Have Some Madeira Cake, M’Dear

Suzanne Burlton 10 February 2010

Suzanne Burlton treats herself

I am a big fan of tea. Afternoon tea, taken at around five, is a very civilising affair, not a proper meal but a little something to tide one over until dinner. Unfortunately this is rarely possible in Cambridge as dinner time is so early it practically is teatime. The foodstuff consumed is rarely of great nutritional value: refined sugar and empty carbohydrates are the order of the day.

Indeed, cucumber sandwiches found favour with the Victorians as a status symbol precisely because they contain so few nutrients that they show that one can afford to laze around all day doing nothing rather than working in the fields.

My favourite aspect of tea comes in the form of tea parties: they provide the perfect environment in which to chat convivially and catch up with the latest happenings in the lives of your friends and their associates.

There is much to be said, however, for an uninterrupted, private teatime treat. After a hard day, slaving over an essay which never seems to get any easier, a solitary tea is a great restorative. A small pot of one’s favourite hot beverage (I am particularly partial to fruit teas) and a slice of cake to be consumed slowly with a fork and a good book have a calming effect on the soul.

The precise nature of the tea and cake will vary with the seasons and one’s mood. I find that in summer I really want a light rose tea with a sugary, citrusy cake – a lemon drizzle cake is perfect. In the winter, however, a cup of deep, strong stuff and a large hunk of country fruit cake are the only things which can really lift me out of my essay-induced gloom.

A final word on scones: scones are able to provoke arguments which have a terribly English sense of etiquette and rightness.Pronunciation is the first obstacle,  and after that what I can only call construction.

I eat mine in the Devonshire way: scone (fruited ones acceptable, but plain preferred – wholemeal is just wrong), then clotted cream and then strawberry jam on top. No butter.

I suggest you only serve them if you can do them properly and if you are sure that all everyone involved feels the same way about them.

Suzanne Burlton