Friday 17 June 2022

Strawberry Tea Sandwiches

When I was growing up, June was Strawberry Tea month. The teas were a staple fundraiser for the Women's Institute, various church auxillaries, and the hospital auxillary. They were a variation on a traditional English afternoon tea but somewhat less formal. Tables were often set up outdoors and each was set linens and dishes on loan from the members of whatever group was hosting the tea.  There were often small arrangements of home grown flowers on each table. Most importantly though, each course served included strawberries. 

All of the food at a strawberry tea was prepared by volunteers, in their homes, then carried to the event. (You wouldn't get away with that now, I know.)  Recipes were not shared. It's not that the food was complicated, but exact proportions of ingredients were often treated as something resembling a state secret. As a result, when I set out to make the sandwiches for this post, I had to rely on my memory, some experimentation, and a willingness to adapt what I remember to suit more modern tastes.

I'm sharing three strawberry tea sandwiches.  All are very simple to make and use ingredients readily available. 

I should take a moment to talk about bread: 

The sandwiches at the teas I remember were made from sandwich loaves ordered specially from the bakery. The loaves were rectangular, with four straight sides, and sliced thinner than regular bakery loaves. The straight sides ensured less waste when trimming crusts and cutting shapes. The thinner slices were a convention carried over from Victorian times. They were considered more refined, and they also appealed to the Victorian enthusiasm for thrifty household management. You can get more sandwiches out of each loaf if the slices are cut thin. 

These days, rectangular sandwich loaves can be hard to find.  It may be worth asking your local baker about them but, if you can't get them, there are ways to make the most of whatever bread you have available to you. I used my home baked bread for these sandwiches. To make it easier to slice, I put it in the freezer for a while, until it had firmed up enough that I could more easily cut thin, even slices. Don't get too invested in perfection though: My shaky hands make such precise work a real challenge and my sandwiches are often far from perfect in appearance.  Even so, grouped together on a plate, they make a pretty enough presentation that I feel comfortable serving them to guests.

Here are my strawberry sandwiches. Other than the quantities given for the dressing used to make the chicken salad in the third sandwich, how much of each ingredient you use is really up to you.

Strawberry and Goat Cheese

Soft goat cheese (I used a local one, made here on the island)
Freshly ground black pepper, medium grind
Sliced strawberries
Thinly sliced bread

Allow the goat cheese to come to room temperature. Put it in a large bowl and add a splash of milk, then beat it until it's soft and fluffy. It's best to start with a very small amount of milk and add more bit by bit if needed.

Spread the cheese fairly thickly on a slice of bread and then grind a generous quantity of pepper over top. (Pepper plays brilliantly with strawberries.)

Remove the stems from the strawberries, then slice them vertically into slices about 1/8 inch thick. Arrange the slices in a single layer over the cheese.

Place a slice of bread on top of the strawberries. Press gently on the sandwich so that the strawberries settle into the goat cheese, then trim the crusts from the sandwich, cutting it into a tidy rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 4 triangles or into small squares.

Strawberry, Basil, and Two Cheeses

This is a variation on a Caprese salad, definitely not a combination you'd've seen at long ago teas but it's delicious.

Ricotta cheese
Finely grated Mozzarella cheese
Whole basil leaves
Thinly sliced bread

In your food processor with the blade attachment or the bowl of your stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine 1 part ricotta and 2 parts grated mozzarella. Process or mix the two cheeses together until thoroughly combined. If you need to, add some milk - a few drops at a time - until the cheese mixture is a spreadable consistency.

Lay out two slices of bread and spread a layer of cheese on each slice. Cover the cheese on one slice of bread with sliced strawberries (cut as directed in the first recipe) and top the berries with whole basil leaves, stems removed. Finish the sandwich with the second slice of bread, cheese side down towards the basil.  Trim the crusts from the sandwich to form a neat rectangle, then cut the rectangle into four triangles or small squares.

Because there's nothing to bind the strawberries and basil together, these sandwiches tend to fall apart when cut into small shapes. In order to keep each small sandwich intact while plating, I place a strawberry heart garnish (simple to cut with a good sharp paring knife) atop each one and then spear through the garnish and the sandwich with a toothpick.

Chicken Salad With Strawberries

1 Tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (or strawberry infused white vinegar if you have it in the pantry)
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon lemon zest
pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons of sunflower oil
1 stalk of celery
1 cooked chicken breast, skin and bones removed (I saved mine from a roast chicken but you can poach the chicken breast in either chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer.)
Thinly sliced bread

Put Greek yogurt, vinegar, honey, poppy seeds, lemon zest, and salt in a small mason jar.  Give the ingredients a thorough stir so they're well combined and the salt has had an opportunity to dissolve. Add in the sunflower oil.  Put a lid on the jar and give it a good shake.  Set the prepared dressing aside.

Trim the top and bottom ends of the celery. Make two slices vertically almost all the way from top to bottom, leaving a small section at the top of the stalk uncut so it will hold the strips together, then slice the celery horizontally to make a quarter-inch dice. 

Slice the strawberries vertically into 1/4-inch slices and then cut the slices into 1/4 inch dice.  I can't tell you exactly how many berries you'll need because it will depend both upon the size of the berries and your personal taste.  I reccomend that you use at least as much diced berry as there is diced celery.

Chop the chicken into fine pieces.

Put the celery, strawberries, and chicken into a bowl. Give the dressing another good shake, then add about 2 Tablespoons to the chicken salad mixture.  Give it a stir, then let the ingredients sit for a few minutes. The strawberries will give off some of their juice. If, after it's rested a few minutes, you think the chicken salad needs more dressing, add it in bit by bit, folding the ingredients gently after each addition until the consistency looks right to you.

Put about a quarter of the chicken salad onto each of four slices of bread, then use a fork to spread it out gently to the edges. Top each sandwich with another slice of bread.

Trim the crusts off of the bread, making a tidy rectangle. Cut each rectangle into either 4 triangles or into small squares.

Finish up by arranging your sandwiches prettily on a plate. If you want to, you can garnish the plate with some strawberry slices, tiny basil leaves, or parsley.

About leftovers:

The trimmed edges from the first two sandwiches can be cut into bite sized pieces and used to make a savoury bread pudding.

The trimmings from the chicken salad sandwiches aren't great in a savoury pudding but they do make a fine lunch for the cook once tea preparation is finished.  😉

If you have chicken salad sandwiches left over, take the top slice of bread off each one, add a thin slice of cheese, put the top slice of bread back in place, then toast the sandwiches under a broiler until heated through and lightly browned on both sides.