In search of the perfect scone
English summer weather – is that an oxymoron? I moved to the Middle East over 16 years ago and have managed to escape the frazzling summer temperatures for at least 6 weeks every year and spend it in my home country. Packing is a nightmare and includes fleeces, raincoats, thermal vests, shorts, bikinis, flip flops and woolly socks; all of which can be needed in a single day. A traditional English cream tea seems to be perfect whatever the summer weather. It’s light and summery enough to be welcome when the sun is beating down and everyone is expiring and looking for shade. You will overhear the following phrases uttered regularly “Phew – it’s so hot”, “the garden really needs watering, everything is so dry”, “it’s very muggy – we could do with some rain.” This sort of day will usually have been preceded by weeks of rain, cold and cloudiness in rotation with everyone saying “we never get a proper summer anymore”. I don’t mind any of these variations as a cream tea is also the best meal for warming up after you’ve been soaked to the skin or battled against gale force winds.
What constitutes an excellent cream tea? Warm, crumbly, freshly baked scones are a must – I prefer two smaller to one big one. I like butter on my scones as well as thick, yellow clotted cream. Jam should be homemade and raspberry or strawberry, the seeds speckling the jewel-like glaze. A hot pot of tea with another of hot water and lots of cold milk in a jug. I personally like a bone china cup but this is a rarity. Here are a few cream teas my daughters and I have sampled over the last few weeks:
The Edgecombe – Cothele, Cornwall
Cothele is a beautiful Tudor house, looked after by the National Trust and reached via some very narrow lanes. It feels like a place frozen in time with a fabulous view from the house over the Tamar river and Calstock. The Edgecumbe down on the quay is really cosy and feels like you are eating in someone’s house. Our visit this year was on the most glorious sunny day and we actually had to move inside as the sun was too strong. Homemade cakes are displayed on an old range. My youngest daughter ordered a cream tea, which comes with homemade strawberry jam, two scones and local clotted cream. My crab sandwich, was pretty good too.
Greenway – Galmpton, Devon
Our next cream tea venue was also at a National Trust cafe in the barn next to the main house which was Agatha Christie’s holiday home – also at the end of some ridiculously narrow lanes. I’d prebooked a parking space which is essential otherwise you have to take public transport (although several rather appealling options are available, including ferry from Dartmouth).
The day was cloudy and there was not much respite from the almost constant rain. I was really tempted by the set lunch menu in the Greenway House Kitchen (prebooking recommended) but we were eating out that night so a cream tea seemed a good option.
One large scone, an individual jar of Thursday Cottage strawberry jam (handmade but in Essex) and a generous, crusty dollop of clotted cream made this another good tea. Leek and stilton soup was really good too with a nice hunk of brown bread, as we sat outside under the awning watching the rain..
Koffee & Kreme – Seahouses, Northumberland
It had been tipping down all day but determined to make the most of visiting Northumberland we’d done a coastal walk to a castle and then a boat trip round the Farne Islands to see seals, kittiwakes, shags, puffins and the site of Grace Darling’s famous sea rescue.
We ran from the boat as the downpour itensified once again, soaked and shivering. Peeling off our various dripping layers we entered Koffee and Kreme and ordered cream teas all round. Enormous cups with a huge pot of tea and boiling water arrived along with the scones, butter, jam and cream. There was hardly enough room on the table. Although the large scone was warm and freshly baked, the butter was a portion, the jam smooth and commercial, the cream whipped and slightly sweetened. It was not the best cream tea in terms of authenticity and ingredients, however the warm welcome from the owner and the pride in serving this to us and making us comfortable was exceptional. All for £2.10 per head (about 3.4 USD).
The River Cafe – Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire
We needed a restorative after a visit to pretty Stow on the Wold, followed by a disappointing lunch at Daylesford Organic Farm shop (more anon) so stopped off in the village of Lower Slaughter which is immensely pretty despite its rather horrific name. The Mill lies at the end of a beautiful, stroll past golden cottages fronted by the small river.
Our table and bench was made of stone and overlooked the water and the fields and sheep beyond. Moorhens dart up and down. Our selection had to be ordered and paid for at a counter but is brought by a waitress. The tea could be hotter but is in comforting mismatching china tea pots (I recommend warming the pot and using tea cosies). The scone is craggy and definitely homemade, as is the jam. A decent portion of clotted cream is enough for a really good layer.
So to sum up so far:
- Best overall – The Edgecumbe for an excellent tea, location and view.
- Runner up – National Trust tea and scones never disappoint and Greenway upheld this.
- Best view – The River Cafe (on a fine day).
- Best value – Koffee & Kreme (who also deserve a mention for the warmest welcome)
If you are inspired to make your own scones, Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial has named this week as ‘scone week’ and is sharing recipes. Poires et Chocolat demonstrates the correct order for the jam and cream here and Dan Lepard has an interesting twist on a scone here. How do you eat yours? Any recommendations for where to eat the perfect cream tea?