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Christiana Campbell’s Tavern

IMG_1266One of the best parts of afternoon tea is its link with tradition. You get to indulge in a practice that has been around for hundreds of years, connecting with the past through a simple teacup. And though afternoon tea is mostly considered a British tradition, it has also been an institution in America since the colonial era.

IMG_1265This is where Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg comes into play. Marking the edge of Virginia’s historic colonial town, Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern allows you to step directly into an afternoon tea party held during the Revolution. So get ready to enjoy a splash of history with your tea!

 

First Impressions and Service

When Colonial Williamsburg claims authentic, they mean authentic. Every employee is dressed in period outfits, and the tavern is no exception. The only daily seating isn’t until 2:00 pm, but while you wait outside on the wraparound porch, Mrs. Christiana Campbell and her friends will come out to keep you company while her slaves and servants ready your dining room. Don’t expect to talk about iPhones or what happened latest on your favorite television show; I was roped into a lecture about why I wasn’t carrying a fan and how carrying a fan was of paramount importance if I ever wished to find a husband.

One of the house staff

One of the house staff

Once inside, you are served by Mrs. Campbell’s small household staff in three courses. Service is pretty limited to taking your tea order and delivering the food, but you are more part of a presentation than a customer. Throughout the meal, Mrs. Campbell and her friends wander through the dining room telling stories of the current events and daily lives of the colonists. One person sings songs about the Boston Tea Party, and you really wish she wouldn’t. Mrs. Campbell instructs you on the proper etiquette of tea including how to properly hold your teacup. I tried her way, and although it is wrong I’ll stick to mine!

 

Décor

Restored to look as exactly like it did in the 18th century as possible, the dining room is all wood paneling and plain paint. Thank goodness the tavern didn’t use the eyesore bright colors you’ll find in the wealthy homes in Williamsburg. Considering you are partaking in a meal, those bright colors might have upset your stomach.  The tea set and other table settings are all accurate recreations of what would’ve been on your table in Revolutionary America.

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Tea Selection

The teas are all done in bags, and here is where I’m not sure how authentic the selection is. You get two tea bags (so you can do both the same kind of tea or two different types) at the start of the meal and they bring hot water out again halfway through. Mom chose the Earl Grey as always, but since I had a cold I went with a mango green tea. I really enjoyed mine, but I wish they had brought out more hot water when I asked because I was drinking my tea like there was no tomorrow. You’ll have a few options of black teas, a few green teas, and a few tisanes and herbal teas.

 

Food

The server reviews with the room as a whole what is served in each of the three courses. Unless there is an allergy the menu is pretty set. Instead of a tiered stand, each course is brought out one at a time and once the room has finished eating, it is cleared away and the next course is brought out. This takes pacing almost completely out of your hands, making you feel a bit rushed if you aren’t quite ready for the next course (I eat slow at tea time). But as it is more of a meal and a show, pacing is kind of determined based on the performance and less of your own stomach.

Sandwiches

Since only one of the offerings is really a sandwich, it’s almost incorrect to label the savory course as sandwiches, but I am always one for consistency. Only one of the four pieces is a vegetarian option, but since no one in our sitting was a vegetarian I have no idea what they do to accommodate vegetarianism.

Asparagus Tart

Asparagus Tart

There was an asparagus tart with some sort of mayonnaise or mustardy cream and a few pieces of yellow carrot. Not the most appetizing option, the creamy filling overpowered any vegetable taste and the crust was a simple butter and flour pastry.

Smoked Ham on Puff Pastry

Smoked Ham on Puff Pastry

Next was smoked ham salad on a puff pastry. Between the smokiness of the ham and the relish and pickles, this one really reminded me of BBQ. Did they have BBQ in the colonial era?

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

It almost seems a requirement that there be a chicken salad on a croissant. I have the usual complaints (mayo) but the croissant was nice and buttery and the chicken was in chunks not pureed which is always a plus.

Salmon on Cucumber

Salmon on Cucumber

The salmon was less of a sandwich and more of a piece of salmon rolled on top of a cucumber slice with some dill. When salmon is involved, bread is superfluous anyway right?

Scones

The scone course had more than just a little scone on it; there was also a berry muffin and a cranberry tea cake. A dollop of TRUE clotted cream (you go Mrs. Campbell!) and red fruit jam rounded off the plate. The scone was small but had a perfect scone texture. The flavor was a but reminiscent of a buttermilk pancake, so I think they made the scones with buttermilk, but buttermilk pancakes are preferable to sugar cookies any day.

Scone Course

Scone Course

In the usual contradiction: Mom liked the muffin while I liked the tea cake. The muffin tastes like a cupcake with some fruit mixed in the batter and a sugary streusel topping. It is very moist but definitely sweet as a cupcake. I love how there were actual chunks of the fruit and not just fruit jam stirred in. The tea cake is your requisite pound cake; it was also moist and fresh. Not as sweet as the muffin, the cake had pieces of dried cranberry in it.

Desserts

Lavender Shortbread

Lavender Shortbread, Cake, Truffle

It would seem like you just had a dessert course, but apparently cupcake-muffins and pound cake didn’t qualify as dessert back in the days. Instead you get a lavender shortbread cookie with a delicious dipping of white chocolate, another cake topped with almonds and glaze and with a hint of marzipan flavor, and an absolutely decadent chocolate truffle that you will try not to eat the whole thing but won’t be able to stop yourself. None of the portions are unreasonable, so you can totally clean your plates and still be hungry for dinner by 8.

 

Extras

As I said, this is basically tea and a show, so be prepared for a history lesson along with your cup. But that is kind of the entirety of Colonial Williamsburg, and that is definitely part of its charm.  You’ll kind of wish that you were in colonial attire too, so luckily if you’ve bought tickets for entry in the main street of Williamsburg, you can rent some costumes for the little ones at least.

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Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern is a must experience for anyone in Virginia, but particularly if you are at Colonial Williamsburg. You won’t find another afternoon tea like this one!

 

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern 101 South Waller St., Williamsburg, VA, 23185. (757) 229-2141. Reservations required. Cost per person $23.95 tax and gratuity included.

 

Recipe: Cream Scones

Let’s take a one week break from creative combinations and untraditional flavors. Eventually (meaning once I’ve had my fill of experimenting) I am planning on doing a whole series of plain or sultana/currant scone recipes. Every book about tea or scones has its own version of the basic scone. So I have a lot of recipes to try out to find the perfect and most authentic plain British scone!

And for consistency’s sake, I also have authentic British scones in my freezer to compare during this eventual series, courtesy of Ye Olde King’s Head.

IMG_3654But for now, let’s take this week easy and laid back. These cream scones are one of my current go-to recipes for trying new mix-in as they lend well to sweets with their slightly salty taste. They are also hands-down my plain scone recipe known to convert non-scone lovers to willing-scone eaters. When giving these scones to tasters used to American scones, though, be sure to express the caveat that these are more like British scones, less sweet and more vehicles for clotted cream and jam.

Of course if you serve these with authentic clotted cream and jam, even the pickiest scone eater won’t be able to resist.

Sometimes we just need an easy scone, a simple scone, and in those moments reach for this four ingredient recipe and relax in the perfect blend of flour, sugar, and cream.

Cream Scones

Cream Scones

Cream Scones

Ingredients

  • 200 g self rising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 50 g ultrafine baking sugar
  • 150 mL heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 220°C (450°F). Place rack as high as possible in oven. Sift flour and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the sugar and 150 mL cream then work in by hand by rubbing in the cream trying to incorporate as much air as possible until fully mixed. DO NOT OVERMIX. If the mix is too dry, now add one tablespoon at a time of extra cream until the dough is wet enough to hold together.
Place dough on a heavily floured surface and knead a couple of times until relatively smooth. Dust top with more flour and pat down to desired height (we did 1 cm). Cut out 5 cm circles with a crimped circle cutter and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. HINT: dip the cutter in flour before cutting out each scone. Knead the extras back together and repeat until most of the dough is used up.
Bake for 6-8 minutes (we did 8) until they have risen and are slightly browned around the edges and on top. Serve with clotted cream if you are lucky enough to be in England or have made it out to Santa Monica, but with red fruit jam no matter where you are.IMG_3650

Which Comes First? The Jam or the Cream?

It’s a variation on the age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? But of course, since it concerns scones and clotted cream and jam, it is a way more important question than that concerning poultry.

When topping a scone, do you layer cream and then jam, or jam and then cream? Does it truly matter? Which way is the traditional or correct way to top a scone?

Well, there is actual an old rivalry that is still raging today over the proper way to top a scone with clotted cream and jam (though everyone does agree that the jam should be a homemade strawberry for the most authentic delight). And the two epicenters are the same places that battle over their superiority in clotted cream.

The Cornish Way. Photo credit www.hungryhinny.wordpress.com

The Cornish Way.
Photo credit www.hungryhinny.wordpress.com

In Cornwall, they believe that the scone should be topped with the jam first followed by the clotted cream. Some cheeky reasons from the Cornish? “Because we are proud of it, Devonians are slightly ashamed of theirs so they cover it up with jam” says one grandfather. Whether or not that’s true, the Cornish all agree that the jam goes on first and is then topped with a dollop of Rodda’s Cornish cream. If it isn’t Rodda’s, it’s not Cornish.

The Devonshire Way Photo credit www.newcastleeats.co.uk

The Devonshire Way
Photo credit www.newcastleeats.co.uk

Devon, on the other hand, tells the Cornish to stick with their pasties because the jam definitely goes on top of the cream. Otherwise, they insist, clotted cream will end up on your nose and they also compare it to bread. In their logic no one puts jam on top of bread and then butter on top of the jam, so why would one do that with cream and scones? Both sides make a fair point, but neither side is going to budge their position any time soon.

I personally follow the Devonshire way of cream and then jam, but I don’t pretend that this is some statement on authenticity or tradition. It’s more of habit and I think it looks prettier than anything else. What about you? Are you a Devonian or a Cornish person?

Review: The Huntington Library Rose Garden Tea Room

Rose Garden Tea Room

Rose Garden Tea Room

The standard for tearooms in Pasadena and Los Angeles—according to the casual partaker of afternoon tea—seems to be the tearoom at The Huntington Library. When people discover that you are a tea aficionado and are trying all the tearooms you can find, they usually ask if you have gone to The Huntington yet. So at the behests of Once Upon an Afternoon Tea readers, I took the plunge and made reservations for this must-do afternoon tea.

 

Follow the Signs to Afternoon Tea

Follow the Signs to Afternoon Tea

First Impressions and Service

The first thing I noticed when we entered the one room restaurant was the noise, followed by the beehive of servers running around like rabid dogs were nipping at their heels. I understood that it was a Sunday and the place was full, but was it necessary to seem so panicked? A good server who is overwhelmed knows how to hide that from the customers. Server 101, Lesson 1: Your guests should never know that you can’t handle your section. Once seated, the server situation only felt worse.  No sooner had we sat then she ran over with a breadbasket of mini scones, rattled off the flavors, and pushed us into ordering the house tea. The entire hour we were there (and note most afternoon teas we do take between 90 minutes and two hours from start to finish) we felt like they wanted nothing more than for us to scarf down food, pay our check, and leave so they could flip our table to another party. It became an act of defiance to sit there and sip tea slowly. I personally would rather have an almost nonexistent server than one who overzealously tries to push me out the door.

 

Décor

IMG_4347The walls, curtains, and upholstery were all in shades of “old crazy cat lady” yellow, tan, and peach. The curtains were an ancient floral pattern in desperate need of updating. But the worst part of the décor came not from the paint or fabrics, but from the room’s arrangement. You are literally less than six inches from the nearest table with only the narrowest of walkways behind your chair for the mad servers to run behind. China is no china at all, but plain white porcelain? Whatever the material that typical restaurant plates and coffee cups are made out of? Nothing felt comfortable or inviting in the slightest. It was less a tearoom than a room that serves little sandwiches and desserts and whose only beverage is tea.

 

Tea Selection

What selection? If The Huntington had a tea selection, we had no knowledge of it. There is no tea menu (there is no menu at all) and our aforementioned pushy server immediately did a hard sell for the house tea. She never said anything about other options of tea, so we kind of assumed that there wasn’t another option until we heard her tell the table next to us—or rather on top of us—that if they weren’t going to succumb to her forcing the house tea on them, they could choose Earl Grey. By then we were almost done and the blackberry black tea was fine enough to drink. I wonder if she makes commission on how many tables order the blackberry tea?

Hope you like blackberry

Hope you like blackberry

On top of that, warming up the tea consisted of adding hot water to the tea already brewing and becoming bitter in our table’s teapot. I don’t understand how people really believe that adding hot water makes a difference in the bitterness of over-steeped tea, because it doesn’t. The tea is just as over-brewed with extra water as it was before the second pouring.

 

Food

The Huntington Tearoom does not do a traditional afternoon tea service, no matter what they claim on their website. Instead of the typical three-tiered stands with finger sandwiches, scones, and little desserts, they have a buffet in the middle of the room. IMG_0621While great for those with appetites that surpass a usual afternoon tea quantity, a buffet only serves to enhance the feeling of being rushed through like cattle for the rest of us. Note, however, that at the end of your meal the server will bring by a plastic bag for you to bag your scones to-go in, so eat your fill of the sandwiches and desserts and save the scones for later to get the most out of your money.

Take them away...literally

Take them away…literally

Sandwiches

The advantage of a buffet is that there are more options than most tearooms offer for finger sandwiches and if you like particular ones you can have more of those and not waste your stomach on those you dislike (no mayo for me! Extra smoked salmon!).

Grab only what you want to try :)

Grab only what you want to try :)

A debate between Mom and me arose with the Tarragon Chicken Sandwich (chicken, tarragon, mayo, walnuts, and celery on wheat bread): She tasted tarragon; I did not. I felt that there was too much of a mayonnaise and relish taste to the sandwich, but Mom still insists that there was tarragon mixed in with the nicely not pureed chicken salad. We did both agree that the bread tasted very fresh.

The Carrot Ginger Sandwich (chopped carrot and candied ginger with cream cheese on fig walnut bread) was definitely a new favorite that I want to recreate. It was sweet, more like a finger sandwich best served for breakfast than lunch, and the fig-walnut bread was a sophisticated take on cinnamon raisin bread. I had two of these!

Salmon Canape, Carrot-Ginger, Cucumber-Mint, Chicken-Tarragon

Salmon Canape, Carrot-Ginger, Cucumber-Mint, Chicken-Tarragon

Mom’s assessment of the egg salad on white bread was that the bread was once again soft and fresh, but that the salad needed more flavor. There was no seasoning or herb mixed in, so the egg sandwich literally taste like simply egg and bread.

The Cucumber Mint (freshly sliced cucumber and mint with cream cheese) fell victim to the not enough cucumber trap of cucumber sandwiches. Although the mint was strong and refreshing, without any cucumber for substance the sandwich was just too airy.

There is also an assortment of salads.

There is also an assortment of salads.

The smoked salmon (smoked salmon with cream cheese Dijon spread, dill dollop, and cucumber garnish on marble bread) was surprisingly good. I think dill is the best herb to pair with smoked salmon, but not enough places combine the two, choosing capers instead for that briny taste. But dill brings a touch of the pickled sourness of capers with a more refreshing note. This open-faced canapé was tangy, creamy, and worthy of seconds and maybe thirds.

Scones

Every table gets a breadbasket of mini scones in different flavors. The flavors are luck-of-the-oven, completely dependent on what the kitchen is churning out in mass quantities when you sit down. The table next to us received maple bacon scones and chocolate chip scones. We were given almond, cranberry, and apricot scones.

You can take them home.

You can take them home.

In hindsight, I don’t think it really matters what flavor you are brought, since they all sort of tasted the same. I liked how they were brought warm to the table, but since you should take them home anyway it doesn’t really make a difference. All the flavors were rather bland with only little pieces of their mix-ins for not much added flavor. When topped with jam and cream, they all taste the exact same. The texture was nice, particularly noteworthy since they were mini scones, which tend to end up over baked and dry.

IMG_4346The whipped cream is very sweet and fluffy (which I don’t like, see my clotted cream rants). I can’t comment on the marmalade because as I discovered at one of my first tea places, I really don’t like marmalade. These two toppings set me up for disappointment with the watery jam, but I actually was surprised at how tasty the raspberry jam was. It had a great flavor, not too sweet and not too tart, and its only problem was consistency.

Desserts

Dessert Buffet

Dessert Buffet

The brownie and the chocolate mousse cup were laughably polar opposites. While the brownie was rich, thick, and basically a block of fudge (nothing wrong with that 😉 ), the mousse cup was light and airy and shatters in one bit. Talk about dessert antithesis.

The fruit tart’s custard was rather bland, no strong vanilla flavor like so many excellent fruit tarts have, so it tasted more like a raspberry topped cookie than a fruit tart. I will say, though, the fruit they used was wonderfully ripe and fresh. You can taste that it was made that day and not defrosted from mass baking earlier in the week. The nature of a buffet probably makes a difference with that aspect as the food turnover is high.

IMG_0631The pecan bar was a disappointment, especially as I just recently learned at my job that I like pecan bars. Maybe that liking only applies to the pecan bars at work? This one was heavy on the pecan, but there was something about the filling that just didn’t work. I don’t know ingredients of pecan bars yet so I couldn’t put my finger on where it went wrong. And my crust fell off which is always sad.

Grab extras of the tea cookies. They are nice and crumbly like Russian Tea Cakes without all the powdered sugar and if you sneak a couple extras into your scone basket before the plastic bag comes, they’ll blend right in and you’ll have dessert to go.

Tea Cookies

Tea Cookies

On the dessert side was also an assortment of fresh fruit and cheeses. I like the addition of fruit because it allows me to trick myself into thinking that afternoon tea is healthy.

 

Extras

Stroll around the gardens before and then again after your afternoon tea. The Huntington has the most beautiful themed gardens and right now the roses are in bloom. And since you have to pay for admission to the Library in addition to your tea, you may as well get your money’s worth.

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I can officially say that all those who rave about The Huntington Tea Room need to try some of the other places I’ve reviewed. A few food items stood out as good offerings, but between the buffet style service and the being rushed and pushed throughout the whole meal, this place no where near lives up to its reputation as a must-do tearoom. With so many better tearooms minutes away in Old Town Pasadena, unless you are coming for the gardens, The Huntington can be skipped at no loss.

 

Visit The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA, 91108. (626) 683-8131. Closed Tuesday. Cost per person $29.50 plus cost of admission to The Huntington Library.

 

True Clotted Cream

I rant quite a lot on this site about tearooms labeling stiffened whipped cream as clotted cream. So I figured I’d better explain what I am looking for when I review something named clotted cream.

th-3Clotted cream is associated primarily with the south-west regions of England; these counties are the origin of the names Cornish Clotted Cream and Devonshire cream (after County Cornwall and County Devon). Though a lot of people use the names interchangeably, they are not technically the same because one has to be produced in Cornwall using Jersey cows and the other has to be produced in Devon using…Devonshire cows? Both are the thick, creamy, almost butterlike spread that wonderfully top a scone. Typically it has 55% milk fat, hence your ability to stick a knife in it and the knife to stand straight up. This stuff is thick!

True clotted cream at a tearoom!

True clotted cream at a tearoom!

Clotted cream is made by indirectly heating full fat cow’s milk (the Cornish say that the Jersey cows produce the creamiest milk and that is what sets Cornish Clotted Cream apart from the rest) using a water bath or steam. Then the heated cream is left in shallow pans to cool slowly; as it cools the cream clots at the top. This literally clotted cream is finally skimmed off the top of the pan and onto the top of scones everywhere.

Photo credit www.thecupcakeproject.com

Photo credit www.thecupcakeproject.com

This ambrosial substance is difficult to find in the US for affordable prices. I always have a jar at my parents’ house for scone taste testing, but it is definitely an indulgence. Most tea houses in the US don’t consider it cost-effective to serve real clotted cream–neither the stuff from Cornwall nor Devon–so they serve mock-clotted cream which is usually just a stiffened and sweetened whipped cream blend and call it Devonshire cream. To be fair to these tearooms and hotels serving scones and afternoon tea, most Americans have never experienced the glories of true clotted cream and so they won’t notice a difference. But once they have, get ready for an onslaught of clotted-cream-addict emails and complaints because there really is no comparison.

Clotted cream imported from England is sold in jars at some specialty grocers or British stores. Seek it out, I promise it is worth the investment.

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