Why did I name my tea catering business, Miss Havisham’s Victorian Tea Caterers? It was a capricious and lighthearted decision, based on my simple delight in the novel, Great Expectations. Although there is not much to like about Miss Havisham, I feel her pain, for she is the epitome of every woman who has been bruised and embittered by romantic love. Nearly every woman has stopped her clock at least once in her life. When love disappears, she leaves dirty dishes in the sink, refuses to bathe, and sleeps in her clothes. These are not women who were merely stood up for a dinner date, but women who have felt Shakespeare’s passionate words, “I love you more than words can wield the matter, Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty.” Poor Miss Havisham! Perhaps if she had married her Compeyson, in ten years she might have made her clocks go faster, for women in Victorian times, even wealthy ones, were not always content.
How many of us have dark mourning rooms locked inside our lives? Perhaps not from lost love, nor anything too severe, but even a tiny closet full of cobwebbed tangles of unresolved memories can create intermittent paroxysms, getting us in touch with our Miss Havisham feminine sides. Certainly there are unreasonable bursts of “You go, girl!” to a friend who is contemplating revenge on someone who did her wrong. Misery loves company and we hardly recognize Miss Havisham when she visits for tea in her tattered wedding dress, enticing us to pamper and powder our wounds and sharpen our claws. How easy it is to love a chat with Miss Havisham, for surely she was wronged, and surely there have been injustices wrought against us. The illustrious Charles Dickens writes of Miss Havisham,
“But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker.”
We know that in the novel, the vengeful Miss Havisham finds redemption for her soul when she begs for Pip to forgive her, although her physical end is imminent. I like happy endings and although she perishes in a fire, the large room of her heart has been cleansed and the curtains have been opened to allow for the light of love in. It is no news that we, too, will die in the end, but let not the casket of bitterness and hurt also be interred with us.
I once had a tea business called Miss Havisham’s Victorian Teas and my purpose was to create a sensory experience with celebratory food, flowers, china, poetry, and music. With an eclectic arrangement of china cups and plates, antique hats, and special recipes, I created teas for every occasion, i.e. birthday, anniversary, and wedding. Sometimes, a tea was created for women to come together for no reason at all, except to affirm and encourage one another, and to clean out the forgotten rooms in our lives. I wanted my tea business to possess the spirit of Miss Havisham’s redemption, which was the forgiveness that was birthed within her before her death. I will entice you with one recipe from my tea business that is best served with the laughter and honesty of women friends. It’s Spring and time to air the closed rooms of our hearts to make room for new love, wildness, and healing. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in Women Who Run With the Wolves, “If there is to be change, we are it. We carry La Que Sabe, the One Who Knows. If there is to be inner change, individual women must do it. If there is to be world change, we women have our own way of helping to achieve it. Wild Woman whispers the words and the ways to us, and we follow.” Gather together in beauty and share this luscious, and perhaps magical, recipe in the forgiving spirit of Miss Havisham.
Lemon Lavender Madeleines
A special madeleine pan sold at cookware stores; generously brush with melted butter and a dusting of flour to prevent sticking; or spray thoroughly with non-stick cooking spray and dust with flour.
2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. lemon juice (fresh squeezed, if possible)
zest of one lemon
a pinch of salt
10 Tbs. unsalted butter (Cabot’s), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup King Arthur’s all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp. crushed fresh unsprayed lavender flowers; additional unsprayed lavender flowers or other flowers for decorating
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
1. Beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar until pale and thickened; add lemon juice, peel, melted butter, and salt.
2. Crush lavender flowers between fingers and add to batter; combine but do not over mix.
3. Pour batter into pans, filling ¾ full. Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are crisp and golden, 8 minutes. Let madeleines cool slightly in pans on wire racks. Invert, unmold, and place on a china plate and decorate with sprigs of lavender or unsprayed flowers. Dust lightly with Confectioner’s sugar. If made with a gentle touch, these cakes turn out delicately and have a light custardy taste.
Marvelous ruminations on MIss Havisham and Victorian teas and mourning and light. Thank you, Cynthia–and for the Madeleines recipe, although mine will never approximate yours!