Polly Put the Kettle On

1 Nov

When I was expecting our first child, Colin bought me a tea set. That particular child doesn't appreciate it, but our two girls do!

So, having written about coffee last week, I felt that tea deserved equal time. Not iced tea – it’s far too cold for that right now – No, I’m talking about hot tea. “Polly put the kettle on” kind of tea.

Tea is in my blood, though it took me 40 years to be comfortable with that. My grandparents came from Scotland, which, as anyone who has British connections knows, means “Tea” with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “C” and that stands for “Cure-all”.

Even the screen-play writers of Harry Potter know this, when, in one of my favorite bits, Ron Weasley suggests, somewhat sheeplishly, that the harassed Harry and Hermione have a cup of tea because, “My mom always says that helps.” Molly Weasley is right: tea does help. It’s in the British psyche.

A Peter Rabbit tea set from my mom. Chamomile tea only, if you please!


My mother, being raised by good Scots (though in the United States), has this hard-wired into her brain. This was proven when her cousin and her family came as houseguests, many years ago, all the way from Maine. Living on an island means that people like to come for a visit. (Strange how no one seems to want to visit the prairie.) When we were expecting company, Mom’s hearing became acute. Every tiny sound from outside was a car and every car was filled with the expected loved-ones. (Which, to be fair, living on a seldom-used dirt road as we did, was often true.) Finally we heard a real car, and it was really them. We went running down the gravel path, Mom’s arms open wide.

Hugs were exchanged (translation: we kids blushed awkwardly) and then, immediately following the words, “You must be so tired,” Mom said, “Come in for a nice cup of tea”. The cousins BURST OUT in laughter. “We knew it!” they cried. “We KNEW it!”

Cue a bemused look on Mom’s face.

One of the kids explained. “We took bets that, if you were a true family member, you’d offer us tea first thing.” Everyone laughed, everyone understood. And the kettle was put on.

I bought this in Tunisia for my mom way back in 1987. Service for 6!


Yes, tea is the cure-all. But then there’s me: the odd-ball in the family. As a second generation American, the tea-lust has been diluted. Apparently Dad’s German blood was still at war against the Allies in this case. I grew up not understanding Mom’s need for A Cup of Tea in the middle of the morning, A Cup of Tea in the afternoon, A cup of Tea before bed. I didn’t like the stuff. Not even a little bit. And I felt, though I never said it, that there must be something wrong with me. Did I really belong in this family?

I tried to fit in. On our honeymoon in Victoria, B.C., Colin and I visited my great-aunt who, being a good Scot herself, offered us tea. In my great ignorance, I accepted – both the cream and the lemon – which, as any person with half a culinary brain can tell you, is nothing more or less than a curdled mess. Tea was (unfairly and permanently) relegated to the “gross” category in my mind. (My dear Aunt Jenny never knew of my foolish behavior that day and, unless she’s reading this from heaven, she never will.)

This one has been used more than any of my tea sets. For some 35 years it was pristine. Then Lucy came along.


It took an airplane ride on British Airways, 14½ years later, to change my mind. I know, I know – airplane tea? How can that possibly have done the trick? Well, I was thirsty. And if ever I was going to try tea again, I figured this was the time. So, on the airplane flying from Paris to Berlin via London last February (I know, wrong direction: long story) when they asked if I’d like tea, I said, “yes”. The matronly flight attendant didn’t ask if I wanted cream in it – she just assumed that I knew the proper way to drink it – and she poured it liberally in.

I loved it. Suddenly whole new horizons opened before me, rising faster than London on our descent. “I’m not an adopted orphan from some non-tea-drinking country!” I held out my pinky. (Lucy would have been so proud.) I sipped like a pro. I inhaled the fragrant steam. I BELONGED.

Do you belong?

I do have an actual adult-sized tea set! Just don't forget the cream.


P.S. – If you ever plan on serving me tea, please, please have half and half on hand and please, please, please, in the name of all that is good and right in the world, look the other way if I nervously add lemon along with my cream. Perhaps you should have extra tea on hand. Just in case.

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20 Responses to “Polly Put the Kettle On”

  1. Just A Smidgen November 1, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    I love a good cuppa’ especially on a winter’s day. Your tea set collection is adorable.. I could imagine your daughter playing with them:) Glad you like a spot of tea now and then!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 1, 2011 at 11:54 am #

      Yes, a hot cup of tea with the wind blowing…that’s good stuff! Though my mom will have it any time, summer or winter! The tea sets are fun. And I didn’t even photograph my tea cups – not that I have a lot, but they sure are fun!

  2. Rose November 1, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Lovely post :o)

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 1, 2011 at 11:55 am #

      Thanks, Rose! Come over for a cup of tea, won’t you?! Please?!

  3. Jenny November 1, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    I also did not really start to like tea until in my 40’s. I don’t have any tea cups though, only mugs. I guess having only sons one doesn’t have cute tea sets. Our oldest likes tea, only green tea or herbal because black tea tastes like hay in his opinion! I do find it interesting that even if you didn’t like tea you collected tea sets! Maybe more of Moms Scottishness is in you than you thought! Does Kris drink tea?

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 1, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      I didn’t know you didn’t drink it sooner than that! Ha. Clearly, there’s some latent thing in our genes going on. And yes, perhaps that’s why I liked the tea sets, too! It was there in my blood, I just expressed it in ways other than drinking it! I don’t know if Kris drinks it…we’ll have to ask her.

  4. Minnesota Prairie Roots November 1, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    I have ever only added honey to my tea. I had no idea that lemon or half-and-half were stirred into tea. But then I am 100 percent German.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

      I’m 50% German, but I don’t remember my dad ever drinking it! He’s a coffee guy. Honey in tea sounds very comforting…perhaps because I’ve had it with a sore throat!

  5. Nancy November 1, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    I have had to catch up on reading your posts, Gretchen, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one! I am a coffee and tea drinker. My mom is a big one for both as she had grandparents who ran an INN with restaurant she would help with in the summer. I have come to drink herbal tea with dried cranberries and other fruits in it. Nice treat at the end of the cup! I also like honey as a sweetner and have had it with cream also. (yummy!) Since I am pretty laid up with recovering from my breaking leg, my dear husband brings me my tea as we sit and watch the telly! I am spoiled rotten, he tells me! Love you lots! Nancy

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 1, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

      Oh, the fruit inside the cup sounds interesting! I didn’t know you’d broken your leg. That stinks!! I hope I gave you some good reading material to help you through. 🙂 Heal quickly and well, dear Nancy!

  6. Valerie Adolph November 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Equal time for tea and coffee, such staples of our lives. I loved your pictures of the china.My mother’s beautiful china sits unused in the cabinet while I drink from an assortment of oddball treasures bought at the thrift shop for 49 cents.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

      That’s right – nothing but equality around here! I don’t use my “adult sized” real tea set too often, either. And, though I love my tea cups and saucers, they, too, are just in the cupboard…I didn’t even photograph them…so sad! BUT…there is somthing great about a good thrift shop find! Plus, if they break, you don’t weep. 🙂

  7. alison November 9, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    I guess I’m like your Mom Gretchen, give me tea day or night, it’s the English in me. I especially like making a trip to the tea shop to buy my favorite loose tea, you haven’t had a good cup of tea until you’ve had loose tea.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 9, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      Yes, I’m sure that any true Brit would agree with you about tea bags vs. loose leaf! There is a tea shop an hour away from our house that we go to occasionally for loose leaf tea. I’m not very diligent about using it, though. Also, it seems to need a real tea pot to be…somehow…proper!

  8. Gian Banchero November 20, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Hello Gretchen; I saw your comment on another site, blew up you photo, saw a face I’d like to see on a daily bases (yours!!) and said to myself, “Now that’s someone I want to know!” (you have a wonderfully infectious smile!), so without reading a line I subscribed to your site without hesitation… And now after reading several articles I’m so glad I did.

  9. Beth Ann October 11, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    I love all your sweet tea sets!!! Adorable!!! And the story about how you became a tea lover is quite a journey!!! Thanks for sharing!!! I loved it!!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

      Ah, thanks! Tea sets are marvelous, aren’t they? A legitimate grown-up obsession, I think. Sadly I let my daughter play with a tin one – that I bought for her – but I didn’t monitor it enough and I fear it’s spread out and lost and bent now. Maybe if I actually cleaned the playroom I’d find all the bits. But not today. Or tomorrow…or next week…

      • Beth Ann October 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

        I am going to save that phrase “a legitimate grown up obsession” in my favorite phrases and pull it out when some one says I have too many!

        • Gretchen O'Donnell October 11, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

          Awesome!

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