Wednesday is the anniversary of a tea party more famous than the Mad Hatters'. It was on Dec. 16, 1773, that members of the Sons of Liberty boarded the British ships Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver lying in Boston Harbor, broke open the heavy tea chests and shoveled the tea over the side.
"Particular care was taken that no one made off with any of the tea," wrote Benjamin Woods Labaree in The Boston Tea Party.
"One fellow had surreptitiously filled the lining of his coat with loose tea, but he was spotted by the others, stripped of his clothing, and given a severe beating as he scampered through the crowd . . . no sizable quantity escaped destruction that night. Early next morning when the tide began once more to recede, small boats were launched to break up the long wind-rows of tea which reached far out into Boston harbor."
As news of the revolt against the tea tax spread through the colonies, Americans turned to "Liberty Tea," a brew made from the leaves of loosestrife, a decoction which must have satisfied patriotism more than the palate. Tea, the drink which a long-ago Chinese ambassador to Tibet described as "a drink which relieves thirst and dissipates sorrow," had created it instead.
Although Americans have long since given up "Liberty Tea," they have never had quite the reliance on the original beverage as the English. And a pity it is. The Rev. Sydney Smith once described "a tea kettle simmering on the hob" as a recipe against melancholy. There can be no more melancholy experience than Christmas shopping -- which starts out on such a merry note, only to fall apart in the crush of crowded stores and out-of-stock items.
On Wednesday, you might celebrate America's revolutionary experience not by pouring tea in a harbor, but by pouring it into your friends.
Suggest that they stop by after Christmas shopping for a late and soothing tea. Since it will serve as a post-shopping dinner, make it a high tea with ham and egg toasts to refuel body and spirit.
Fry slices of ham in butter until they are brown on both sides and cooked through. Toast slices of good bread, butter and spread them with mustard, then top with the ham. Keep the toast and ham warm while you scramble eggs. When the eggs are done, place them on the ham and sprinkle with grated cheese. Serve hot with lots of tea, plates of scones and buns and cakes, plus pots of Devonshire cream and jam. (Devonshire cream is on sale in various stores around the city, including the P Street Store, 2120 P St. NW, and Wagshal's, 4855 Massachusetts Ave. NW.)