A “Little Women” Tea Time

Louisa May Alcott, engraving from Harper’s Weekly. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

One of the great classic American novels is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. And having set up a special tea time for another great writer, Jane Austen, we agreed with a reader here that a special tea time with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy was a tasty idea. So my humans and I did some research on just what would be involved and in the process found out quite a few interesting things, as you will see here. TOOOT!

A few details (click on each photo for more info):

The Tea Time

So, how do you put on a “Little Women” teatime? Here is our suggested method (click on each photo for details):

1. Select one of her novels

Alcott wrote four novels as part of her “March Family Saga.”

  • Little Women or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (1868)
  • Part Second of Little Women, also known as Good Wives (1869); afterward published together with Little Women Part One.
  • Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys (1871)
  • Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out: A Sequel to “Little Men” (1886)

She wrote a number of other novels, articles, short stories, etc. Check with your local library to see what they have in stock.

2. Select a tea appropriate for that novel

While it seems that coffee was a more popular beverage at that time, several teas were high on the list of preferred libations. Select one of these for that authentic tea experience:

Bohea (武 夷 茶) – in the 18-19th centuries, this referred generally to black tea; the name comes from the Wuyi Mountain area in Fujian province, China. Chu-chong (Souchong) – a black tea usually dried with smoke from pine wood fires; we know it today as Lapsang Souchong. Imperial – a green tea described by the merchant Jefferson bought it from as “green Chinese tea made from older leaves”.
Gunpowder (珠茶) – a form of green tea from Zhejiang Province, China; each leaf is rolled into a small round pellet (thus the name). This tea style dates from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when the leaves were rolled by hand (today it is done by machines for the lower grades and by hand for the higher grades). Hyson (Lucky Dragon Tea) and Young Hyson – a green tea from Anhui province, China; the young leaves are thinly rolled to a long, twisted shape that unfurls when infused. Young hyson is high quality, being harvested “before the rains”. This was one of the teas tossed into the harbor at the Boston Tea Party. Congou (工夫红茶) – a black tea from China; in the 19th century this was a favorite of American and European tea importers and became the base of their English Breakfast blend; the name comes from gongfu (kungfu) with means “skill” or “done with skill.”
Generic green tea – I am going to guess that this was the more low-quality teas that were not from a specific region of China. Pekoe – black tea usually made from whole leaves at that time (Orange Pekoe is a grading system for some teas made from whole leaves).

3. Prepare some appropriate treats to go with that tea

Some of the typical foods of the era that you can select for your tea time:

  • Lamb and mutton were common in the area where Louisa May Alcott grew up (she and her family were vegetarians, though). Turkey and chicken were also available.
  • White potatoes, considered Irish potatoes since that is where they originated, were most common in the Pennsylvania area. They were mashed, boiled, stewed, baked, and scalloped.
  • Vegetables, usually well boiled. Raw celery was also common, and corn was popular. These were usually fresh, even though canned vegetables were available. Women did not want others to think they were bad cooks by using canned goods.
  • Raw fruits, typically served at every meal as much as possible.
  • Wheat bread was very popular in the North, as were pumpkin pie and mince pie. Almost all were baked at home since women were taught that not knowing how to bake was a disgrace.

4. Select the appropriate location

Orchard House, where the Alcotts lived and where the novel Little Women was written, is preserved as a museum and events venue. If you wanted to set your special tea time here, you could contact the caretakers to see if it’s possible. See Visitor’s Information page on their site. The dining room is quite a sight to behold and really takes you back to the days when the young Louisa still dreamed of literary success yet to come. Otherwise, just dress up your rooms with some lace doilies and brocade curtains.

5. Set up a few tea time activities

One would be for your guests to select some of their favorite passages to read aloud. Another might be to do a little role playing, with one guest being Meg and another being Laurie another guest playing at the role of Professor Bhaer. And so on.

Just remember to have a bit of sense and sensibility when consuming those treats, never be too proud or prejudiced to try a new tea, and be careful what persuasion from your friends you listen to. Enjoy!


A Recipe or Two from the Alcott Era


Bring a bit of the taste of that era to your table with these recipes:

Johnnycakes

1 cup water
1 1/2 cups ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp. salt1/2 cup milk
2 T butter
syrup, molasses, or preserves
Popular particularly in the Northeast but eaten across the United States since the 1600’s. Simple and fun to make.

  • Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a medium saucepan.
  • Combine the cornmeal, salt, boiled water, and milk in a medium bowl. Stir well.
  • Melt butter in a skillet or a cast iron griddle over medium heat.
  • Pour 1 tablespoon of batter into the skillet, pancake style to cook.
  • Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until edges are lacy and lightly browned turning with a spatula.
  • Remove from pan and add more batter. Continue until all batter is used.
  • Serve hot with molasses, maple syrup and butter.

Tea Cake Cookies

5 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup butter
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 cups sugarMakes 5 dozen.
  • Heat the oven to 375°F.
  • Grease the cookie sheets with butter.
  • Combine flour, soda, and nutmeg together in a large mixing bowl.
  • Cut in the butter with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup milk, 2 eggs, and sugar.
  • Pour into dry ingredients and stir well.
  • Wash hands and lightly coat your fingertips with butter.
  • Shape the dough into 1 inch round balls and place each on baking sheets.
  • Flatten the balls to about 1/4 inch thick. (Decoration: Make a crisscross pattern on the dough before baking by dipping a fork in flour and pressing it into the dough.)
  • Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Fried Apples

5 tart cooking apples such as Granny Smith, Macintosh, Golden Delicious, or other
4 T butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
A wonderful side dish or dessert.

  • Do not peel the apples.
  • Wash, core, and slice each apple into 12-16 narrow wedges.
  • Melt the butter in a skillet or cast iron pan and add the apple wedges.
  • Cover the skillet and cook the wedges 5 minutes over medium low heat.
  • Add the brown sugar and nutmeg while stirring continuously.
  • Stir well to coat all the apple wedges, recover the pan, and continue cooking for 10-12 minutes or until the wedges are tender, checking every few minutes while cooking.
  • Add additional butter or water if needed to prevent the apples from sticking.

Timeline About Little Women and Louisa May Alcott


Some key dates about the author and her classic novels:

1832 – November 29th

Louisa May Alcott born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May Alcott (May was Abigail’s family name). Germantown is now part of Philadelphia. Amos was an educator and transcendentalist. Amy was a social worker. Louisa was the second of four daughters (Anna Bronson Alcott, the eldest; Elizabeth Sewall Alcott and Abigail May Alcott, the two youngest).

Amos Bronson Alcott Abigail May Alcott
Anna Louisa Elizabeth May

 

1834

The family moved to Boston; Amos established an experimental school. His attitudes towards Louisa’s wild and independent behavior and his inability to provide for his family created conflict within the family. Louisa and her sisters and mother had to find ways to earn money to cover their food and housing needs.

1840

After several setbacks with the school, the Alcott family moved to a cottage on 2 acres of land along the Sudbury River in Concord, Massachusetts. The three years they spent at the rented Hosmer Cottage were described as idyllic and served as the setting for Little Women. (Source)

1843-
1844

The Alcott family moved, along with six other members of the Consociate Family, to a commune named Utopian Fruitlands.

Top: as it was then. Bottom: how it’s been restored.

1845
April 1st

They used Abigail May Alcott’s inheritance and some financial help from Ralph Waldo Emerson to purchase a homestead in Concord that they named “Hillside.”

1847

Louisa and her family served as station masters on the Underground Railroad, when they housed a fugitive slave for one week.

1850s

Hard times for the Alcotts. Louisa went to work at an early age as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer. Her sisters also supported the family, working as seamstresses, while their mother took on paid social work among Irish immigrants. Only the youngest, May, was able to attend public school. Louisa contemplated suicide. But when reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Brontë, she found parallels to her own life, getting courage to go on.

1857

Louisa turned 25. Her father purchased two houses (built around 1690-1720) on 12 acres of land on the Lexington Road for $945. He joined them together into one large residence and called it Orchard House since there were 40 apple trees on the property. The family, which had moved 22 times in nearly 30 years, settled here for the next 20 years. Little Women was written here at a “shelf desk” her father built especially for her. The house is now a museum and historical site (more info here).

1858

Louisa’s younger sister Elizabeth died, and her older sister Anna married a man by the name of John Pratt.

1861

At the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, Louisa sewed Union uniforms in Concord and, the next year, enlisted as an army nurse. In a Washington, D.C. hotel-turned-hospital, she comforted dying soldiers and helped doctors perform amputations. During this time, she wrote about her experiences in her journal and in letters to her family.

1863

Louisa published Hospital Sketches, a fictionalized account, based on her letters, of her stressful yet meaningful experiences as a wartime nurse. The book became massively popular and was reprinted in 1869 with more material.

1868

Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women at a “shelf desk” her father built especially for her. It is actually part one of two parts. Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy is a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood with her sisters in Concord, Massachusetts, published by the Roberts Brothers.

1869

Part two of the Little Women series is Good Wives. It followed the March sisters into adulthood and marriage.

1870s

Louisa wrote for a women’s rights periodical and went door-to-door in Massachusetts to encourage women to vote.

1871

Little Men detailed Jo’s life at the Plumfield School that she founded with her husband Professor Bhaer at the conclusion of Part Two of Little Women.

1879

Louisa took care of her sister May’s daughter, Louisa, after May’s death in from childbed fever, caring for little “Lulu” until her death. Also, the state passed a law allowing women to vote in local elections on anything involving education and children, so Louisa was first woman registered in Concord to vote. She and 19 other women cast ballots in a 1880 town meeting.

1886

The final book in the “March Family Saga” was Jo’s Boys that continued tales of the boys at the school.

1888 – March 6th

Louisa May Alcott died of a stroke.

1912

The Orchard House becomes a museum and historic site.


Movie Versions of Little Women


You can always pop a DVD in the player and get the Hollywood version (our favorite is the one from 1949), or check it out on movie sites like Hulu.com and Netflix.

Little Women (1933) Little Women (1949) Little Women (1994)

Tea Drinking During the Civil War Era


Louisa May Alcott and her family went through a tumultuous time in our country where several states sought to secede from the Union (as was their right under the U.S. Constitution), but were then brought into a war with the Northern states. Sigh! It’s always something interrupting tea time!

Civil War era Small tin tea or coffee pot (From Yahoo! Images)

First, the American Revolution. Tea drinking in the Colonies was going strong. And then there was that whole Boston Tea Party thing, and some fervent patriots stopped drinking tea and switched to the lesser known coffee. However, as the Civil War approached, tea drinking had reclaimed some of its former popularity.

Some lists of Civil War foods show coffee and tea as staples for both sides but also indicate that supplies of coffee for the Southerners were affected by Union blockades, which suggests that tea might have been similarly affected.

Why the Boston Tea Party Happened

The Colonists were quite a bunch of tea drinkers. One estimate is that before the Revolutionary War (to break away from the British Empire and be an independent nation), they were steeping up about 10 pounds on average of tea per year (that’s 10 pounds of dry tea for every man, woman, and child). Water had to be boiled anyway to sanitize it for drinking, so might as well pop in some tea leaves. This love of tea shows, though, how infuriated they were at the British government for imposing a tax on something that was such an important part of their daily lives. To be willing to throw away a huge cargo of it into the Boston harbor meant that they had had enough. It should have been a sign to King George and his court, but… well, that’s history. And it had a profound effect on both the Colonists/Americans.

Abraham Lincoln’s Tea

Lincoln and his wife Mary did not drink alcohol. One source says he drank water, milk, tea, and coffee. Another (a quote from the diary of one of his bodyguards in the White House) says he only saw the President drink water. The Lincoln’s were fairly frugal and would invite guests over late enough to be there after dinner and then served them tea and cakes (and strawberries when in season). Ah, tea, the frugal way to entertain!


A Final Word


We always marvel at the talented humans who can write such inspiring stories even while their lives may be less than perfect. We thank them for their perseverance. They make tea time even better. TOOOT!

The Alcotts at Orchard House.

© 2017-2021 World Is a Tea Party photos and text

Hi, humans, this site is under my editorial excellence. I, your lovable and sassy Little Yellow Teapot, authors articles on tea, etc., and edit the occasional guest article. All in the interest of helping you humans have a better tea experience. TOOOT!

 

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6 thoughts on “A “Little Women” Tea Time”

  1. Oh yes, this is great! Just one question: I thought Hillside was the Little Women house, not Hosmer Cottage.

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    1. The family moved a lot. They lived in both houses and several others. “Little Women” was written while they lived in Orchard House (20 yrs). Hosmer Cottage was the setting, though, for the novel. Thanks for reading!

      Like

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