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Quarantine Tea

Annie Mole via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

One thing about the quarantine. I've heard that a lot of us are indulging our sweet tooth more than usual. Personally, I can tell you I do get a bit peckish around about 4 in the afternoon, which happens to be is what the English call tea time.


Here in the States we certainly can brew up a pot of coffee and grab a cookie or brownie and "do tea", sorta-kinda. But doing something that resembles a real English Afternoon Tea thing isn't hard at all, if you can master two or three simple recipes. And by the way, you'll probably want the kids to help.

We've seen it in movies and on TV (think Downton Abbey), something called Afternoon Tea. It involves pyramids of small sandwiches and cakes, dainty tidbits and of course a china pot of Earl Grey tea. It all looks quite fine, perhaps a bit la-di-da, but curiously appealing.


Oddly enough, this rather formal demi-meal isn't "High Tea", as a lot of Americans think.  Paradoxically High Tea doesn't suggest the higher classes, it being the treat of working class families.  It is served later in the day, is heavier and more savory and is a substitute for supper.  

For our purposes let's keep it simple: we'll be offering a pot of strong Earl Grey tea, scones with clotted cream and jam, and little cucumber sandwiches. Of course you can go further with with egg salad, thinly sliced smoked salmon, chicken mousse, and ham and brie rolls. But for now, let's just keep it simple.


Scones are baked biscuit-like treats that usually contain small bits of dried fruit, or chocolate, or even cheese and herbs. They should be firm and crumbly on the outside, and soft in middle.  It's also all right if they are ever so slightly sweet. A classic scone (also called a "scon") is shaped like a longish triangle, and it should be no darker than golden brown.


The batter for scones is pretty easy to whip up: it's a blend of flour, sugar, salt, butter, baking powder, eggs and cream. You start by mixing the dry ingredients, then slowly add the wet. You are going for a rather dry dough, not something soft and spongy like a bread dough. You should mix it thoroughly, but don't over-work it. After it's together you can add your featured ingredients.  I like dried cherries, personally.


Turn the dough out onto a floured cutting board, and roll it into a thick round disk. It should be about 3/4" to 1" thick. Cut it into wedge shapes, put those on a plate and chill them for about an hour.  This will firm them up for the baking. Pre-heat your oven to 350°, transfer the scones to a cookie sheet and after 20-25 minutes you'll have the finished product.


Clotted cream, that ultra-luxurious dairy product can be purchased at gourmet grocery stores, but you can make your own for less money. Buy a pint of the thickest cream you can find (whipping cream does nicely), pour it into a smallish pyrex cake dish and let it sit in a warm oven for 12 hours. Take it out and carefully cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for another 12 hours. When ready to serve, you gently pour off any liquid (which can be used with cooking) and give the clotted cream a good stir. It will be slightly sweet, slightly nutty and totally decadent.


For cucumber sandwiches, you need tasty soft bread, with the crust trimmed off, a peeled cucumber, and a spread of some kind. The first ones I had, back in my cricket playing days, were buttered on one side and slathered with mayo on the other.  However most recipes call for combinations of sour cream, butter, mayonnaise, even tzatziki. To achieve perfection, slice the cucumber as thinly as possible, dry the slices between paper towels, and season very lightly.  


People recommend that you serve your cucumber sandwiches slightly chilled for freshness.  Prissy? Not until you've tried it.


We strongly suggest that you try this with young kids. The recipes are very easy and there is nothing more fun than a for-real tea party that is delicious and educational.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.