The cream tea is considered the regional dish of Devon just as in Cornwall there's the 'Cornish Pasty' or in Lancashire the 'Lancashire Hot Pot'. This dish, almost a meal in itself, has now been adopted by many of the country's tourist regions - but to be really savoured needs to be sampled in the Westcountry. There are many places which advertise 'cream teas', but how do you know what you're getting? Well, here are a couple of pointers to help ensure you get the best.
Devonshire clotted cream
A cream tea cannot be considered as such unless there is cream and the type of cream that should be used is clotted cream. Originally, clotted cream was only produced in the Westcountry - this is where the rich soil, mild climate and the right breed of cattle came together to create milk with a high enough cream content to produce clotted cream. Even today when clotted cream is in greater demand (and available at supermarkets!) it will almost always be made in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset. If you exclude the modern milk processes and vegetable fat substitutes then there are only three types of cream - single, double and clotted. Each of these gets increasingly richer, thicker and luxurious.
Before the days of pasteurisation, the milk from the cows was left to stand for several hours so that the cream would rise to the top. Then this cream was skimmed and put into big pans. The pans were then floated in trays of constantly boiling water in a process known as scalding. The cream would then become much thicker and develop a golden crust which is similar to butter. Today however, the cream is extracted by a separator which extracts the cream as it is pumped from the dairy to the holding tank. The separator is a type of centrifuge which extracts the surplus cream at the correct quantity so that the milk will still have enough cream to be classified as milk.
Clotted cream has a consistency similar to soft butter and can be used as a replacement for butter in such things as toffees. It's great on freshly baked bread with honey (or honeycombe!), jam, syrup or black treacle (known as thunder and lightening!) - but most importantly is perfect for putting on a scone.
A freshly made scone still warm from the oven
Some people will argue about the pronunciation of scone which rhymes with gone not bone. Some people like to disagree but they usually went to an expensive school where they were told how to pronounce everything, paying no regard to regional dialects or accents and using a set of rules that one or two blokes came up with. (Something to do with Latin in case you didn't know!)
'What is a scone' is a good question and will vary upon which part of the country you ask. In the South West we would call a scone a scone, a tea cake a tea cake and a fruit cake a fruit cake. In other parts of the country they don't always know the difference so add to this the variations in recipies and these distintions soon begin to merge. The ideal scone is made from just a few ingredients; eggs, milk, butter and self raising flour all the sort of things that you might find on a farm and that's where scones with clotted cream and jam originally came from! Scones are best served warm from the oven (if hot the cream slides off!) and should be eaten on the day they're made.
The texture of a scone is half way between cake and biscuit - harder than a cake but softer than a biscuit. Scones would rarely be eaten alone and are often spread with butter or butter and jam. The two main variations are Cheese scones and fruit scones. Cheese scones (never served with cream) should be served hot so that when the butter is spread it melts into the top - and then the scone would be spread with butter once again! To really appreciate the taste of the cream and the jam though a plain scone is always the best! In case you're wondering, a tea cake is a type of bread with sultanas - these are toasted and spread with butter whilst hot. You would NEVER toast a scone! A fruit cake (especially the rich ones) are often iced for weddings - you would NEVER ice a scone.
Jam is yet another favourite of the farmyard kitchen and was the old fashioned way of preserving fruit so that the tastes of Summer would be available for the whole year. When fruit was bountiful and there was too much to eat it would be lightly cooked in large pans, sugar would then be added and it would be brought to the boil for a few minutes. The boiling sterilises the jam, and the sugar acts as a preservative. Pots or jars (stood for several minutes in boiling water to sterilise them) are then filled with the hot jam and when cool are sealed and stored. Pectin is an important ingredient in jam making required to help the jam set and because strawberries are low in pectin, an apple or two would often be added. Apples are high in pectin and so are often added to other fruits so that the jam will set. Today jam sugar, which is sugar and pectin, is used instead.
A pot of tea
A good tea is recommended to help wash down all the sugar and complements the dish brilliantly. There should be some Assam (the full-bodied red wine of the tea world) somewhere in the blend to give it the strength and character required to complement a cream tea. Ideally, this would be without sugar because you won't taste any sugar you add to your tea due to the sweetness of the jam - so to fully appreciate a cream tea you'd need to learn to drink tea without the sugar first! The milk is optional, but it wouldn't matter whether you have it or not. The teapot however is essential for a good cup of tea and for some peculiar reason tastes better from a China cup. (Well the Chinese did invent both tea and china cups!)
The ideal time for a cream tea is four. After a hard days work in the field (or walking around that castle!) you'd be very hungry and very thirsty. The wife of a farmer wouldn't have the time to prepare and cook four full meals because they'd work on the farm as well. A couple of scones would do the trick for tea - minutes to make and only 20 minutes to cook and two are more than enough for all but the starving - or the farmer who's just been and ploughed a couple of acres with the help of his horses!
Preparing your scone
The Devonshire method: To prepare your scone (which ideally would be warm) you would first split it in two, horizontally. Then, what was the centre of the scone on each half would be covered with about half an inch of clotted cream. More than this would be too sickly and with less there wouldn't be enough for the scone. Then, you'd add a teaspoon of jam (traditionally strawberry) to the top of each half. You should then have something similar to the photo above - but not for long!
If you want your scone the Cornish way then first butter the scone so that the butter melts into it. Then spread with a layer of jam. Then finally, add a large spoon of Cornish clotted cream on the top. This method has one bonus - your cream doesn't slide off - but the drawback is you get less cream. (This method is often used WITHOUT the butter in London and the surrounding area by profiteers and don't knows) Note: don't try using a spread or a substitute - it HAS got to be REAL butter!
In Somerset they would generally use the Devonshire method because Somerset borders Devon and not Cornwall.
When scones are presented at a function both methods are often used - it helps create a discussion, satisfies everyone and for artistic reasons it looks good. One tray of each side by side, or alternate rows are often used - but never a jumble!
We use a 'secret' family farmhouse recipe for the scones in our tearoom so if you'd like to sample them you'll have to pay us a visit. Because this is too far or difficult for most people we have here some scone recipes from around the world - click one of the Devonshire farmhouse scones which follow - each one links to a different recipe!
What about some fantastic ice-cream made with Devonshire cream? Rocombe farm, the Devonshire ice-cream makers will soon have their website on-line so we hope you'll then pay them a visit. Using organic ingredients, the best of the American ice-cream recipes and with what we consider to be the best cream in world it's an unbeatable combination! Web-link coming soon.
This page is becoming quite popular so if your favourite tearoom / scone recipe is on the web then let us know and we'll add a link to it. International suggestions accepted as well! We will shortly be adding links for several Cornish and Devonshire creameries so you can order clotted cream by post! (Mmmm.) There will also be some links to make your own clotted cream and we also hope to add some further information on farming in Devon (1900-1960)
Please note that this page is not yet finished and needs correction - it could therefore contain errors.
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