A couple of years ago, prior to a trip I was taking to England, my mother decided to educate me on the ins and outs of shopping for secondhand tea cups. Her hope was that I would unearth some treasure for her in one of the markets or shops along my travels.
Now, I’m the first to admit that – while I have a fondness for tea cups, to the point where I’ve been known to drink coffee or (horrors!) root beer out of them just to use them – I don’t know much about hallmarks or value. I know the obvious big names – Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Limoges, Aynsley, Spode and their ilk – but when it comes to the more obscure (read: rare and valued) and vintage names, I don’t know much.
What my mother most wanted me to find was an R.S. Prussia tea cup. A mate for one she already owned. It had a scalloped edge and was hand painted with delicate flowers. And while she wasn’t firm on the date, she suspected it hailed from the late 1800s or early 1900s. Because it was without a saucer she only paid maybe $10 for it, but a complete pair in such condition would have been worth a lot more.
“Look at the bottom,” she instructed. “Look for the R.S. Prussia name. I don’t want R.S. Germany, which is a newer incarnation. R.S. Prussia,” she said again, for emphasis. “Remember.”
And then, to really show off her tea cup savvy, she insisted I watch a quick demonstration on how to test a cup for fine, hairline cracks that may be invisible to the eye.
“So if you’re in a shop in London and you see an R.S. Prussia tea cup just like this one, I want you to do this,” she said.
She balanced the tea cup in the palm of her left hand. Then, with her right hand, she flicked the tea cup with her pointer finger. What she wanted me to glean from this little demonstration was that a flawless cup will have a pleasing ring to it. A cracked cup will sound flat.
Instead, the cup – her favourite – was launched from her hand and onto the table below, where it broke into at least five pieces.
She stared at it, dumbfounded.
“Well, I’m not going to do that,” I responded. “They’ll just throw me out of the store!”
Fortunately, not all my mum’s life lessons come to such tragic ends. One of my favourites that she has passed down to me is what she dubs “an old family recipe” for lemon chiffon. It’s quick and easy, and a show stopper – especially if you can rustle up an R.S. Prussia tea cup to serve it in. Failing that, R.S. Germany (pictured above) will do.
Lemon Tea Cup Chiffon
The ingredient list is small: Two eggs, a small carton of whipping cream a bit of cinnamon and a box of lemon pie filling.
Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixing bowl and the yolks into a saucepan.
Follow the instructions on the box to make the lemon filling. According to Shirriff, this involves adding 1/3 cup (75 mL) of cold water and the contents of one pouch to the yolks in the saucepan. Next, add 2 cups (475 mL) of boiling water and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once bubbles start to break the surface, continue to stir for 30 seconds, then remove from the heat and add 1 tbsp butter.
To make the meringue in the bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup (50 mL) white sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
Then, instead of layering the two in a pie crust according to instructions, add the lemon filling to the bowl of meringue (not the other way round or you’ll get some nasty lumps), and stir well.
Spoon into tea cups and top with a dollop of whipped cream sprinkled lightly with cinnamon. Serve warm or refrigerate before serving, according to taste.
Something so elegant should not be this easy.
– Story and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier