Anyone who has never tasted a traditional Cornish cream tea is missing out on a culinary treat. A warm scone smothered with a layer of sweet strawberry jam and covered with a generous helping of rich clotted cream… simply bootiful!
Some people enjoy it with butter, while others say the cream should replace the butter. Café owners will normally serve it either with or without butter, according to personal taste. Either way, it’s something to be savoured, especially when served with a pot of tea.
When dining out, other variations can include the full afternoon tea, comprising homemade sandwiches, clotted cream and jam scones and freshly-made cakes, served with tea or coffee, or a sparkling version, with a glass of bubbly replacing the hot beverage.
You don’t have to dine out to enjoy a Cornish cream tea – there are plenty of recipes online teaching you how to make scones for the perfect Cornish clotted cream tea at home.
Cornwall or Devon?
There has been an ongoing friendly dispute for generations between the residents of Cornwall and Devon about the correct way to serve a cream tea. Each county has created its own version of the classic afternoon treat. They may seem similar to the onlooker, but they have an important difference.
The question is, should the jam or the cream be added first? When making a Cornish cream tea, the strawberry jam is added before the clotted cream. There’s also another version, called the “Cornish split”, when a type of sweet white bread roll is used instead of a scone.
Baked in the oven, as soon as the split is removed, it is spread with butter and placed on a tea towel, with a second tea towel on top. This prevents a crust from forming. The Cornish split is served warm – and of course, the strawberry jam is smoothed on before the cream.
The recipe was first mentioned in a cookery book by Florence White, published in 1932, called Good Things in England.
The Devon cream tea is made using a scone, which is broken in half. Each section is covered in clotted cream and the strawberry jam is the final ingredient, to be placed on top of the cream.
Although the positioning of the jam and cream may seem like only a minute difference, it has led to a rivalry between Devon and Cornwall, with each county declaring their version is the correct one.
Cream tea origins
Historians believe the origins of cream tea date back to the 11th century. Unfortunately for Cornwall residents, however, it can be traced back to Tavistock Abbey in Devon, when warm bread was served with cream and jam by the monks.
Evidence of the abbey’s cream teas was found in ancient manuscripts that were studied in 2005 as part of the 900th-anniversary celebration of Tavistock’s Royal Charter. After the abbey was severely damaged by invading Vikings in 997AD, the task of restoring it was an arduous one.
Manuscripts suggested that the local workers who helped with the project were fed meals of bread, clotted cream and strawberry preserves by the monks. It was said that after the abbey had been rebuilt, the monks continued to serve the snack to any travellers who passed through.
The cream tea has become such a hot topic that food producers in Cornwall successfully applied to the EU to give Cornish clotted cream “protected” status. They said it was to stop café owners from serving canned whipped cream on their scones and passing it off as a genuine Cornish cream tea.
However, a move by Devon farmers to afford the same European protection to the whole Devon cream tea itself led to a protest from rivals in Cornwall. The status would mean only teas produced, prepared or processed in Devon could stake a claim to the name “cream tea”.
Cornish cream tea makers said the application should be dismissed because there was “only one cream tea” – the Cornish version, of course!
The application hangs in the balance as a result of uncertainty over Brexit. Farmers leading Devon’s bid are asking the British government for clarity on what will happen when Britain finally leaves the EU.
The environment ministry has hinted that a new law may be introduced, under a UK protection scheme, to enable Cornish clotted cream and other brands, such as Cumberland sausage and Stilton cheese, to retain their special status into the future.
National Trust apology
Earlier this year, the seriousness of the rivalry between cream tea makers in Cornwall and Devon hit home, when the National Trust apologised because it appeared to favour Devon cream teas in its brochure.
A furore surrounded the release of a Mother’s Day brochure by the National Trust property, Lanhydrock House and Garden in Cornwall, showing a colour photograph of a cream tea with the jam clearly on top of the cream. As the Cornish property was showing a Devon cream tea, local people threatened to boycott the attraction and cancel their membership, while Facebook users voiced their disapproval through social media.
Lanhydrock House issued an official statement following the uproar, apologising for any offence caused by the photo and blaming it on a member of staff, who had apparently been reprimanded. However, the apology appeared to be a little tongue in cheek when it added the staff member had been “marched back over the Tamar” – the river that separates Devon and Cornwall!
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