What is it about tea parties that capture the fancies of girls? Is it the diminutive dimensions of the food? The quiet hum of polite conversation?

What is it about tea parties that capture the fancies of girls? Is it the diminutive dimensions of the food? The quiet hum of polite conversation? Even a big girl like 23-year-old Kate McIntosh couldn't resist the temptation to take her mom, Kathi, to tea when the Arts Castle in Delaware offered a Mother's Day Tea Party last month.

Kate, an artist who is soon to start teaching a drawing class at the Castle (which is also known as the Delaware County Cultural Arts Center), had lured her mother into the car and driven them around the corner to join the party, which local caterer Susan Short had created with exquisite care. Twenty "girls" of all ages gathered in the Castle's parlor for a proper tea party, which even included live flute and guitar music.

"I had this planned for two months," Kate said. "I just like to find ways to show my family how I appreciate them."

At ages 6 and 5 respectively, Emma and Madisyn Kim of Dublin are probably a little too young to think up such imaginative gifts for their mother, Suzanne, but they were certainly enjoying their first introduction to tea, and behaving very well.

"Well, so far," smiled Suzanne, as they visited the art-project table that Terry Claymier, a regular teacher at the Arts Castle, had set up. The girls worked on creating peonies and roses from the tissue paper, pipe cleaners, florist's tape and "leaves" of handmade paper into which wildflower seeds had been embedded.

After the tea party, Suzanne said the time had flown.

"There was so much to do and we didn't even spill anything!" Suzanne marveled. From fixing their own scones - "I liked the jelly," said Emma, while "I liked the whipped cream," said Madisyn of the very proper British clotted cream - to the art projects and the chocolate-dipped dried mangos and apricots, the girls had enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

"If they can sit still for 20 minutes of cartoons," said Suzanne, "I figured they could sit still for this. I'm looking forward to doing it again next year."

The History of Tea Parties

The oldest known social ritual involving tea dates to ancient China and the "Gong Fu Cha" tea ceremony.

An even more elaborate tea ceremony, the Chanoyu, then developed in Japan.

The British style of tea service, which gave rise to the Victorian Tea Party and a tea party like this one at the Arts Castle, is generally credited to Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the early 1800s. A light meal with tea became a regular part of most English people's and even Americans' days, filling in the gap between breakfast and dinner. When lunch became a daily meal, afternoon tea evolved into a more social tradition and has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the last decade.

On the Menu

Something to Sip: citrus water (slices of orange, lemon and lime in chilled water), hot tea (Tetley British Blend), iced tea (Numi Green Tea Monkey King)

Scones with butter, "hedgerow" jelly (made by Susan Short from a collection of wild berries), and clotted cream

Tiny Sandwiches: chicken salad on mini croissants, cucumber and mayonnaise finger sandwiches, green olive tapenade and chevre mini-sandwiches

Dainty Desserts: sherry pound cake and lemon curd petits, mini palmiers (elephant ears), mini chocolate mousse with strawberry garnish, chocolate-dipped dried mangos and apricots



On the Side

Terry Claymier's tissue-paper flowers were a fun project to make between the scones and the sandwich-and-dessert plate. Here are simple directions for making the roses:

Materials:

tissue paper (red, pink and white)

chenille stems (a.k.a. pipe cleaners)

scissors

florist's tape

Instructions:

1 Take a chenille stem and make a loop on one end.

2 Cut the tissue paper into three long strips, each one 3 inches wide.

3 Scrunch one strip at a time, starting at a short end, into a tight group of petals - don't let go! - and then wrap one side around the steam with the loop end.

4 Scrunch and add another strip, and then the third strip to the first petal's strip.

5 Use florist's tape at the base of the flower to hold all layers of paper in place to the stem.

6 Gently separate the layers of paper to make the rose petals.

7 More paper and tape can be used to make leaves or add "buds" to the stem.