You already know I had a great time in London – according to me, a well-deserved break. Now one thing I can say is that I had a lot of typical British meals – from a cream tea of scones to the staple, Fish and chips and Eton mess. Now each of these has a special place in British history and so I’ll talk about them, very briefly. Oh, and my repertoire of edible flowers also increased with the introduction of Nasturtiums!
So let’s get started.
‘Tea’ is very ‘british’, right? Well, as well as Chinese and Japanese and…the rest of the world but when you talk about ‘High tea’ – that British institution that celebrates the passing of noontime to evening, this is typical Britain. It is a tradition that apparently started with Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who tired of “having a sinking feeling” in the late afternoon in an era when people commonly had 2 main meals daily – breakfast and dinner. And the solution to midday hunger? Tea, accompained by little nibbles in private quarters. As with all good things, the custom grew to the stage were friends were invited and …..others picked up on the idea, thus was born – ‘High tea’.
The name ‘High Tea’ comes from the height of the (dinner) tables on which the meals were served. To this day, this practice continues, from homes to hotels, department stores to cafes, in Britain and beyond! Of course, water must find its level and the ‘Top of the High tea crop’ is arguably ‘Tea at the Ritz’. Now this is no ordinary event. Formal dress is de rigeur and appropriate behaviour is of course….expected. No jeans, no tennis shoes, nothing scruffy. The hotel offers a variety of ‘High teas’ – from Traditional to Champagne and even Chocolate ‘teas’.
However, Britain is no longer a nation that is religious about its High tea contrary to the words of the well-known song, ‘at half past three, everything stops for tea’. Afternoon Tea is an occasional luxury for the British these days – a birthday treat in a country house hotel or a welcome break from a hectic day’s shopping ‘in town’! I’ve also had it at ‘home’ in a Tea pavilion in the Netherlands…it was a bit different: The scones were bready and in true Dutch style, there was some grated cheese served with the cream and jam!
Luckily the tourist is still able to indulge in a little bit of British tradition for herself, as in my case – though not at the Ritz. Mine was had in the resturant cafe of Debenhams when I was done with a day’s shopping!
It was a Cornish Cream Tea. 2 for 1. It consisted of two plates: each with a scone (pronounced skon, like John or skone like Joan), a tub of Cornish clotted cream and a little tub of strawberry jam, I paid for my tea (drink) seperately. This didn’t set me back a fortune but then again it wasn’t at The Ritz. Now Cornish clotted cream is a thick yellow cream made by heating unpasteurized cow’s milk and then leaving it in shallow pans for several hours. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms clots. So when you open up a can of clotted cream….don’t be put off by the look of it – curds and all, I just stir it all together and then layer my scone with. It is a PDO in the European Union – a protected designation of origin for cream produced by the traditional recipe in Cornwall.
Apparently, you can make your own by combining two parts whole milk with one part whipping (heavy) cream, heating at the very lowest possible heat for a couple of hours until a skin forms, leaving it undisturbed overnight, and then harvesting the skin and its underclots. The remaining milk may be consumed or used in any number of recipes.
How to enjoy a Cornish cream tea the Devon way!
Step 1: Slice scone across in half
Step 2: Decide if you love Devon or Cornwall. Then do as you choose. For in Devon, the cream is traditionally used instead of butter, with the jam spread on top of the cream; in Cornwall the jam is spread first because the runny substrate of Cornish clotted cream would make the Devonian method of service impossible to achieve without looking messy! I guess I love Devon…
Step 3: Add jam…and eat!
Moving on to Fish and chips, again another one of those true British classics, featured everywhere from the ‘Chippy’ (local chip shop) to Heston Blumenthal – scientific cook! Of course it all is a very unhealthy lot – no oven fried chips or oven baked fish but….for me, its not nearly an everyday affair – a one off, if ever.
It comes served with a variety of sauces, from Tartare sauce to salt and vinegar. Mushy peas, curry and Ketchup of course.
I did discover a secret on this trip, one I hadn’t been privy to – pickled boiled eggs! That suprised me…seeing eggs in pickling liquid in a large jar. Interesting. I didn’t try it though – it will have to go on my list of a 1000 things to eat while alive!
On to the fish, which is battered and deep-fried – delicious. The lightest, crispest batter mix is made by using ice cold sparkling water or light beer, mixed with flour, baking powder, eggs and some seasoning and then the fish is dipped in to coat before frying. The chips are handcut – not Fries. Chunky. They are best made from waxy potatoes as they hold their shape during cooking and result in a firm yet tender texture.
And of course, we musn’t forget mushy peas – a puree of Marrowfat peas, seasoned to taste! A quick homemade version can be made by emptying a rinsed tin of marrow fat peas into a pan, adding a little butter and a little brown ugar, then mashing all together. Chopped mint can be added for a minty version! My friend and husband felt horrible after it. Sort of sinful, guilty pleasures… which don’t enrich you afterwards. I, on the other hand, thought it was great and had no regrets! One man’s meat……
Finally, I bring you the last of my British classics – ‘Eton Mess’, world-famous. Lets start at the beginning. You, of course have heard of Eton college and its posh school boys. This dessert does them grace and is traditionally served at Eton College’s annual cricket game against the students of Winchester College. The dish has been known by this name since the 19th century and consists of a mixture of strawberries, pieces of meringue and cream.
It is supper easy to make and various elements can be varied. The first time I made it, I used Creme Fraiche instead of cream. This time I had it in London, my friend made it with delicious English raspberries with Icecream and double cream!
We used store-bought meringues….crushed in a large bowl. Then in went some raspberries, followed by a few scoops of icecream. Then a good stir and some double cream followed.
And that was it – ready to serve. We forgot to reserve extra crushed meringues and rasperries to garnish as is normal but that did nothing to affect the taste. Everyone had 2 servings and we cleared it ALL up, down to the very last drop!
And last but not the least…I discovered a new edible flower that I must plant in my garden – Nasturtiums. Pretty, bright coloured flowers. I struggled for so capture the true colours of the flowers…and was relieved to read on Wikipedia that their intense color can make macrophotography quite difficult! Anyhow – both leaf and flower are good to eat and are spicy; We had them in a salad – nice.
And I didn’t make it to any real markets as planned….except for an indoor one which had nice fruit
…and I caught a glimpse of Billingsgate – the UK’s largest inland Fish market on my way to the airport. At least I know where it is for next time 🙂
What is your favourite British classic and why?