There’s nothing us Brits enjoy more than a nice cup of tea in the afternoon. And down in the south-western corner of the UK, they’ve raised it to an art form with the creation of the cream tea. But although the component parts are pretty much agreed upon, there is a great debate over how these are assembled to make the ultimate cream tea.
Depending on which side of the River Tamar you find yourself, this dictates your technique; either the Cornish way or the Devonian way, as never will the two counties agree. Getting it wrong may earn you anything from a reproachful look to a stern ticking off*.
The perfect cream tea needs of a couple of freshly-baked scones, straight from the oven if at all possible. Some might consider fruit scones, studded with plump sultanas, a sacrilege, but I think its a bonus. The scones really have to be fresh; homebaked scones don’t keep well and dry out after a day. Oh, and it is pronounced skonn, not scown.
With respect to the Cornish tradition, next comes sweet, fruity jam, ideally strawberry, although raspberry is also permissible, lumpy with fruit, spread thickly on the scone. Blackberry, apricot or any other flavour of jam is strictly for mavericks. Fresh ripe strawberries are a pleasing addition that you sometimes find, although strawberries without jam just doesn’t cut it. The acidy-sugar taste cuts through the richness of the cream.
Then the main event; lashings of oozy-thick, pale yellow clotted cream. Really, a cream tea is just an excuse to eat clotted cream, and far more socially acceptable than eating it straight from the tub, especially with your fingers if you can’t wait to get to the kitchen to get a spoon. The perfect clotted cream has a caramel-like consistency with a soft crust on top. Mmmmmmmmmm…
Recently an attempt was made to settle the debate once and for all, and a mathematician from Sheffield University was challenged with discovering a formula to explain the perfect cream tea. Her conclusion? The Cornish way is triumphant.
The accompanying tea should be served in a pot and brewed strong, to counteract the richness of the clotted cream and the sweetness of the jam, and served with milk rather than lemon. The whole lot is best consumed outdoors, with a fresh sea breeze and the sun warming your back.
How do you like your cream tea?