfect blend for the Victorian teas and apparently so do our guests.

We feed 600 volunteers by the time the Christmas tea is over and we are done for the season.

In order to accomplish all of this we buy groceries! An extensive but by no means exhaustive list follows:

  • Crisco – 72 pounds or 32.72 kilos
  • Ham – 120 pounds or 54.5 kilos
  • Cream Cheese – 1000 ounces or 31,250 grams
  • Pineapple – 760 ounces or 23,750 grams
  • Green onions – 60 bunches
  • Buttermilk -30 litres
  • Milk -26 litres
  • Cucumbers – 7550 slices
  • Eggs – 2000
  • Flour – 100 pounds or 45.45 kilos
  • Sugar – 80 pounds or 36.36 kilos
  • Lemon tarts -900 per year
  • Jam – 10 litres
  • Butter – 80 pounds or 36.36 kilos
  • Margarine – 40 litres
  • Mayonnaise – 40 litres
  • Oil – 8 litres
  • Brown sugar – 8 -2 kilogram bags
  • Icing sugar -10 -1 kilogram bags
  • plus baking powder and soda, salt, vanilla, herbs, spices, applesauce, dried fruits and assorted treats for busboys, dishwashers and volunteersMaybe someday we will let you in on the secret of how the Christmas pudding is made. But that’s for another day and after another cup of tea!
  • As you may well imagine the grocery stores love to see us coming. We love to do it or we wouldn’t still be here after 25 years!

The terms “low tea” and “high tea” do not refer to the delicacies served but rather to the height of the table used. The upper classes would serve tea at about four in the afternoon in the drawing room at low tables.  This was a light meal as we know it to be today.  The middle and lower classes served a more substantial meal at about five or six o’clock at the dinner table which was higher.  This was usually their main meal of the day and often consisted of a meat dish.

There are no fast rules about what to serve at a tea but some things have been traditionally associated with the ritual. Typically finger sandwiches, warm scones and sweets are served with the freshly brewed loose tea.

“Oh no my dear. The tea will never be large enough for the Ballroom.”

That was the firmly held opinion of many of the volunteers involved with the tea room at its inception in 1991. Begun as a one year project to celebrate the centennial of Government House,  the monthly teas of the Government House Historical Society are now twenty three years old and remain the signature event of the Government House Historical Society.  Many of those pioneering volunteers are no longer with us,  but the vision they had and the dedication to excellence with which they began, persist to this day.

The tea room is held in the Henry Newlands Ballroom from March to November. There are two sittings each of Saturday and Sunday.  The first is at 1:00 o’clock and the second is at 2:30. Reservations are required and may be made by calling 639-571-7123. During the months of July and August we add 10 seats which are not reserved to accommodate visitors to Government House who would not be aware of the reservation requirement.   It is always a pleasure to see the look of surprise and delight on their faces when these visitors realize they have chanced upon a rare and for them,  unexpected event at Government House.

The food and tea which is served is prepared by volunteers in the kitchen at Government House.  It is to be confessed that we do draw the line at making our own bread!  Everything else is prepared ‘from scratch’.

By the time it is finished for the month, the tea has spanned two shopping days, four preparation days in the kitchen, one day setting and dressing the tables in the ballroom and two days serving our guests. More than 50 volunteers are involved, many of them working four or five days each tea.  It is little wonder that January and February are two of our favourite months!  Of course there is getting ready for March….

The Christmas Tea held in December is also by reservation only but the reservations are made differently. A request form for the tea is available from September 1st to October 1st on this site and from the commissionaires desk at Government House.   As this tea is always very popular and demand exceeds our volunteer capabilities, a random draw of all forms submitted is made after the closing date.

New volunteers are always welcome in the tea room. The kitchen appreciates all the willing hands it can get over the four days it is operating at full tilt.  The Ballroom always needs servers with fresh legs and smiles.  The duties are varied no matter which aspect of the tea weekend appeals to your volunteer sensibilities.  For those undecided, experience in all areas is encouraged.  You will find your niche.  The most rewarding aspect of volunteering is the obvious pleasure the tea brings to our guests.  Some of them are present for every tea, others just happen to hear of it and decide to attend, some consider themselves lucky that friends or family introduced them to the event.

If you believe you would enjoy the company of other volunteers and the ambiance of Government House please let us know. The telephone number if you are interested in volunteering is 306-787-5363. Our volunteer co-ordinator will be happy to discuss the opportunities available.