There once was a teenager named Barbara who hated to go to tea parties. Her mother forced her to attend, dressed in white gloves and a floppy hat. The crustless cucumber tea sandwiches were boring, boring, boring. And the tea -- what little girl likes tea anyway? -- was bland, bland, bland.
After Barbara Aledort grew up and joined the distinguished over-40 club, she began doing whatever she pleased. When it came time to celebrate a friend's 40th birthday, she decided to hold "her" kind of a tea party. Not one guest was forced to attend. Floppy hats and gloves were discouraged.
"This tea was like playing dress-up in my mother's bedroom. I wanted it to be visually beautiful, to make the guests feel like they were steppinng into a fantasy world," she said.
Not having enough of her own china, silver and heirloom linen to achieve this effect, Aledort raided her friend Joan Rosenbaum's china closet. Then she asked another friend, Rebecca Marshall, to pitch in with the baking.
For two days Aledort worked at dressing up her Victorian home in Chevy Chase. She bought out all the fresh irises, lilies, roses and lilacs from local florists and put them in vases, giving the illusion of garden-picked summer flowers. In dark corners she placed growing daffodils, jonquils and tulips to brighten what turned out to be a pleasantly drizzly afternoon. And, for the guest of honor, she supplied a Victorian bouquet of sweet-smelling freesia.
As they entered the front parlor, the guests, some wearing pearls, others jeans, were greeted by a table bearing two crystal decanters, one of sherry, the other of port. Beside the port was the customary dish of walnuts. On a nearby table perched a slender pitcher of white wine for those who would rather.
In the dining room, Aledort piled her lace-covered apricot tablecloth with silver and china dishes filled with delicately delicious edibles. Around and around the guests went, sampling "thousand-year-old" quail eggs marinated in brown sugar, tea and soy sauce; a Cheshire pork pie with applies; a braided chocolate bread; a basket of orange brioche to be spread with Grand Marnier- and vanilla-flavored butters; and other sweets and savories.
Between discussion of houses, husbands, ex-husbands, and comments on the oasis of fastasy they found themselves in, the women were hard-pressed to choose between the three kinds of tartlets: lemon curd topped with fresh red currants, Louisiana yam pecan and Victorian chocolate dotted with purple candied flowers. The pink and yellow checkerboard cake, flavored with Grand Marnier and layered with apricot jam, blended in with the other tastes.
And the tea, oh yes, there was tea, though it was sidelight rather than centerprice: loose Twinings Darjeeling and English Breakfast real tea -- no lemon spice, chocolate cherry, or cinnamon apple "tea" in these precincts. In the brewing, hot water was swirled in the silver teapot to warm it up and discarded; then a teaspoon (what else is a teaspoon for?) of tea per cup was spooned in, topped with boiled water and steeped for five to 10 minutes.
Now, while the 40-year-old guest of honor and the 30 guests forgot -- for a few hours anyway -- careers, carpools and the strays of gray in their hair, Aledort's daughter Kara, 8, surveyed the sparkling table laden with extraordinary viands; went into the kitchen, brought out a box of General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios and a bottle of milk, sat herself down on the living room floor and spooned out what she wanted in a way that her own mother would never have dared to when she was 8.