When my best friend’s son became engaged, I knew I wanted to do something special.

Not for him.

Not even for his bride-to-be, although she’s very lovely.

No, I wanted to fete my friend and the bride’s mother. I wanted to take a pause before the onslaught of plans and parties and celebrate the two mothers who soon will be in-laws.

So last weekend, I hosted a tea for the moms and several of their friends. For three hours, ladies dropped in for tea, coffee, champagne and an assortment of sweets and savories.

“Is this a ‘thing?'” one guest asked me, citing the “mother-in-law tea” moniker on the invitations. “Or did you just make it up?”

I guess I made it up. But I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to celebrate special friends and special occasions.

We had two tables in separate rooms to encourage mingling. The living room sideboard was laden with food:

tea buffet3

The dining room table contained drinks and glassware:

tea table1

That table also had a big flower arrangement. I chose the flowers based on their meanings, as per the wonderful book The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. (Our bouquet of alstroemeria and baby’s breath translates into “devotion” and “everlasting love.”)

Guests could choose from a variety of teas – both genuine and herbal – with sugar, lemon and milk as accompaniments:

tea display

Nothing on the food table required cutlery (which cut down on fustiness and made cleanup a whole lot easier). On the sweet side, we had lemon tarts, chocolate kranz cakes, and a tiered cascade of heart-shaped sugar cookies:

tea cookies

A crystal platter of strawberries rounded out the sweet offerings:

tea berries1

For savories, guests could chose from among ham & cheese pinwheels, drunken tomatoes, and a tray of tiny sandwiches:

tea sandwiches

They lapped up everything, but they especially like the sandwiches. One set was nothing more than thin slices of white bread, stuffed with herbed cream cheese and thin slices of cucumber and radish. The other was pumpernickel and rye, stuffed with homemade pimento cheese.

Now, I’ve never fancied myself a pimento cheese girl. As a kid, my mom would buy tubs of the stuff ready-made. It made me sick to my stomach.

But homemade pimento cheese (courtesy of The Gourmet Cookbook)  is another spread entirely:

  • Grate 8 ounces of yellow cheddar and 8 ounces of white cheddar cheeses and place them in a bowl.
  • Drain a 7-ounce jar of pimentos and finely chop them.
  • Add the pimentos to the cheeses and mix thoroughly.
  • Season with salt and pepper, then fold in 2/3 cup mayonnaise (I like Duke’s). Stir until everything is moist and well-combined. Put the mixture in an airtight container and refrigerate it for at least two hours.

My party may be over, but my pimento cheese will last another few days. I can spread it on bread or crackers anytime I want.

With a cup of tea, of course.