In which we consider tea, cake, insomnia and the terrifying menace of butter…………
Because we are situated somewhat off the beaten track, some of our customers travel quite a distance to reach us to visit our boutique. Sometimes the time taken can be more the result of getting hopelessly lost than the actual distance from A to B but it seems only right and proper that a good cup of English tea should be available to these intrepid travellers. There are also other customers to consider who have not travelled quite so far but who like to take a gentle pause every now and then between bouts of gamely exercising their credit cards in the shop. And so, when the weather is fine, afternoon tea is served on the terrace in the courtyard or on those less fine days which are increasingly becoming a feature of our spring weather here, the visitor can take their place in the recently refurbished vintage tea-room.
This new idea is proving a great hit with my French clientèle who delight in choosing the vintage English china and silver teapots they will drink from and who also enjoy the tea room’s hint of English style decor. The flower patterned curtains are immediately identified as ‘The English Chintz’ and confirm the popular French notion that most English homes resemble either Downton Abbey or a cottage from the set of Midsomer Murders. Similarly amusing misconceptions apply to the idea of ‘l’heure du thé’ or tea time, something which in reality takes place at around 4 o’clock in England but which in the French mind can happen at any time between the hours of 4 and 6.30pm.
The lateness of the hour presents its’ own dilemmas as my French ladies consider English tea to be murderously strong and quite certain to induce years of insomnia if imbibed without due care and attention. Even the weakest pots of tea are regarded with suspicion and only when the palest of light brown infusions is seen trickling into the teacups will everyone relax and enjoy themselves.
When it comes to the serious business of cake however there is rarely any difficulty. Anyone who has ever been in a French supermarket looking for breakfast cereal and perused the acres of double chocolate, triple sugar-coated products on offer will have rightly concluded that the French have an astonishingly sweet tooth.
“Would you like some cake with your tea?” I will ask , “Mais bien sur !” “Well of course!”will be the instant reply. Even the smallest, slimmest hipped of my French ladies is capable of putting away a pound or two of cake in a sitting and on those early occasions when I naively presented a large plate of my various specialities imagining each person would take a piece each, I have been amazed and amused to find on clearing away that not a single crumb remains.
The favourites by far are my scones. I serve them up with teeth-melting quantities of jam and heart attack inducing blobs of crème fraiche and lastly, the most important ingredient to the real enjoyment of a scone – a small pot of butter. And therein lies the danger it would seem. Rarely has a knife held in a French hand even scraped the top of the butter dishes. “But you’ve just eaten all that cream and sugar and jam!” I have said on many occasions “What’s wrong with the butter?” “Oh no!”, they will laugh, licking jam and cream from their lips, “Butter is really bad for you! ” …………….
All photos – © Jane Morley