I grew up in North Devon where the cream tea, which was eaten almost as a religion, originates from. Although a cloud hovers over the true origin, which is much debated between the counties of the West Country, Devon and Cornwall. I have been away for over 20 years. Still, when I bite into a scone topped with clotted cream and jam, I close my eyes as the taste transports me right back, to the windy cliff top where I grew up, evoking memories and smells of my childhood.
So what is the debate over this local delicacy and why is it so controversial? Well two reasons: Firstly it’s the order in which you put your jam and cream on your scone. Secondly, hotly debated, is the pronunciation of the scone. It is considered locally, that if you say skone, then you are well-to-do, but if you prefer to name the scone, a skon, then you are from the more working class realms. This story is just local folklore, but adds a bit more intrigue, wanting to make you try something, that stirs up such lively debate on many levels.
This is a very emotive subject in the region of Devon and Cornwall, both counties with strongly opposing views. The debate has now stepped up a gear after Devon-based dairy Language Farm launched a campaign to get European protection for the name “Devon cream tea”. The cream tea was invented by Monks, in a former benedictine Abbey, in Devon. So the history, the provenance, really does come from Devon.
The theory behind the cream tea origin was always the jam component. That was the most expensive, of which Devonian people couldn’t afford, therefore the cream would supposedly go on first with a small portion of jam on the top of that cream.
So famous is the clotted cream, an essential part of this cream tea, that it is now shipped all around the world by famous local producer Nick Roddah whose great-grandmother first started making clotted cream in 1890. You can even order Clotted Cream Online.
So what IS the right way to eat your cream tea? The Cornish insist on spreading the jam first, then adding the clotted cream on top. Meanwhile, Devonians resolutely do it the other way round.
We are going to try the Devonian Method (my roots after all)…
- Make sure you buy plain scones, not flavoured or fruit ones as they tend to spoil the experience.
- You can make your own if you are feeling adventurous – try this recipe. The scones are plain without sugar, light, fluffy, and golden brown. Best eaten freshly baked or a maximum of a day old.
- Slice the scone in half – you will find one is enough unless you are particularly hungry – mind you if you bake your own you can always have a second helping.
- Clotted cream was originally made by farmers to reduce the amount of waste from their milk. It’s made with the milk from Devonian Jersey cows and it’s characteristic yellow crust comes from being baked in the oven for 8-10 hours.
- Add a good dollop of cream on the scone, and push it down with a spoon. Then take another clean spoon and put a medium size teaspoon of strawberry jam on top of the cream. Let this naturally ooze over the cream. Return to plate.
Before devouring what is before you, tempting you to dive straight in – you must remember the essential part of the Devon Cream tea is unsurprisingly tea. A nice steaming hot pot of tea poured with a little milk added, I would recommend a good Ceylon tea. Enjoy!
For those wanting to step over the border and go the Cornish Way just reverse the order of the jam and cream. You decide which is the best way.
Whichever side of the border you sit, or how you eat your cream tea, is a matter of personal choice. I think it tastes divine either way, although there’s a part of me that prefers the Devonian way. These counties sit side by side joined, yet remain divided, over something so simple as a cream tea.