In the time that I’ve been writing about tea I’ve run across countless books on the subject, but relatively few of them were geared toward a younger audience. I actually can’t think of any at the moment, but that might just be a failing of my memory.
I ran across one such volume not long ago in the form of Aunt Martha’s Corner Cupboard, Or, Stories about Tea, Coffee, Sugar, Rice, Etc., an 1895 volume by Mary Kirby Gregg and Elizabeth Kirby. Writing together or individually, the authors, who were also sisters, turned out quite a few books, including several about birds, one about the sea and various others on assorted topics.
Aunt Martha is a fictional character who appears in this volume and at least one other and whose nephews have come to visit for the holidays. These two lads are not exactly the most diligent scholars but their aunt determines to educate them by stealth, slipping in useful facts and whatnot in the form of more or less entertaining yarns.
As the title suggests, these stories focus on a variety of subjects but the first three have to do with tea and tea-cups. In the first, The Story of the Tea-Cup, Martha’s tale focuses on “the best china” and takes the reader to a town in China which is populated by numerous potters. From there it’s a fairly straightforward tale of how tea-cups are made with a little bit of intrigue thrown in for good measure. But since her young listeners are sent off to bed before it’s all over the story continues the next day and in the following chapter, How the Tea-cup Was Finished.
As noted in the third tale, The Story of the Tea, “a tea-cup is not of much use, if it is kept only to look at.” These are wise words indeed and Aunt Martha goes on to sketch out an overview/history of her topic that’s suitable for a younger audience, although sticklers for accuracy might cringe a bit here and there (yes, even in the late nineteenth century tea was grown in more places than just China).
But this was obviously not meant to be a textbook, and useful information outweighs these occasional blunders. Plus, you can go on and read thrilling tales of the likes of sugar, coffee, salt, currants, rice and honey, if you’re so inclined. Those inclined to read any of this one can access it for free, right here.
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