My Jane Austen Society cozy mysteries are set in Yorkshire, England. Erin Coleridge and her best friend Farnsworth Appleby are British, as are most of the other characters in Pride, Prejudice and Poison. So they’re all eating English food.
British food was a joke when I was growing up in Ohio – think bland, overcooked vegetables, stodgy meat pies and gloppy, tasteless puddings. By the time I was twelve, I had memorized the famous Monty Python sketch about spam.
No. No, no, no. That is not the Britain I know. In fact, when I think of the United Kingdom, I think of the food. We had fresh roasted vegetables and coconut shrimp skewers in Bath, grilled fish with ginger and duck pie in Oxford, smoked trout with endive in Edinburgh, and chicken tikka masala where it was actually invented in Glasgow – the Shish Mahal, and they have a charming origin story. (By the way, chicken tikka masala is now widely considered one of the national dishes of United Kingdom.)
But what really blew me away on this visit was the glorious, buttery scones with a generous dollop of fresh clotted cream and homemade cherry jam, accompanied by a cup of proper builder’s tea – strong and hot and comforting like nothing else in this world. The tea that will convince you god’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world, that the novel you just poured your heart into will become a best seller, and that your ex-boyfriend isn’t really happy with that willowy blond yoga teacher he keeps posting about on Facebook. (And what kind of name is Cyprus anyway? Does she think she’s a tree?) The tea that got Britain through the bombing of London – and, you know, helped their tiny island nation save the world from fascism. That tea. (Spoiler alert: I use tea as a murder weapon in Pride, Prejudice and Poison, but it’s not a bad way to go in a cozy mystery, right?)
On a cold, rainswept day in October, with the kind of relentless downpour that is considered a “nice day” in the UK, we interrupted a thankless slog to Heathrow Airport to revive ourselves at a Morrisons Supermarket. Morrisons is a British grocery chain kind of like our Stop and Shop – big, friendly, and surprisingly resourceful.
And they have a café. Fresh prawn and mayonnaise sandwiches (that’s a thing over there), beans on toast (another thing), bacon and eggs, sausage and mashed, Dover sole with artichokes – whatever you can think of, you can basically get at Morrisons Café. And tea. Not a cup, but a proper POT of hot, steaming tea, with a flaky raisin scone with jam and fresh clotted cream for a POUND. That’s about $1.25 (or about fifty cents if you’re reading this after Brexit.)
The lady at the counter was so nice she made me cry a little. Because, you know, driving in England sucks and we were so exhausted. Huddling over our tea and scones, we were so very grateful to this nation of kind, tea making people who are so good to weary travelers.
We don’t have anything like that in this country. Let me repeat that: We don’t have anything CLOSE to that in this country. If, god help you, you order tea and a pastry at Starbucks or Think Coffee any other café, chain or otherwise, you’ll be lucky to get a mug of lukewarm water with a soggy teabag that looks like your cat’s discarded hairball. And if you could find a scone with clotted cream (you can’t), it would be approximately the same price as that pair of leather boots you put on layaway at Macy’s until your next paycheck.
So, yeah. British food rocks. Don’t even get me started on the fish and chips.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Elizabeth!
You can find Elizabeth/C.E. here: