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Blessed by Father Tim

April 21, 1999|EUNICE PARK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The fictional town of Mitford, N.C., its charming residents and Esther Bolick's Orange Marmalade Cake have so enchanted readers of the Mitford novels that a Mitford Appreciation Society was formed in Montrose two years ago, and at least one Southland church holds an annual tea in honor of the series.

About 100 women, clad in colorful hats and dresses, attended the second annual Primrose Tea at the Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel last Sunday. The books, by former advertising executive Jan Karon, are centered on the life of Father Tim, the rector at the Episcopal church in Mitford. Karon's most recent book, "A New Song," was released last week.

Guests nibbled on shortbread, scones with raspberry jam and Devonshire cream and tiny orange marmalade cupcakes, similar to Esther Bolick's Orange Marmalade Cake. Finding the perfect recipe for the famed cake was no easy task because it is a figment of Karon's imagination; no recipe existed when she introduced it in the books.

A contest was held in North Carolina about two years ago and a chef selected the winning cake from numerous entries. But Mitford Appreciation Society members say they don't think the chef read the books because the winning cake was heavy and dense--not light and fluffy, as described in the novels--so a member of the society has revised the recipe.

Observing proper etiquette, the ladies sipped their tea (an English Village blend of Indian and Ceylon) ever so daintily--and cried out in glee whenever someone won a door prize.

"It's not necessary to hold the pinky up when drinking," explained Edmund Fry, who owns Rose Tree Cottage in Pasadena. The English-born Fry was nattily dressed in a striped boating jacket, polka-dot silk scarf and two-toned loafers, and it seemed appropriate to ask Fry, whose family's ties to tea span more than 150 years, for pointers. "Most important," he said, "don't slurp when drinking. And don't lean on the table."

A few guests said that having tea in the style of Mitford was delightful enough.

"I haven't even tried the cake yet. I haven't eaten breakfast or lunch, so I am going to eat a bunch of sandwiches," said Lesl Jackson of Temple City, who was eager to survey the stack of finger sandwiches. Jackson won the Most Charming Hat competition last year and tied for second this year, wearing a hat garnished with a spectacular arrangement of fresh pink flowers--and a small teddy bear wearing a miniature version of the same hat.

First place went to Yvonne Allderdice of Pasadena for a hat laden with fluffy feathers (which looked as if they would tickle) and a bird with eggs. Her prize: the Orange Marmalade Cake.

"I'll freeze it," she said.

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