When you hear these words, you can almost smell the fresh, oh-so-green, rolling English countryside. But perhaps the one thing thats most evocative of the picture perfect greenery and crisp fresh air is the traditional cream tea, found in plenty in the South West of England as well as other tea rooms across the country that entice you in with the promise of this true English tradition. But is it really that big a deal? Time to find out for myself!
No, cream tea is NOT tea with a dollop of cream, much like the misleading baked beans and fried rice… Its fresh tea in a tea pot, usually English breakfast, but could be something flavoured of your choice, with milk and sugar separate, served with one or two warm scones, a small pot of jam, usually strawberry, and a pot of clotted cream. And of course, this is very excruciatingly time-bound, served with English precision only between 2.30 and 4.30 pm, maybe stretched to 5 pm if you are lucky!
A lovely afternoon chat with a white-haired, red-cheeked, gingham apron clad English tea-room owner from Devon revealed that the two critical things for a good cream tea is the clotted cream and the scone – the clotted cream should be slightly yellow (not cream coloured, mind!) and the scone should be halfway between a muffin and a cookie (go figure!)
Hmm… So if you don’t go completely nuts trying to get the scone dough right (this has foxed many a great chef!) now you have the double trouble of painstakingly evaporating full cream milk on indirect flame, then slowly cooling it down to get clumpy lumps of clotted cream on top, which you can finally use with your precious cream tea. Did I say it was easy??
Now for the fun part! Legend has it that a Princess, in order to prove her worth to a worthy Prince, had to bathe in pure cream as a test of purity. But a wicked witch (is a story ever complete without one?) kept souring the cream to make the poor Princess fail the test, so that her own daughter could be married off to this coveted Prince. Finally, after several failed attempts, the clever Prince took charge, replaced the cream with clotted cream, which the wicked witch could not sour, and the Princess passed the test with flying colours… You bet the Prince and the Princess lived creamily ever after 😉
But whatever your preference of tea, pottery, cream, jam or lathering method, that first bite into a lovingly prepared scone, with the jam and cream squelching out in a gentle ooze, is pretty much an experience that is untoppable… One that will make a hard-core coffee drinker like me settle for a cuppa tea!