October 23: Chapel teas

Methodists do the best teas.  True, Anglicans have wine, which always helps but maybe that’s why the Methodists try harder.

A Methodist tea is a feast.  Tables groan with cakes, pies, sandwiches, tarts, buns,gateaux, sausage rolls, fruit loaves, scones, sponge cakes, brownies, parkin, corned beef squares and custard slices…  all of it home-made and all of it melt-in the mouth delicious.

Right back to John Wesley, Methodists always appreciated their food.  One of Wesley’s companions in the Durham Dales wrote  with feeling

The promised land from Kilhope top

I now exult to see.

My hope is full (o glorious hope!)

Of good spice cake and tea!

That was in the 1770s and the tradition endures.  It’s like being at  your gran’s on a very special occasion.    All the time women  keep bringing more food or staggering under the weight of enormous teapots, urging you to try this, that, another mouthful here….  And always in a little room in the back there are yet more Tupperware boxes filled with yet more food.

As chauffeur to my husband – who writes about church services – I’ve gate-crashed many such teas, often in tiny little chapels in almost deserted dales.  The population has dispersed, the congregations have dwindled but  even in their final fling they’re still filled with busy, generous women intent on sharing food as  the most basic act of communion.   Cake is always cheering and particularly suited to sharing and celebration.

Many of those chapels have now closed. They’ve been converted into holiday homes or antique shops, the pulpits and pews, boxes of china and giant teapots sold or dumped and scattered.

But in among the other memories, there are still  the ghosts of all those cheeful busy women who cooked and baked and prepared and washed up and ironed tablecloths and turned refreshment into celebration and food for the soul.

It’s a memory worth preserving.




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