English cream tea
By Mizzyjo via Wikimedia Commons. A modern teashop in Bath.

Now this is what I call a proper English cream tea.

Tea first came to England in 1662 with Catharine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II, but afternoon tea really took off in Victorian times.

In the early 1800s, Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, a lady who clearly had more than her fair share of good sense, began to serve a light afternoon tea in the gap between luncheon and dinner. After all, dinner wasn’t until 8 o’clock and the Victorian upper classes disliked a rumbling stomach as much as anyone else.

The working classes took to this idea, and began to have a hearty tea or ‘high tea’ instead of a hot meal at night. I like to think that was why the fish finger was invented. Not in Victorian times, obviously. No one knew fish had fingers, then.

Some members of the aristocracy thought that drinking tea might be bad for the working man, although they had no reason to suppose it bad for health. It was more likely that they wished to keep such a delightful drink for themselves. In any case, tea shops opened and, by the 1880s, were hugely popular.

They still are, of course, in the UK, where we use the term “tea” to refer to the whole meal. We “eat” tea as well as drink it.

Cream teas are utterly scrumptious, but controversy rages nevertheless. With a scone, whipped or clotted cream and jam, preferably strawberry, on your plate, how do you decide whether the jam goes on top of the cream or vice versa? Helpful hint to avoid giving offence: in Devon, you must put your cream on before your jam, whereas in Cornwall and Somerset, the cream sits on top of the jam.

Either way is wonderful though packed, of course, with fat and sugar. Definitely for holidays only.


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