Baking · Britain

The eternal English Civil War

Cream Tea at the Fox Café in Princetown, located close to the infamous Dartmoor prison.
Dartmoor is a region of the county of Devon in the UK.
Cream Tea in Princetown (Dartmoor)

First, let me assuage your fears. This is not a Brexit post, that bitter feud being a recent event. This post addresses actually 2 related and longstanding disputes of a food nature.

Visitors to England, especially those from America, expect a High Tea, as if everyone in English homes hauls out their china, 6 types of cake and displays them on tiered cake dishes on a daily basis.

Yes, you can be pandered to in this manner, but those experiences are fewer than you think, and more geared towards tourists willing to pay huge sums of money for the opportunity to be ostentatious.

Afternoon tea (as opposed to “Tea,” which is the evening meal in many parts of the country), can be nothing more than what Americans would term a Coffee Break, with a pause, a beverage and then back to whatever was needing to be done. More languid observations would include a biscuit [American: cookie], a small cake bought from Tesco or other supermarket or even a quick dash into a small café for same.

Prized amongst those café dashes is the Cream Tea, which refers not to extra fat in the tea itself, but rather to the inclusion of clotted cream to go with warm scones and jam.


“Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realized what it was.

“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Which brings us to conflict #1. Where does clotted cream come from? Some things, according to EU rules, need to come from one place. You can’t call sparkling wine “Champagne” unless it originates from that region in France. Stilton cheese must come from Stilton. Glouchestershire, Leicestershire and Wenslydale all must originate in their namesakes. Somehow Cheddar managed to sneak out and have illegitimate children all over the globe, including this writer’s basement. Clotted cream has no designation, no place of origin.

If you ask a denizen of Devon, they will tell you that clotted cream can only be produced by Jersey cows on Devon soil, which is unique in its composition, yielding the finest scone slather known to man. Similarly, the Cornish (spitting distance from the Devonians) claim theirs is the best. Devonians will point out that the facilities in Cornwall to produce clotted cream primarily import their milk from Devonian farmers, and on it goes. I do know that if you walk into a Devonian supermarket, no one is ramming you with their shopping trolley [American: cart] if you select one of the containers of Cornish Clotted Cream. Either way it will be made from raw Jersey cream, and it’s delicious.

Having settled that issue (yes, they haven’t settled it either so who am I to make a definitive statement?), we move on to the actual consumption.

Conflict #2: In which order does one apply jam and cream to the scone? Who gives a flying fig, would be my answer. It all gets mixed together as soon as it passes your lips anyway, but believe me, this is a BIG deal to many. My brother in law is of the opinion it is cream then jam, while his wife opines adamantly he is incorrect. It’s really amusing to watch them bicker and attempt to cajole you to their way of thinking.

If I had to take a stance, I would say clotted cream more resembles butter than whipped cream, so my inclination would be to put it on the scone first. However should you find yourself with warring Windsor subjects, might I suggest an appeasement to both parties: split the scone and put jam first on half and clotted cream first on the other. You’ve offended no one and still be able to enjoy a lovely Cream Tea.

Returning from your holiday and longing for Cream Teas, you have a dilemma. You can buy “Clotted Cream” in a jar. As soon as you open it you will realize it is not the same thing you enjoyed while watching the constant English drizzle moisten the gardens by Buckfast Abbey. Instead, it is a more custardy blob of cream with a shelf life of several months, whereas real clotted cream should be eaten or discarded within the week.

So what is a closet Anglophile to do for their clotted cream? Make it yourself. It is spectacularly easy. The hardest part is getting the cream. Ideally you have grass fed Jersey milk. I am lucky in that regard because we have a dairy which provides us with this. Most American milk comes from Holsteins which have high output, but lower fat content. Keep looking. Jersey or Guernsey will give you the highest fat content. Grass fed, although you may not be able to avoid silage (dried grasses) in the winter. Raw is optimal (you won’t die), although if you just can’t bring yourself to use it, pasteurized will make a moderately successful substitute.

Having secured your cream, you want to put it in a shallow, wide container and heat it over very low heat. I have seen recommendations for putting it in a crockpot on low for 8 hours. I have not tried this, but can tell you that too high a heat will cook your cream rather than clot it.


“Dad was at his desk when I opened the door, doing what all British people do when they’re freaked out: drinking tea.”
Rachel Hawkins, Demonglass

I have an electric chafing dish which I use to make mine. Pouring the cream into the largest container, I set the heat on very low and let it sit for about 6 hours before checking. The result is akin to the “skin” atop a cooked pudding [British: custard] which did not have plastic adhered to the surface while it cooled.

Using a slotted spoon, skim the “skin” off the top and put it into a clean container. It will be somewhat liquidy; don’t worry. Put the container in the refrigerator and continue gradually heating the rest of the cream. You will probably be able to get at least one more skimming, possibly two, before the remaining liquid is much whiter and more resembling skim milk than cream. After each skimming, you’ll notice that the cooled previous “skins” have become much firmer. This somewhere between butter and soft ice cream is the desired texture. You’re doing great! The milky liquid can be used as milk, or in baking; there is no need to throw it away.


“As far as her mom was concerned, tea fixed everything. Have a cold? Have some tea. Broken bones? There’s a tea for that too. Somewhere in her mother’s pantry, Laurel suspected, was a box of tea that said, ‘In case of Armageddon, steep three to five minutes’.”
Aprilynne Pike, Illusions

As almost an afterthought, you probably want some scones to put that clotted cream on. For this we turn to the Emperess of English Enticements, Delia Smith, or as Dawn French referred to her in The Vicar of Dibley, “Saint Delia!”

Plain Scones

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

Ingredients

    • 3 Tbl (40g) spreadable butter
    • 2 1/2 cups (225g) all purpose flour* or self-raising flour
    • 1 1/2 level tablespoons white (golden caster) sugar
    • pinch of salt
      • 1/2 cup (110ml) milk, plus a little more (if needed)
      • a little extra flour
    * If using all purpose flour sieve the following into the flour
      • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
      • 1/4 tsp salt
    Please be a dear and weigh your flour.  It is so much more accurate.  Carry on, luv.

    Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 425F, 220C, Gas mark 7.
    2. Begin by rubbing the butter into the sieved flour quickly, using your fingertips, then stir in the sugar followed by a pinch of salt.
    3. Now, using a knife, mix in the milk little by little, and when it’s all in, flour your hands and knead the mixture to a soft dough (you may find you need just a drop more milk if it feels at all dry). Place the dough on a floured pastry board and with a rolling pin (also floured) lightly roll it out to a thickness of about 3cm. (This thickness is vital. The reason scones don’t rise enough is because they are rolled too thin.)
    4. Then take the pastry cutter and tap it sharply so that it goes straight through the dough – do not twist or the scones will turn out a strange shape! When you have cut as many as you can, knead the remaining dough together again and repeat. Then place the scones on the baking sheet, dust each one with flour and bake near the top of the oven for 12–15 minutes.
    5. When they’re done they will have risen and turned a golden brown. Then transfer them to a wire rack and eat as soon as they are cool enough, spread with butter, jam and clotted cream.

Please note her Holiness puts butter on the bottom and cream on the top. This throws a whole spanner [American: wrench] in the works, doesn’t it?

Britain · Pickles · Vegetables

Swede is not necessarily a nationality designator

We used to have chickens.  We loved our chickens.  Our new neighbor who bought a house behind us loved our chickens.  Her granddaughters would come and play with them and she thought that was marvelous.

The granddaughters moved out-of-state, and some of the charm of chickens fell away as well.

The neighbor came over one day and told us the chickens were causing flies to congregate in her breezeway and we needed to do something about it. Reluctantly we gave all our chickens to a feed store to re-sell.  We turned over the ground, gave it several good coatings of lime and declared it to be a chicken free zone.

About 3 weeks later a knock on the door and a card in the hand identified the health inspector.  The neighbor had seen no improvement, grown even more weary of the flies and had pulled in the heavy hitters.  I took the inspector to view where the chickens had been.  She observed, sniffed, made notes and said, “I don’t see what else you could have done.  It all looks good to me,” and off she trundled to report to the neighbor. A little while later she came back, knocking again on the door to follow-up.  While she was speaking with the neighbor, she did notice an inordinate amount of flies, but doing a little investigation, she pointed out if the neighbor would clean up the messes her dog left in her own backyard, the flies might not be as big a problem.  Oops, with a side of “Is my face red?” Continue reading “Swede is not necessarily a nationality designator”

Britain · Cake · Candy · Holiday

Green and boozy

Chocolate Irish Creme TrifleGeneral rule: if you’re going to make something special for your family, don’t take cheap and sleazy shortcuts. That’s my rule, and I’m going to stick by it. That doesn’t mean I never cut corners, but doggonit, if I’m going to make something which says, “I really care about you,” it won’t have non-dairy whipped topping out of a plastic tub. The exception to cutting corners is Chili Cheese dip, which is a football tradition.

So this morning, being St. Patrick’s Day, I was sent a recipe for Irish Chocolate Trifle.  My husband doesn’t like chocolate, but with enough liqueur, even he might be tempted.  I clicked through to the proffered recipe and said, “ewwwwww.”  I’m posting the link if you want the dumbed down version.  There you go.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So let’s take a good idea and do it right, OK? Continue reading “Green and boozy”

Britain · Cake · Christmas · Desserts

The cake which takes all year, part 3

A whimsical example of how to decorateSubtitle: The devil’s in the details

Having made the mixed peel, cooked the cake, bathed the cake in alcohol weekly and now anticipating Christmas, it’s time to decorate your cake. 

I have previously made valiant attempts, but so far have failed to wow.  That’s all got to change!  Regardless of my lamentable efforts, the Christmas cake in England is not only enjoyed for its taste, but also its visual presentation.  The cakes are whimsical, elegant, simple, traditional, non-traditional, white or colored.  What matters is the ooh and ahh factor when brought to the table.  Click on the picture to link to the blog where they show how that one was made.  The recipes given to me for completing the decoration are below, but creativity is an intangible.  If you’re stymied, start with something simple and see where you go next year! Continue reading “The cake which takes all year, part 3”

Alcohol · Britain · Cake · Christmas

The cake which takes all year, part 2

You’ve made your mixed peel, you’ve used the syrup to make fizzy drink and the flesh to make citrus preserves and now it’s September.  [insert majestic music].  It is time to make the cake [dom dom dom].

This recipe is from the father of my friend Karla.  Karla, although having lived here virtually all her life, is a green card, being proud of her British birth.  Her father likewise, and with a very lovely Yorkshire accent.  Several years ago he compiled a cookbook of his region’s dishes and she let me copy this one. Continue reading “The cake which takes all year, part 2”

Britain · Cake · Christmas

The cake which takes all year, part 1

Last night we had, among other things, boxed macaroni and cheese.  Ghastly, but the kids like it.  It’s 10 minutes to the plate once the water starts to boil.  Quick and dirty.

Christmas Cake is the polar opposite of quick and dirty.  It is a laborious process, occupying many months and lots of loving care.  Why do it?  Because my sweetie is English and unlike his countryman still on the isle, cannot scamper to Tesco’s to purchase one.  To keep his holidays festive, I learned how to make a Christmas Cake and aside from the decorating (more on that later), I’ve been given high marks for my confection. Continue reading “The cake which takes all year, part 1”

Britain · New friends

Lovely Lady

A bit of Pickering in SeattleHow fortunate I am!  Recently I was privileged to lunch in the company of some very formidable foodies.  The occasion?  The arrival of Melinda Pickworth from the UK for a visit.  Melinda and I have exchanged comments and recipes, primarily over my attempts to create an authentic tasting crumpet.  She and my sister are fast friends, exchanging recipes, handmade cards and gifts.

Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by PeabodyWe lunched at the Seattle Art Museum, a beautiful place for locally sourced food and I felt very out of my league food-wise, having with us also the award winning Peabody.  Between those ladies and my niece who is a rabid healthy eating-a-holic, I ate my food and enjoyed talking with Melinda about how a nice gal from Oregon ended up living in England.

Melinda brought us gift bags, which was a delightful surprise (I can’t imagine what her luggage weighed) and among other things, Steve was the lucky recipient of a Marmite sandwich holder.  Don’t know Marmite? You are missing an experience!

End of story.  What, no recipes?  Nope, I just wanted to drop some names and count myself fortunate to know these lovely ladies.

Britain

Visualize Whirled Peas

My sister posted about the dog of our childhood, Max.  It was a great beginning to a recipe for orange chicken which, while tasting amazing, looked like dog vomit.  I recommend both the post and the recipe.

Many previous posts have attested to my collection of Nigella Lawson cookbooks.  Thanks to she-of-the-dog-vomit-story, I own Nigella Kitchen, as of this Christmas past.  Because she coincides her Food Network program with the release of her cookbooks, on Sunday mornings I am seduced by her warm, soft, sensual approach to the recipes in the tome.

Last week I watched while she performed that most British of icky dishes, Mooshy Peas, but with a twist.  She added a bit of Thai Curry paste and voila, it was transformed from a platter of green goo to a puddle of fragrant Phuket vacation in a nose hit.  Her menu included scallops, neatly browned and caramelized in a skillet with some butter.  Heaven in a puffy white pillow! Continue reading “Visualize Whirled Peas”

books · Britain

Essentials

My sister, bless her heart, knows that I am lacking in British cookbooks, and with a British husband, this is a problem.  Now I know there are those of you who are “hip” to English culinary sensibility who recognize instantly that if you just add raisins to it, you could pass anything off as edible to an Englishman.  Spam with raisins — I’m sure George II had it on his dinner table frequently.  Raisins and whitefish in a port reduction; a favorite at Chatsworth.  And who could forget the quintessential British street food, Fish and Chips and Raisins?   Continue reading “Essentials”

Crumpet

Have a cup of tea!

Having gotten crumpets to the point I feel reasonably confident about them, they need tea to go with them.  I found this today and can’t wait to try it!

Chai Tea

We like to make chai in two stages in order to get the FULL flavor of the spices without allowing the black tea to oversteep and become bitter. For example…

Start with a 16 oz. pot and add 2 heaping teaspoons (or more!) of freshly crushed chai spice. Fill the pot half way with boiling water. Wait 3 minutes and dream of India…

Add 2 teaspoons of black tea—such as Assam, and fill the pot the rest of the way with boiling water. Wait another 3-4 minutes. Dream of railway stations and the markets of Delhi…

Strain the chai, then add warm milk and honey to taste. Sip, enjoy… Remind yourself why you’ll never go back to those nasty pre-made concentrates!

Tips: Increase or decrease the quantities of spice and/or tea to suit your taste, but don’t steep the black tea longer than 3-4 minutes.

 A French press pot works very well for making chai with this method.