Since it was Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s 70th wedding anniversary just two days ago, a friend (read royal family enthusiast) asked me why not serve up something traditionally British!
Clotted cream with scones, frilly raspberry tarts, lashings of lemonade… come to mind when I reminisce about Enid Blyton’s world of afternoon tea, picnic lunches and midnight feasts. Moonface, and Silky the elf are familiar names to those of us who grew up on a staple of her books- The Famous Five, The Wishing Chair, Malory Tower… to name a few.
The British ritual of afternoon tea began when the Duchess of Bedford decided, sometime in the early 1840s, that she was tired of feeling peckish in the middle of the afternoon. A little snack would be just the thing, she thought. Within a generation, the practice of taking a light meal with company in the middle of the day was firmly entrenched in British national life.
The first time I had had the chance to experience an English style tea was recently at the House of Lords. It was over scones, crumpets, cake and of course tea! that Bishop Peter Price told us that though cream tea is such a British institution and is loved everywhere in the UK but no more than in the South West, predominantly in the two counties of Devon and Cornwall. The content of the sliced scone remains the same, simply jam and cream. However, it is the order these are assembled that makes the difference; in a Devon tea it is cream on the scone then jam; in Cornwall, jam first followed by the cream.
The next opportunity to experience the traditional afternoon tea was at my friend Alice’s parents house in the quaint town of Salisbury. And I am not talking about any old tea. I am talking about a good, old-fashioned English tea time, with finger sandwiches, dainty china cups and all the formality a Downton Abbey lover could wish for. Lucy (Alice’s mother) had indeed pulled back no punches and at the end of it I had to force-stop myself from having a sixth cup of tea.
Now a brief history about scones. Scones are traditionally associated with Scotland, Ireland and England, but exactly who deserves the honour of invention, no one knows for sure. Scones may well have originated in Scotland since the first known print reference, in 1513, is from a Scottish poet. Traditional English scones may include raisins or currants, but are often plain, relying on jam, preserves, lemon curd or honey for added flavour – perhaps with a touch of clotted cream. But one thing is for sure. Scones should be enjoyed straight from the oven, with only the briefest of pauses for the requisite toppings.
225g self raising flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
25g caster sugar
1 free-range egg, beaten, to glaze
Heat the oven. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
Mix together the flour and salt and rub in the butter.
Stir in the sugar and then the milk to get a soft dough.
Turn on to a floured work surface and knead very lightly. Pat out to a round 2cm thick. Use a cutter to stamp out rounds and place on a baking sheet.
Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg. Bake for 12-15 minutes until well risen and golden.
Cool on a wire rack and serve with butter and good jam and maybe some clotted cream.