January 4, 2021

Aunt Jenny, sister of Charles L. Ensminger

What’s Your Cup of Tea?

Little girls notice women who are different from the norm.  Aunt Jenny was a sister of my mother’s maternal grandfather Charles Ensminger.  Like many family members, she had migrated to Texas but returned to Tennessee for occasional visits.  This is the only photograph we have of her—taken by a Texas photographer.  In her 80’s, Mother identified the woman in the picture—and had just one memory of her.  “When she came to visit, we served her hot tea!” And that was different.

Southerners are famous for their love of “sweet iced tea.”  Hot tea—not so much.  In the first decade of the 20th century, tea bags were used and iced tea became popular at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Loose tea was the norm before 1900, and Southern cooks might boil water in a teapot on the wood stove in the morning, add loose tea and leave it until suppertime. Then the cooled tea would be poured through a strainer into a pitcher.  To serve, ice and a spoonful of sugar would be put in a glass with some ice, and the cooled tea poured over.  A squeeze of lemon was the finishing touch. Aunt Jenny had other taste preferences.

Did Sarah Ensminger (my mother’s maternal grandmother) get irritated about her husband’s sister with the “fancy” tastes?  Or did she enjoy the novelty of making a cup of hot tea—and serving it in her best china teacup? Did Aunt Jenny add sugar and milk to her hot tea? Sugar and a splash of lemon juice? Did anyone join her for a cup of hot tea?  None of that is known—but I do know that her unusual ritual of enjoying hot tea made her memorable for a little girl who was watching her.  You never know what if anything you will be remembered for a century later. It could just be your cup of tea.

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