The cream tea. A classic repast for tourist afternoons in picture-postcard British towns. When there is scarcely time for anything else, there seems to always be time for a cream tea. This very touristic activity often conjures up a certain stereotypical participant - a plump, graying, safe, and predictable clientele. This is, at least, according to the more pugnacious and jaded observers. I have in the past read several who derided country tea rooms in places prefixed with "Stow-in-the" and decorated like a Beatrix Potter story that got out of hand. But even they cannot fault the dish itself.
Nigel Slater of The Guardian bears tribute to the simple and elegant cream tea here. His recipes, of course, are pure Devonshire. He begins with a reference to the vegetative richness of the hedgerows in that Western county. I recall that as one ventures into the farther reaches of the English countryside - removed from railways, motorways, and suburbs - the hedgerows become almost impossibly lush and verdant, stretching endlessly on either side of country lanes, higher than even the tallest among us. It is bucolic "England" right out of a Second World War poster, a fitting county to produce the ideal cream tea.
My fondness for the cream tea is undiminished with passing years and even after exposure to the missives of the jaded critics. In the civilized days of aeroplane travel, during my youth, return flights from London to Canada always served afternoon tea, with scones and clotted cream, soon before landing. It marginally alleviated the pain of leaving England. Alas, no more (at least, not in economy class). A victim of our brutal utilitarian times, the in-flight cream tea remains a fond memory, an emptied miniature pot of jam sitting in the sideboard along with other relics of happy times.
I shall confess, true to my persona as a animal fat-immune Edwardian, that the clotted cream, with just a dab of preserves and scone, really is the point of the exercise. On a recent trip to England a friend opined that the last half of scone is always the best, since beforehand one must conserve the jam and clotted cream - unsure of exactly how much is in the pot, worried about apportioning it correctly, terrified that one should run out before the scone is finished. The last portion, therefore, can be slathered with abandon. How true.