February 13, 2016
One of our favorite things about living in England is the cream tea. If you're unfamiliar with this British staple, I'll explain. While it sounds like some creamy form of tea, that's not it at all - thank goodness!
Cream tea is a pot of tea served alongside a freshly baked scone with clotted cream and jam.
And holy moly, is it delicious. Now, for my American people, an English scone is far superior to what we think of as an English scone. What used to come to mind when I heard the word "scone" was a slightly hard, dry, sweet pastry in a triangular shape. Oh, how far away from the glory of English scones have we Americans come! It's a tragedy, really. While some of those scones are absolutely delicious when they're not dry and crumbling to bits, they still don't come close to a proper English scone with some clotted cream and jam. Not a bit. And served with a hot pot of tea on a cold winter day? It's perfection.
What is clotted cream, you ask? That's a bit of a tough question to answer, actually. Basically, it's a thick cream that's slightly sweet but absolutely melts in your mouth. It's made by indirectly heating cow's milk, then cooling it, during which the cream rises to the top and "clots" (which sounds gross when you say it like that). It's a very smooth consistency, and it's actually less thick than it appears. You kind of put it on as you would a butter, but I tend to slather my scones with clotted cream in a way that would be totally gross with butter!
There's a big debate about cream tea, though: Which ingredient do you put on your scone first - the cream or the jam? I've decided that the best way is to put the clotted cream on first, then layer on the jam. What I've found is that if I put the jam on first, the cream just kind of slides around on top and I don't get an even amount of clotted cream on the whole scone. If I put the cream on first, it holds onto the scone much better and the jam doesn't slide around nearly as much. (This is important stuff, folks.)
Seriously, it is so, soooooo good you guys. And we've found a place where we believe serves the best cream tea in the Midlands, and I would dare project it's the best in England (we absolutely had to take Kathryn and Brandon there when we took them to Warwick Castle on Christmas Eve). It's just a short walk from the castle, and the half-timbered home of the former mayor of the town is over 500 years old. Thomas Oken Tea Rooms is magnificent, and we go there every chance we get!
And that's just what we decided to do on Valentine's Day weekend. We're not big on celebrating that holiday for a lot of reasons, but we wanted to get out of Birmingham on the cheap (surprise, surprise). However, the weather was supposed to be pretty crappy all weekend long, and it was, so we wanted to stick close while also not becoming drenched from standing outside all day long. To Warwick we went!
We started our day with a stop for coffee just across the street from the Snow Hill train station. I was so tired from our weekly Shakespeare Friday hangout the previous evening. In the picture below, the entrance to the train station is there... you just can't see it. Doesn't look much like a train station, does it? That's why we couldn't find it the very first time we went to Warwick (and I had several panic attacks and we missed our train... what a morning)!
Once we arrived in Warwick, antique stores were the first thing on our list. We knew we had seen that one or two existed in Warwick, but this time we wanted to seek them out. You see, one of our very favorite things to do back home was go to antique stores to simply pass the time - it's our form of window shopping. And, subsequently, it's how we've acquired some of our most treasured items which are now so sadly stuck in storage. It was so lovely just being able to wander around the antique stores and fawn over lovely items. We were a bit shocked, though, at the number of quite provocative posters (mostly caricature/cartoon)... the English can be quite a bit more embracing of sexuality and nudity than we Americans at times! But it was lovely to wander the aisles of old oddities just the same.
We grabbed a quick lunch at one of the food vendors in the central town square. They have a weekly farmer's market, and we were grateful for the hot and cheap meal! What we would call "buns" (think a hamburger bun) they call "baps"... most of the time. It's a ridiculous word in my book, but there you have it. Then we stopped for more coffee because we were freezing our tails off. It was a heavy, drizzly rain and it was quite cold for a day out. Plus there's no such thing as a public restroom in England, and we were out all day. Necessity calls. We also wandered around the Lord Leicester Hospital (where I had my first ever cream tea in their cafe).
"The Lord Leycester Hospital is not now, and has never been a medical establishment. The word ‘hospital’ is used in its ancient sense meaning “a charitable institution for the housing and maintenance of the needy, infirm or aged”. The Hospital is an historic group of timber-framed buildings on Warwick High Street dating mainly from the late 14th Century clustered round the Norman gateway into the town with its 12th Century Chantry Chapel above it." [source]
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am forever ruined for the "old" architecture we have back home.
|Notice they call the pharmacy a chemist.|
|I thought this was cute - their cottage is named Six Steps.|
Ah, to Thomas Oken Tea Rooms at last. The building is one of our favorites in the town, and it has a cozy atmosphere. Of course I love all the floral china they use, too. We waited a bit longer to arrive because our train left pretty late, but we didn't realize how busy they had been or how late it actually was. They had stopped serving most foods, but luckily they were still serving cream tea - whew! We ordered our cream tea and waited patiently (okay, maybe not so patiently). And it was well worth the wait, let me tell you.
It was a lovely day spent outside Birmingham as our faux-Valentine's Day date. Antique shopping, lots of coffee, wandering around a medieval town, and the best cream tea in the world. Can't ask for much more than that!