Sipping green tea

Sep 14th, 2017 | By | Category: Mary Cook's Memories of the '30s

By Mary Cook

If we had black tea in the house I didn’t know it. I only remember green tea. We bought it loose in brown paper bags from Briscoe’s General Store, or from the Watkin’s or Rawleigh men who came to the house on a regular basis. And we went through pounds of it. When we got it home from the store, Mother transferred it to a big preserving jar. The Watkins and Rawleigh green tea came in big tins and Mother kept a tablespoon in the tin to always have it at the ready.

The white granite teapot went on the stove as soon as Father got downstairs to light the fire in the morning. Full to the brim with well water, by the time the fire was raging, the pot would be boiling.

Father, ignoring the spoon, would put his fist in the tin and haul out a handful of the tea leaves which he would toss into the churning hot water. Sometimes he would forget to move the pot to the back of the stove before he left the kitchen for the barns, and upstairs I would hear it boiling over, hitting the red-hot stove lids, and leaving a mess for Mother to clean up when she went downstairs to make breakfast.

It would simmer and boil until Father returned for his breakfast, and even before he sat down to eat, he would fill a big white tea cup. The tea turned a deep greenish brown in the brewing, and Father drank it down straight – no sugar or milk – just the dark green tea which he said was the only kind of tea anyone should put to his lips.

Of course, tea bags were yet to be invented, so there was always a goodly portion of tea leaves which would settle in the bottom of the tea cup. Sometimes father would take a spoon and eat the leaves like porridge. When he did this I would look over at Mother who thought it a disgusting habit. And I would see her wince and shake her head in annoyance.

Mother had quite another use for the tea leaves left in her cup. She would take a pencil and push the leaves around until they had formed a pattern she liked. And then she would call me over and show me what she had created.  “Look, it’s the Statue of Liberty,” she would say or “doesn’t that look like a train to you?” And I would squint into her cup and try to see the image she had created.

Or she would drain her tea cup, leaving the leaves, and she would tell her own fortune, which she said she really wasn’t supposed to do, but she could never resist trying to foresee the future. She said she only saw good things … she would leave the bad green tea leaf omens to someone else!

About mid-morning, when the tea pot had cooled down, Mother would take what was left and water her geraniums. She would take the back of a spoon and force the leaves down in the pot, leaving only the steeped tea for her plants. She said the cooled green tea was the best medicine in the world for her geraniums. I admit that she did had beautiful geraniums, winter and summer.

Old Mrs. Beam who had a cure for everything, would make poultices out of the soggy tea leaves and slap them on everything from warts to cold sores. She vowed black tea leaves wouldn’t work, and in her house there was always a glass jar sitting on the warming closet of her cookstove, filled with soggy green tea leaves, ready for any malady.

Sometimes, on a Saturday night, when we children had had an evening of singing and games around the old pine table in the kitchen, Father, who never went to bed without a cup of green tea, would bring over the white granite tea pot and offer us a sip before we climbed the stairs. My sister Audrey was allowed tea with her meals, since she was the oldest in the family, but the rest of us got only that taste on a special Saturday night. And I would run my spoon around the bottom of the cup, feeling very grown up indeed, drinking green tea, just like the adults.

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