Eating on a train

I love travelling by train, even if I had to do it every day as my son does, I still think I would love it – looking at other people, meeting other people, looking out of the window whether it is day or night, clear or misty, reading on a train, writing on a train… just being on a train… Then of course there is eating on a train. When we go on long journeys we take a picnic… unfortunately I’m usually unable to resist it and eat it within the first half hour of the journey… then it’s over to the buffet car or the refreshments trolley. I know British Rail (as it was and as it still is in my mind) has a poor reputation for catering, but these days it’s got a great selection, and even in the post there was something romantic about the wilting sandwich and luke-warm, strewed tea…

A couple of years ago I wrote about train food… here I’ve combined two parts of something I wrote about train food:


Train travel in a bygone era… For first class passengers utter luxury! Constance Sprye was born in 1886, and in the chapter on Food For Special Occasions in the cookery book she wrote with Rosemary Hume, she recalls a first train journey alone when she ordered a luncheon basket. From the way she writes it sounds as if she may have been about eighteen:

I well remember the first time I had a luncheon basket on a train; ordered ahead by wire it was brought to the carriage at some main-line station en route. Now, I thought, I really am gown up, no more packets of sandwiches for me. Someone must have tipped the guard, for a remember he brought a fresh footwarmer and enquired if I was comfortable. hair up, long skirts, luncheon basket, the Strand Magazine, on my way to my first house party – I was beginning life. In the basket was a wing of chicken, roll, butter biscuits, cheese, and, I think, celery and possibly cake or a jam tart and an apple, and I have an idea that it cost 2s. 6d. (two shillings and six pence, about 12½p in money now)

Today we are going on a train journey; we will probably have a coffee on the train, but no footwarmer, no need in modern heated trains! If there is not a buffet car, the trolley will come round offering sandwiches, sausage rolls, snacks and crisps, chocolate and cakes, but we will have our own packed sandwiches and snacks!


I mentioned our train journey the other day, we have another one today! We won’t be having a picnic lunch anything like Constance Spry describes in her Cookery Book!

Here is what she says about train food, (and its interesting to read about the difficulties picnic makers had in the past without our modern wrapping sheets, plastic bags, snap-lock boxes etc):

The primary qualification about such food is that it shall taste fresh and be really appetising. it should never bear the faintest trace of paper flavouring, something not so easy to avoid as one might think. Sandwiches or bread and butter, and chicken, may each be wrapped in  lettuce leaves to keep them away from napkins or wrapping paper, and whenever possible special food cartons should be employed.. and. for keeping salad fresh. Porosan bags. I should like to give you the details of a delicious meal made by one of the family for a small party going up to the far north.
Each of us was handed when we got into our sleepers a small, neat cardboard box containing two little screw-top cartons and other small packages. In one carton was a freshly made lobster salad in a delicious dressing, the second carton contained fresh fruit salad of peaches, strawberries and orange. Crisp poppy-seed rolls were quartered and buttered, and a Porosan bag held the crisp heart of cos lettuce. There were small cream cheese rolls made by taking two short pieces of celery, filling the hollow made when they are put together with cream cheese and rolling the whole in brown bread and butter…
… Thermos flasks, a commonplace to all of you, have brought about the possibilities that would have seemed miracles to us: consommé, coffee, and even toddy, all kept warm for many hours.

Lobster salad! Good grief!

I guessed that Porosan might be some sort of pre-plastic food covering and after a lot of trailing through different sites, found this:

Porosan was a thick plastic skin (the book calls it a ‘synthetic skin’) that was ‘shrink-wrapped’ using a hot water bath method and which produced excellent and safe results. A real shame it’s no longer available, it’s easier and cheaper than replacing rubber rings on Kilner jars.

I see that it is available as waxed discs for making jam on Amazon – if you should want some. it”s not to be confused with Indonesian porosan ‘a dried betel preparation’!


Christmas visitors

I came across some notes about Christmas time in Yorkshire;  visitors were always welcome, especially at this time of year and invited in for mulled ale, spice cake or Yule cake – served with cheese, the Yorkshire way!  I had thought frumenty a west country speciality but apparently it was popular in rural Yorkshire as well…maybe it is traditional in all parts of the country, with variations of name and recipe! It is a simple dish/drink made from boiled grain and with milk/cream and eggs added, and on special occasions more luxurious ingredients such as almonds, dried fruit, and rum!

Visitors during the week following Christmas Day were often given a slice of pepper cake, or spiced ginger cake with a glass of home-made wine and specially made cheese which was marked with a cross. Also traditional was Yorkshire Spice Bread which varies slightly in different districts. In Ripon it is called Ripon Spice Bread and when made at Christmas was called Yule bread.

Here is one recipe for pepper cake, although I am sure each home had its own special way of preparing it – I think it sounds very, very sweet, and I would at least double the amount of spice for this quantity of ingredients:

  • 12 oz plain flour
  • 12 oz black treacle
  • 4 oz butter or margarine
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 4 oz soft brown sugar
  • ½ oz ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda or pearl ash (potassium carbonate fist discovered in 1742, and used particularity in the USA in the eighteenth century for leavening bread and cakes)
  1. rub the butter or margarine into the flour and spice, add the sugar and mix in
  2. mix the raising agent with a little milk and add it and the treacle to the mixture
  3. add the beaten eggs
  4. bake for about an hour at 180°C, 350°F, gas mark 4

According to Joan Poulson who has written about Yorkshire recipes and customs, this was given to carol singers and other visitors, who would then respond with a little ditty:

A little bit of pepper cake,
A little bit of cheese,
A little drink of water,
And a penny if you please!

I think they would be disappointed to only get water at this time of year!

The Amazing Tagine

As part of our 73 blog challenge one of the suggestions is ‘checklist’. I have written about it before, but here’s another take on me and checklists:

I’ve  shared this recipe for fabulous lamb tagine with many friends, but I haven’t actually told the story behind it, nor what happened the first time I cooked it. For some reason I don’t like making lists, and if I do make a list I lose it, forget to take it wherever I need it, or miss something vital off or add in some totally random thing which I then puzzle over when I reread the list for whatever purpose I’ve made it.

I heard a radio programme while I was driving somewhere, when someone described making this lamb tagine. I managed to remember the programme and then looked up the recipe and I did actually make a shopping list of what I needed. We have loads of herbs, spices and other common ingredients always in the cupboard and then I substituted a different cut of lamb for the shank and  had a shopping list which was something like


I have this often-proved-wrong faith in myself to remember what my jotted notes meant so when I got home having been to the shops and set to with making the tagine, it soon became pretty clear that it wasn’t going to be quite according to the recipe – which I actually was following.

I’d bought the vegetable fennel – I should have written fennel seeds on my shopping list. I put the fennel to one side to make into soup another time. I had also bought ground ginger which would give the dish a completely different flavour from what should have been on the list, root ginger. The garnish was completely different from what was intended because I had bought actual fresh lemons not Moroccan preserved lemons. The garnish was also original because I’d got figs instead of prunes, so yes it wasn’t what was intended.

It smelt good, it looked good, but there was something wrong with the flavour – it had a very bitter taste which wasn’t what I expected. When I checked  it seemed I’d used smoked paprika instead of sweet… such a little thing made so much difference!

So thinking maybe I need a proper checklist in future to make sure my tagine is always as good as it was when I did assemble the proper ingredients and I did follow the recipe in a focused way, here is my plan:

Amazing tagine checklist:

Do I have these spices, and enough of them: sweet paprika (best quality v important),  fennel seeds, cinnamon sticks, turmeric, cardamom pods, cloves, coriander seeds, star anise, bay leaves, fresh coriander, fresh mint?
Do I have these other ingredients: lamb shank, large  onions, garlic, red chillies, fresh ginger, pre-soaked prunes, preserved lemons, almonds
Do I also have chicken or lamb stock, olive oil, salt?
Do I know what I’m going to serve with it, and have I got whatever it is: rice, couscous, cracked wheat, bulgur wheat etc?
Have I got the right sized pan, serving dish, dishes for rice and garnish?
Have I properly worked out the time it will take to cook (best cooked the day before, 3-4 hours, then reheated)?
Before I start cooking have I weighed out all my ingredients and got them to hand (I know how things like to disappear when my back is turned – or someone might have rearranged the cupboards and inadvertently concealed them)
Do I know what plates/bowls I’m giving to my guests, and are they warming ready to go on the table (which has been laid)

Amazing tagine ingredients for 4:

4 lamb shanks or 2 ½ lbs lamb
2 dsp sweet paprika (best quality v important)
1 dsp fennel seeds
1½ sticks cinnamon
4 dsp turmeric
5 cardamom pods
5 cloves
½ dsp coriander seeds
2½ star anise
3 bay leaves
2 ½ large strong onions (v finely chopped)
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 red chillies (finely chopped)
25g fresh ginger (peeled & grated)
1½ litres chicken or lamb stock (homemade preferably)
olive oil
For the Garnish
2-3 preserved lemons chopped very small
6 pre-soaked prunes  chopped very small
handful toasted almonds roughly chopped
handful chopped coriander
handful chopped mint
optional olive oil and lemon dressing

Amazing tagine recipe:

  • fry the onions garlic, ginger and chilli
  • add the spices and gently cook them for a few minutes, taking care they don’t burn which would make them butter
  • add the meat (you may prefer to brown it first, take it from the pan and then cook the onions etc – I prefer to do it the other way round to give it more flavour)
  • add the stock – as much as you think you need (you can always add more later) and bring to a simmer
  • put in a slow oven/slow-cooker for 3-4 hours – I don’t think it can overcook if it is on a slow-setting!
  • either cool and keep for the following day (improves the flavour) or serve with the carbs of your choice
  • optional – just before serving in add half of the prune/lemon/herb garnish mixture

Amazing tagine garnish recipe:

Make this half an hour before serving the tagine:

  • Mix the chopped prunes, lemons and herbs
  • if desired add half of this to the tagine just before serving
  • dress with olive oil and lemon juice if desired
  • scatter a few more chopped herbs and the almonds over the top
  • put into small dishes on the table to be added by your delighted guests!

Maybe with a checklist I will manage not to forget anything!

© Lois Elsden 2018

A menu for June

In one of my writing groups, the topic for this month was ‘menu’; some wrote stories, some wrote memoirs, one wrote a poem, I wrote a piece about a menu:

Looking at my nearly ninety year old cookery book, Modern Practical Cookery, I can see they have a rather splendid menu for June! In one section of this eight hundred page volume, there are ideas for a menu for each month. These monthly menus all have a suggested table decoration, for example January has lilies of the valley and violets in a green glass bowl. February anemones, March ‘the loveliness of native tulips with yellow jonquils as contrast. The yellow flowers against the lovely translucent green of the tulip leaves are delightful’. As well as the flower, foliage, fruit as table decorations, there are suggested pots and vases, for example ‘old pewter drinking mugs’, or ‘the soft delicacy of a Chinese bowl’,

Doesn’t this sound simple yet effective for June:

Roses – and they will look their proudest and best if they are in a bowl of cut crystal. (Choose thick-stemmed roses, and scrape the ends) It is best to buy the day before, so that they have time to open a little.

Each menu has a starter, as we might do, a main with vegetables, a dessert and then a savoury. It’s no longer something we have, and maybe we would find it strange – unless it was cheese and biscuits. In this selection of monthly menus the savouries are varied, and sometimes quite hearty, anchovy fingers, cheese sticks, cheese soufflé or cheese eggs, tomato or mushroom or soft roes on toast. Our tastes have changed!

The starter for June is asparagus; when we were children asparagus was a treat but not a luxury. My dad had an asparagus bed which must have been about 30 or 40 foot long and he had maybe fifty crowns, I don’t know what variety, I wish I did, maybe it was Connover’s Colossal, a very old variety first introduced in the nineteenth century. It was recommended in a book my mum bought dad, him in the first year of their marriage, 1948, Practical Gardening and Food Production in Pictures, by Richard Sudell.

In another old book I have, The National Mark Calendar of Cooking, dating from the 1920’s Ambrose Heath writes about asparagus:

Nothing surpasses carefully cooked asparagus! But, being a rather delicate vegetable, it is readily spoiled by bad cooking. The common mistake is to overboil it, so that the buds are more than tender and break away from the stalks. The time to allow for cooking naturally depends on the size, age and variety. It is, therefore, necessary to use one’s judgement.

… and he recommends cooking it in a fish kettle and serving it with oiled butter. In this June menu, oiled butter is suggested: the asparagus should be simply served, the recipe suggests with oiled butter ‘ – we would call it clarified butter.

So, to the menu for this month, described as ‘the perfect beginning for a little dinner in June. Here you will find it, the first of our four delightful dishes in a menu arranged for six people.


MIlannaise cutlets
Potato chips
Caramel trifle
Eggs on cocottes

I’d not heard of Milannaise cutlets, but they are trimmed, egged, breaded, fried cutlets, served with thick gravy poured around them and a white sauce on top. The white sauce isn’t just a plain white sauce, it’s flavoured with onion juice, 2 oz. each of ham, mushrooms and broken spaghetti pieces.

If I were to use this menu, I would choose a different, fresher dessert, however caramel trifle does sound rather nice – but would I want to follow it with eggs en cocottes with cheese sauce and slices of tomato and gherkin! I think not!

If you fancy the caramel trifle, here’s the recipe:

Caramel trifle

  • square sponge cake sliced into four, or eight sponge fingers
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 pint milk
  • cooking sherry or rum
  • apricot jam
  • 1 dsp castor sugar
  • 2 castor sugar
  • whipped cream
  • walnut halves
  1. make a caramel with the 2oz sugar and 1/8 pt. water, let cool
  2. heat the milk and add the caramel and dissolve
  3. add beaten eggs to caramel milk, strain and heat it over hot water or in a Bain Marie until it thickens
  4. add the 1dsp castor sugar and leave to cool
  5. place sponge in a serving dish and spread with jam, then soak with sherry/rum
  6. pour over cooled custard
  7. when set and chilled, decorate with cream and walnuts

© Lois Elsden

73.4 Bisquit eating.


Our dragons Brimdraca and Eorðdraca  have been challenging themselves to tackle a list of seventy-three different subjects on which a blog could be written…  The suggestions are very wide-ranging and aimed at people from every area of life who might want to write a blog, not just writers.

This is one in the series – “Controversial subjects”

Custard Creams – an appreciation.


You only have to mention ‘Custard Creams’ to an English Person and the immediate thought is, ‘my favourite biscuits.’ There is no need to specify ‘biscuits’ as the connection is obvious. They are the Nation’s favourite biscuit, or the ninth, depending on which survey you trust – if any.

Why is this? Is it the taste of the biscuit, the cream filling or the look with its plagiarism of a sandwich adorned on each surface with the victorian idea of fern leaves, or is it something deeper in the psyche with the harking back to childhood and comfort foods?

When your spiritual guide is visiting for tea in the afternoon, she may refuse your offer of, ‘more tea vicar?’ but she will always accept, ‘perhaps just one more biscuit?’ if, of course, you have served Custard Creams.

Custard creams are neither luxury and guilt inducing, like Belgian chocolates, nor cheap and cheerful as is Tesco ready-made, gritty, spag boll and the like. No, they are carefully sited in between, luxuriant without being indulgent. Able to be eaten at any time of day and not limited to the singular. A complete cellophane wrapped number has been known to disappear in one sitting without residual guilt, just a few crumbs remaining around the mouth as evidence.

People eat them in different ways, of course. They are excellent indication of inner underlying character. Who has not seen the CCG ( Custard Cream Gulper ) who will insert a complete biscuit in the mouth without caring to partake of a small, savouring bite first? This is only acceptable in polite company, of course, when there is an absolute ban on any crumb residue to evidence the activity.

Signs of the inner child may be seen when an acquaintance breaks the seal between the biscuit layers, having taken a small, silent, internal wager on which semi biscuit the cream will adhere. If this is on the upper, then a swift dextrous turn will result in the cream filling being displayed, ready for the 360 degree nibble to remove the excess that has been squeezed from its original deposited position. This is followed by first the non creamed side, then the long awaited creamed side. This method, of course, demonstrates the delayed gratification so beloved of psychologists as the ratio of cream to biscuit is twice that of the complete artifact. Danger lies with this method, however. As with most childhood eating methods, it is difficult to carry out the complete procedure without leaving some crumby trace behind and some creamy trace around the lips.

Occasionally you may see an eater of a custard cream insert it in the mouth sideways, that is with a long side leading. Someone who does this is evidentially untrustworthy and should not be left alone with the silver tea spoons.

The correct eatiquette is as follows:
Take an offered biscuit gently from the plate. Raise it to eye level and check for

damage. Reject any biscuit that is not perfect – is the fern display smudged? Are the two halves firmly adhering to the cream filling? Is the cream filling central, smoothly deposited and of an even thickness?

Turn the biscuit so that a short side is facing the mouth. Insert the biscuit and bite off precisely one third of the length. This may be difficult for you to judge at first but DO NOT WORRY, your judgement will improve with daily practice.

While you enjoy the first third of the biscuit, remove the remainder from your mouth and carefully rotate it ninety degrees in the horizontal plane.

Now your judgement is again required as you carefully bite off exactly half of the remaining two thirds of the biscuit.

When you have fully consumed this, the remaining third can be carefully masticated.

You have now proudly completed the third/third/third procedure and can regard yourself as a fastidious and precisely controlled person. Extensive successful eateration of this procedure will entitle you to the award of the Golden Biscuit. This may only be worn at white tie receptions or with full dress uniform.

How to deal with crumbs.
This is a question that the keepers of THE RECIPE are often asked.

There are several ways but I will only concern myself with the best known and most often seen methods.

1 – The Undercup.
This involves having two hands free for the eating of the Custard Cream.

One hand manipulates the biscuit, depending on the method chosen – see above. The other hand is cupped below the mouth and pressed firmly against the chin so as to allow no crumb leakage between the edge of the hand and the chin. This hand then collects all crumbs that may drop from the biscuit eating and manipulation operations that will be going on above. After the completion of the biting operations it is safe to remove the hand, while ensuring that all crumbs remain in the cupped hand. Once chewing and swallowing is complete then the cupped hand may be held up to the mouth and the crumbs tipped into the open mouth whence the biscuit aftertaste may be savoured – much in the same way as a fine wine. This operation should not be hurried.

2 – The Tilt.
This method should only be used in public after much private practice as an

apprentice practitioner may find herself falling over backwards like a penguin watching a helicopter passing overhead in the Falkland Islands.

It consists of carrying out any of the procedures mentioned above while tipping the head back as far as possible. The mouth is open during all biting operations and so gravity will ensure that all crumbs descend into the mouth.

A major disadvantage of the crumb collection method is that the aftertaste lingerance is much shorter than method “1 above.

Here I must append a short note on the increasing fashion of dipping the biscuit in tea before eating. Adherents of this method will attempt to justify themselves by saying that the biscuit tastes better and there are no crumbs. The first justification is self evidently incorrect as the taste of a Custard Cream has been perfected for some years. The riposte to the second is that while there may be no dry crumbs, there may well be the descent of a soggy blob of biscuit material on to ones clothing. Please do not try this disgusting habit of ‘dunking’ as I believe it is called.

3 – The Gulp.
I have mentioned this method before. It is normally only used in polite

company when a few crumbs on the carpet would be a major indiscretion. The easy way to

avoid this conundrum is to refuse the offer of a Custard Cream but, however, for some reason this very seldom happens and so the perpetrator is forced down the route of the gulp. You may think that the ‘Undercup’ or ‘Tilt’ methods of crumb control could be used but these are not completely foolproof. I think you can see that this unapproved method is only used by weak vessels who cannot resist the lure of a Custard Cream – even when contra-indicated.

It has recently come to the notice of the keepers of THE RECIPE that some audacious people have embarked on the manufacture of a spread that purports to mimic the taste of Custard Creams. This is not authorised by the keepers of THE RECIPE and so cannot hope to replicate the unique sublime taste of the cream filling we all know so well. Please be aware that it may well contain trans fats and other ingredients that may have deleterious, not to say, egregious, effects on the human body. We just hope that these effects do not approach the existential.

This appreciation was prepared with support from the keepers of THE RECIPE.

© Richard Kefford    2017                                                                             Eorðdraca

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A nice cup of tea

This is Gillian’s response to Lois’s recent post of ‘A nice cup of tea.


Vi was of the opinion that a nice cup of tea was the answer to most troubles.    Sitting down for a start helped, sipping good hot tea dried tears, and sharing a cup of tea and ones troubles quite often put things to rights.

Vi lived on her own since her husband Fred had died, unlamented, it has to be said, serving his Queen and Country.    She kept an eye on her mother, Florrie, who lived down the road, and enjoyed being an Auntie to her sister’s two boys.

Florrie had had three girls.   Vi, who was christened Violet, Primrose (who hated her name and shortened it to Ros as soon as she left school) and Lily.   Lily was intended to be christened Cowslip (Florrie having a love of spring flowers) but the Vicar had a quiet word,  and Lily was chosen instead.

Ros was a bright girl, with no intention of staying in what she described as a town dead from the feet up.  She flew the nest in a flurry of hurt feathers and recriminations, met and married a Canadian and disappeared into the depths of Toronto.

Vi and Lily were close, so when she appeared in Vi’s kitchen, in floods of tears, Vi put the kettle on, sat her down with a box of tissues, and prepared to offer tea and sympathy.

“What’s up, then Lil?”

“Its George”, she sniffed, wrapping her hands round the mug of tea.   (George was her husband,  a rather florid man, who worked in the local paper mill)    “The Doctor said he’s diabetic, and he’s got to lose weight.   He’s given him a diet sheet, and its all these things he doesn’t like, and you know how he loves his beer, and he said he’d got to go back for another blood test in a month,  and he’s furious, stamping  around, says no-one’s telling him what to eat and that, and I don’t know what to do!”   And she burst into tears again.

Vi rapidly sorted the pronouns out in her head.    “Is that old Dr. Wright, or that new chap?”

“The new one.   George says he’s a pipsqueak, who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  But he was lovely with me when I went about my bit of trouble. Is there another cup in that pot?”

Vi filled Lily’s mug again and passed her the tissues.

“He’s good, that new chap.   Found out what was really wrong with little Billy Hobson, and got him into hospital quickly.   And you can die from diabetes, you know.   That’s what that Len Pearson died of, him that used to deliver the fish.   Always munching sausage rolls, cheeseburgers, all that sort of thing”.

Lily looked gloomily into her mug.

“I know.   It’s persuading him to keep to this diet.   I don’t mind cooking the stuff like it says, it’ll be a change from him keep asking for chips and that.   I like cooking.   But he’s likely throw it in my face and march off to the pub”.

“Well, you have to tell him, Lily.   His health is his responsibility.   It’s not up to you.”

“I know, but you know what George’s like.”

“Now look here, Lily, you’ve got to get him to see the seriousness of this.   Tea time tonight, you make something that he can eat off his diet, make it look really good, you know.   Then sit down and ask him straight out ‘Have you made a will?’

“He hasn’t, I know that for a fact” said Lily

“Well, when he starts blustering and that, say, well, Diabetes is a killer, its all in the papers, and if you don’t do what the Doctor says, then you are in trouble.    And tell him you’ll do your part, but he’s got to look after his own health.   Then leave it.   If he starts being nasty, go in the kitchen and shut the door.   Do the washing up, or something.”

“You’re right”, sighed Lily.   “I’ll do what you say, but if he throws the plate at my head, then I’m coming round here”.

“Good for you!   Want another brew?”

“Why not?   Can’t beat a nice cup of tea for sorting out troubles, can you?”

© Gillian Peall 2017

A nice cup of tea

Sometimes the mood to write descends but unfortunately there seems to be no inspiration, and the blank page or screen stares reproachfully, and the little wriggle of an idea loses courage and wriggles away. This may have been what happened to Ted Hughes when he had an empty page before him, and from that came a beautiful poem, The Thought Fox which is a poem about writing a poem… there is no actual fox at all, even though we might see it as we read the verse.

So what to do if you want to write but have an empty head? if you’re a tea drinker, have a nice cup of tea… it doesn’t have to be a real cup or real tea any more than the thought fox was a real fox, but write about a nice cup of tea, or coffee, or glass of crystal clear water drawn from a mountain spring –  why you might have a glass halfway up a mountain, standing by a spring doesn’t matter, because it’s not a real glass or spring or mountain.

When I was a teacher of some quite challenging but great young people, trying to get a discussion or debate going was impossible, nothing engaged them, even the most controversial topic… however there were two subjects which caused the most fierce and well argued discussion:

  • TIF or MIF? Tea in first or milk in first?
  • Cream tea – jam on first and cream on top, or cream on first and jam on top?

If you want to write and are bereft of inspiration, argue each way for TIF/MIF, and cream jam/jam cream. Once you have sorted that little difficulty out, consider the tea itself, leaves or bags? Metal or china pot? Stir or don’t stir? And in every country there is a vast array of different teas – teas made from tea, and teas made from every sort of leaf, petal, herb and spice you can think of – choose your favourite!

Recently we were in Australia and we stayed in quite a few different places and the most common tea we were given in our hotel rooms was Dilmah which we had never heard of but comes from Sri Lanka. We bought a box of tea so we could make some when we wanted and bought Dilmah as it’s nice and strong and full of flavour. Inside the box was a little leaflet with the history and background to the brew. The Dilmah company was started by Merrill J. Fernando and he created the name from his two sons names, Dilhan and Malik. He was determined to grow and produce a first class Ceylon tea, and to produce it ethically too. He also has two charitable foundations supporting people in need and nature conservation. It was an interesting little leaflet, tea is something you just take for granted, you know it is a leaf which grows on a bush and is picked and dried, and it’s grown in India, Sri Lanka, China and Kenya… and a few other countries too including some small estates in England, yes, England.

I began this post with no clear idea what I was going to write about; I actually could write a lot more, my family and tea, the social history of tea, tea drinking today, tea in literature…

There is never an excuse not to write – you might not be writing your masterpiece… but on the other hand, you never know…