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In search of the perfect scone

August 11, 2011

Cream tea at the River Cafe, Lower SlaughterEnglish 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.

Inside The Edgecumbe

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.

Cream tea - Cotehele

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).

Greenway 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.

Cream tea at GreenwayOne 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..

Scones - Greenway

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.

Farne IslandsWe 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).

Scones - Seahouses

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.

Lower SlaughterOur 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.

Scone - Lower Slaughter

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?

  1. August 11, 2011 5:03 pm

    Nice post! I’ve lapped up scones with clotted cream, jam and tea whenever I could in the UK. Are there any decent places in Dubai to get some?

    • August 15, 2011 2:32 am

      I don’t know Dee. Sounds like something we should do some practical research about!

  2. August 11, 2011 5:28 pm

    All your venues look charming. Personally, I prefer my scone with butter and a strong, mature cheddar cheese. Thanks for the links, I know Celia, but not the others. Off to have a look.

    • August 15, 2011 2:31 am

      I usually prefer savoury over sweet too – but not with scones.

  3. August 11, 2011 5:34 pm

    Love a good cream tea. I too prefer clotted cream first and topped with jam (raspberry). My fave here in Dubai-land has to be the Royal Mirage’s – but the best I have ever had was at the Orient Express Nelson hotel in Cape Town. A delightful buffet spread of afternoon tea delights served in their courtyard garden. Oh and the Peninsula in Hong Kong, with bubbles 🙂

  4. Yasmin permalink
    August 11, 2011 5:44 pm

    I’ve always wanted to visit England and now reading for the first time about cream tea venues makes me want to go right away. It looks so beautiful there!

    • August 15, 2011 2:30 am

      I know – it’s especially nice when the sun shines.

  5. August 11, 2011 6:15 pm

    Oh Sally, what a scrumptious post – am feeling very homesick for England and summers in Cornwall – and I’m not even English!

    • August 15, 2011 2:29 am

      I thought you were – do tell. Love Cornwall so much.

  6. August 11, 2011 7:31 pm

    These days I’m watching Midsomer Murders series and the photos are exactly like taken out of the film (without the murders, of course 😉 Lovely!

    • August 15, 2011 2:29 am

      How funny Silvia (you do wonder how many murders can happen in one rural village!)

  7. August 11, 2011 7:40 pm

    LOVELY! So delicious!! I agree- scones have to be with strawberry or raspberry jam!
    Love the photographs- especially those of Northumberland which I have always wanted to visit.

    • August 15, 2011 2:28 am

      It was like visiting a different country entirely Sid – would throughly recommend.

  8. August 11, 2011 11:15 pm

    So many lovely scones, what a way to celebrate scone week! Thanks for the linky, Sally, and for all the gorgeous photos – the one of the seals was particularly enchanting (especially the curious creature looking straight at you as you took the pic!). 🙂

    • August 15, 2011 2:27 am

      I know – well spotted…no wonder they thought seals were the souls of sailors. Oh for a better zoom (and without the rain).

  9. August 12, 2011 6:57 am

    This post makes me want to go to England just for tea and scones! Yummy!

    • August 15, 2011 2:26 am

      Elements of nostalgia and comfort food here!

  10. August 12, 2011 10:15 am

    Ahhh, now there’s a question. I would so love to write a good teashop guide, there is so much to take into consideration. CT and I are always on the look out for a good cream tea and it’s surprisingly hard to find. We used to have my absolute favourite tea shop ever only a few miles from us at the edge of the moor. We could get a good walk in and then sit down and indulge. That did wonderful teas, perfect homemade scones (two smaller ones of course), 3 different types of homemade jam and lashings of clotted cream of course. Sadly that closed four years ago and I’ve felt bereft ever since. However, if you’re ever passing through Lostwithiel, do stop for tea at muffins. They make excellent scones (2 of them) and use locally made jam – which is as good as home made. Thanks for the heads up on the Edgecombe. Last time we went there, we were very disappointed so haven’t been back in a few years – sounds like they might have improved. One of my pet hates are serving bought scones and the other is overly puffed up, bicarby ones that just crumble to bits as soon as you put them in your mouth. As for how to put your jam and cream on, I know all about that – I’m from Cornwall 😉

    • August 15, 2011 2:26 am

      A good walk followed by a scone has to be nearly heaven.

  11. August 12, 2011 12:23 pm

    the best cream tea is from Devon without a doubt. We enjoyed Widecombe in the Moor the most on our visit – the Wayside Cafe is where we had cream tea! It had been snowing in March a few weeks before our arrival and they were snowed in 🙂

    • August 15, 2011 2:25 am

      That’s not far from my M-in-law but the other side of the moor – a must visit soon destination.

  12. August 12, 2011 3:20 pm

    What magnificent photography Sally – just too beautiful!
    Have a happy weekend.
    🙂 Mandy

  13. August 13, 2011 4:03 am

    I’ve been craving scones lately…must be the little nip of fall in the air. I’m trying to find a way to make homemade clotted cream because I just can’t find it in the stores. Looks like you’re having a dreamy summer.

    • August 15, 2011 2:24 am

      Do share your findings – something I can’t get when in Dubai funnily enough!

  14. August 14, 2011 7:52 am

    I have been trying to perfect my scone recipe ever since I got addicted to them at high tea one day at the Burj. I have fine bone china tea cups so would be happy to host you one day at mine 🙂

  15. August 15, 2011 4:41 pm

    I’m very jealous of your scone tasting trips! I like mine slathered in thick, whipped double cream (rather than clotted) and slathered in strawberry jam. Sometimes I make them with raisins and spread with creamy butter, but you can’t really beat a cream tea. I made Emma from Poires au Chocolat’s scone recently and can vouch for the recipe – it’s delicious!

  16. August 15, 2011 8:44 pm

    Oooh, the joys of eating your way around scone-land. How delicious and a lovely post Sally.

  17. August 16, 2011 9:26 am

    What beautiful photos evoking a very British summer! I always say there’s nowhere better to be than in England when its warm (hoping it is)……go abroad in the winter when everything is grey and miserable. So glad to have met you and come across your lovely blog.

  18. May 21, 2012 5:22 pm

    Yummy! This post makes me want to go to England just for tea and scones!

    • May 27, 2012 7:37 am

      It makes ME want to go to England for tea and scones…..aaaahhhhh wistful.

  19. August 22, 2012 3:25 am

    This just makes my heart happy 🙂 Dreadfully my husband and I will be going gluten free this Monday. I’m on the search for gluten free scones. But if none are to be found I fully intend on violating the gluten ban to make my favorite recipe!

    • August 22, 2012 11:12 am

      Good luck with that – you won’t find ‘free-from’ recipes here I’m afraid. I eat everything. I’m going to post a really lovely scone recipe soon though.


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