The cream tea wars

Cornwall and Devon are separated by the River Tamar and by a whole lot of bitter claims over who makes the best cream tea. Since a few people have left comments lately saying—and I’m about to paraphrase them both inaccurately and irresponsibly—that almost no wars are worth fighting, I think it’s time we stop and contemplate whether this one might not be. Because some things really do matter.

But first, for the sake of those of you whose feet have never been tucked under a table blessed with a cream tea, I need to explain what I’m going on about. The cream tea one of the few things that might convince this atheist that heaven exists. You take a scone and split it in half, then put jam and clotted cream on each half and as you take that first bite you’ll notice your eyes rolling upward toward the heavens in thanks.

swanage 073

Irrelevant photo: To be fair to both Cornwall and Devon, I’m posting a photo from Dorset. Which probably also thinks it invented the cream tea.

What’s clotted cream, though? It’s roughly as thick as whipped cream (don’t quibble; I did say “roughly”) but unsweetened. As well as yellower, gooier, and better. Ignore the disgusting name.

What’s this got to do with wars? Well, in Devon they think they invented both clotted cream and the cream tea. And they put the cream on first. In Cornwall, they also think they invented clotted cream and the cream tea and they put the jam on first. You at the back, settle down. This will be on the test.

In fact, it’s on the test every time I get a cream tea—which isn’t often because the arteries will only put up with just so much abuse. But it does happen now and then and when it does I sit in front of the scones, the dishes of cream and jam, and can’t remember which goes on first. Because I live in Cornwall, and this is serious stuff. It’s also exactly the kind of stuff my mind spits out like a toddler offered rutabaga. Ptooey, it says. I’m not remembering this, and it dances off to review some song lyric it already knows perfectly well, or the name of a wildflower, or something else of its own damn choosing.

Meanwhile, I could get myself run out of the county for this. And if I do, my mind’s going with me so I wish it would pay more attention.

Why does anyone care? Once upon a time, I’d have said it was just something to fight over, but food scientists have researched the issue, looking for the perfect cream tea formula. It turns out you want 40 grams of scone, 30 of cream, and 30 of jam. And—although they don’t mention this—a good-size pot of tea. With milk, a sunny day, and some people you like. Because hurling yourself at a cream tea on your own is right up there with drinking alone.

It turns out that the Devon method makes it easier to spread the fillings but the Cornish method allows you to serve the scone hotter, because the jam insulates the cream and keeps it from running. They don’t actually say which is better, the cowards. Which means they’ve been overtaken by the fate of most peacemakers, which is to piss off both sides.

You will, of course, pledge your allegiance to whichever side you choose, but don’t be surprised to make a few enemies when you do.

If you don’t live in Britain but want to make your own cream tea so you can participate in our wars? You’ll find a scone recipe in a back post and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding strawberry jam in a store, but you’ll have to either find a fancy supermarket and pay an outrageous amount of money for real clotted cream or try to fake it. Here are a couple of attempts I found online. I can’t vouch for either of them. This one’s from Food.com and used heavy cream and sour cream. And this one’s from Just a Pinch and uses cream cheese and whipping cream. Both add a bit of sugar, which makes me skeptical, but it may work. For the real thing, you’ll have to visit. On a sunny day. With friends.

95 thoughts on “The cream tea wars

  1. Truly engaging debate on the merits of cream first versus jam. I suppose it would be taboo to mix the two together and then apply it? (Would it give the two sides something to bond over as they revile a common enemy?)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. War? Sounds like a classic bun-fight to me. Or is it a storm in a tea cup? Perhaps the natives of Devon and Cornwall should get a third opinion and ask the Scots how best to serve a Scone! ;-) A fascinating post :-)

    Liked by 4 people

  3. The ‘science’ behind the best cream tea is how much cream and jam you can pile on and still get it in your mouth without it going up your nose! None of this weighing rubbish, how can you weigh pleasure .. I always put the cream on first because it’s firmer and will support the jam – especially if you make a little dent in the middle of the cream and then the jam sits like a gently overflowing lake. The cream will usually take a bit of warmth without dribbling down to your elbow and frankly mine never last long enough to run :D

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Oh, clotted cream heaven! :) This post wakes up ever so fond memories. :) My mouth is watering. ;) As to the war who invented it: I don’t care as long as I get the stuff. ;)
    Have a wonderful day,
    Pit

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Just to add to the controversy, they do a mean scone in Dorset too. Though in that particular county, I don’t think they really mind about the order in which you heap the cream and the jam on the scone.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You may have just ruined all of my planning to jump in my car and drive around the western states. I have been home too long and am anxious to get on the move. Of course, option three is the only acceptable one so I am wiping the drool off my face, renewing my passport and preparing to sit on my rear for ten hours some time in the near future just to have a cream tea, maybe one in Devon and one in Cornwall. The tipping point has been reached. Who needs to see Sedona and Santa Fe anyway?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I LOVE clotted cream. Adore it to the point of addiction. Thankfully I am lactose intolerant. That does not stop me eating it but it stops me eating it in excess. I found an expensive source of clotted cream locally so I can even treat myself to a delectable taste of Britain here in Pennsylvania. I was actually drooling reading your post so I might have to go on a raid and get some clotted cream pronto.

    To contribute to the debate, I fall under the Devonian method: I slather clotted cream onto the scone so that it pretty much doubles the height of the scone. I do a much better job of getting cream on a scone than I do of plastering, that’s for sure. I then dump on lashings of jam. I don’t like strawberry jam so for me it is raspberry. That probably evicts me from the Devon club. But I am Scottish so I can do what I want, right? Cream tea powers I do believe were devolved.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You’ve made me think about this in some detail. Although it is some time since I have partaken in the creamy, sweet goodness, I haven’t forgotten the dreamy like state that I ended up in afterwards. I seem to recall that I always placed the jam on first.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve never had clotted cream … will have to correct that. When I make hot scones I slather on jam and then PILE on whipped cream. The cream goes on top because when you get cream on the end of your nose it’s easy to wipe off – one can even do so quite daintily. Jam, on the other hand, just makes your face sticky.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Cream Tea wars…I was totally unaware I had offended BOTH sides in this long running war because I do it differently each time I have a cream tea !! Mind you, up here in Yorkshire and Lanc..Lancash…(spit) lancashire, we are still fighting the Wars of the Roses !!. The folk from over the Pennines call Yorkshireman rude names and in retaliation, we call Lancashire, ‘Yorkshire’s Overflow Carpark’…The two Counties have been insulting each other since 1455 !!! I think the Cream Tea wars are much more interesting and ultimately fulfilling. Keep on blogging Ellen, we’ll keep on reading.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Okay – now I want a cream tea :-) Good job I made blackberry jam the other day. Now I just need some scones and cream :-D And for me, I put the jam on first, so I guess that puts me on the Cornish side. Which is strange, as I spent so many childhood holidays in Devon.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Purveyors of faked clotted cream should be jailed. With plain, untopped, not-even-buttered scones.

    Meanwhile, the best cream tea ever is with a Fat Rascal (scone, not self—although I’d like to be there too) at Betty’s in Yorkshire. The original Bettys, not the new ones if possible. Cream first, of course…

    http://www.foodspotting.com/places/587515-bettys-cafe-and-tea-rooms-york/items/1537476-yorkshire-cream-tea

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This sounds so good. I have a pint of heavy cream, that I have forbidden myself, staring forlornly at me when I open the fridge. The stand mixer is glaring at me from across the kitchen, longing to whip the cream.
    How long can I hold out?

    Like

      • Although I intended this jokingly, my attitude has always been to assume that inanimate objects have personalities, and wills, of their own. I talk to things all of the time. Ingredients have an opinion of what kind of food they would like to be part of. Objects often do whatever they would like. A stone will sit there for a thousand years. (This is a subtle, yet strong, personality.) I own 3 banjos (but one is on permanent loan). The Deering likes to be tuned as gDGBD. The Ramsey likes to be tuned to gCGCD. The homemade fretless prefers gDGCD. So I need to learn to play everything a little differently, in order to cooperate with each banjo.
        It is a challenge each day navigating a world of opinionated objects.

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          • There are actually old banjos with violin pegs. Mine has modern pegs, but no frets. Partly because I thought it would be nice to play a banjo without frets, but mostly because installing frets is going way beyond my skill level.
            I loaned this banjo out about 5 years ago, but if you type search for “a tour of my homemade banjo” (uploaded by mathematics0) into youtube, it will come up. I lost my youtube password years ago, but my videos are still there!
            Your racism posts over the last weeks have given me thoughts, but I find it too complex of a topic to write easily about. I may tag some replies onto those posts after a while…I am a slow thinker.

            Liked by 1 person

  14. One of my fondest memories of my visit there was having tea with you & Wild Thing on some lovely little patio in some adorable little town on a lovely sunny day (enough adjectives?). I remember being stuffed and also high from too much tea. I now don’t eat wheat but I’ll make an exception the next time I visit and just look around and eat it however the, ahem, Natives are eating it. Re: wars, remember food fights? Perhaps an outbreak of people throwing clotted cream, jam of whatever flavor, and croissants at each other across the river would wear them all out. Disgusted by the waste, they’d pick at the remains and resolve that any way such yummyness is consumed is just fine.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In most places, the River Tamar’s too wide to throw a scone across, and I can’t swear to this but I think they’re too soft for slingshots. And too warm for a cold war.

      Ouch. That joke was so lame it even hurt me. I’ll stop now.

      Like

  15. Pingback: Scientific research, mojitos, movies, love tests, scones, and, um… mojitos | Barb Taub

  16. Pingback: British regionalisms | Notes from the U.K.

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