The English tea can be all shapes and sizes. Morning tea is taken with a cookie or two, whereas afternoon tea is elegant, a matter of silverware and wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches.
Devonshire tea comes with fresh scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam, whereas high tea served around 6 p.m. will include a hot entree like fried fish and chips with copious breads and cakes.
Most substantial of all is a farmhouse tea, where the table is packed with dishes varying from meat pies, salads and cheese to a dozen or more cakes and breads.
The farmhouse tea dates back to an earlier age when work meant hard manual labor with appetites to match. To modern tastes, the following simplified menu still adds up to a hearty meal.
Famous for Double-Crust Pies
The principal dish is Ham and Egg Pie, one of the savory double-crust pies for which the English are so famous. The filling of hard-cooked eggs, diced ham and ground pork is simplicity itself, relying on an age-old seasoning of sage, thyme and nutmeg. The pie should not be rich and melting like French pate, but firm and meaty, rather like cold meat loaf.
This texture is achieved by thoroughly beating the pork and ham filling so it clings together before cooking. Always eaten cold, Ham and Egg Pie is best the day of baking, although it can be kept in the refrigerator.
From my childhood in Yorkshire come two other recipes. Brandysnaps were a festive treat, a crisp wafer cookie whose brandy flavor comes from molasses (the British use golden syrup) and butter, not liquor. (Brandy goes back to the German word brandt , meaning burned.)
An Old Standby
The batter spreads quickly over the baking sheet and must be removed while warm (a non-stick surface is helpful) and rolled around a spoon handle.
Bakewell tart is an old standby, baked in a cookie pan with raspberry jam and a thick soft topping of butter and sugar. There are many versions, but Nanny's was the best because it included ground almonds.
To these I've added a new favorite discovered on the Wensleydale farm of Agnes Metcalfe. When we dropped in for tea last August, ginger cookies were instantly produced to accompany the freshly brewed cup of tea. With three sons and a husband, she habitually makes them by the hundreds, and they don't last long.
FARMHOUSE TEA FOR 8 Ham and Egg Pie Brandysnap Wafers Agnes' Ginger Cookies Nanny's Bakewell Tart Suggested drinks: Strongly brewed Ceylon or Darjeeling tea Everything in this menu, except the meat pie, can be baked a week ahead. Up to one week ahead, bake brandysnaps and store in airtight container. Make ginger cookies and store in airtight container.
Up to three days ahead, bake Ham and Egg Pie, then refrigerate.
Up to one hour before serving, set Ham and Egg Pie, brandysnaps, cookies and tart on plates for serving. Set table.
Up to 15 minutes before serving, boil kettle of water for tea.
Up to five minutes before serving, brew tea.
HAM AND EGG PIE
Pastry for 1 double-crust (9-inch) pie
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
3/4 pound cooked country ham, finely diced
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise
Line 9-inch pie pan with half of pastry. Using electric mixer, beat pork with ham, 3/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, nutmeg, thyme and sage until mixture forms ball, 3 to 5 minutes. Spread half of mixture in bottom of pan. Arrange halved eggs in circle on mixture, pressing down slightly. Cover with remaining meat mixture.
Roll remaining dough into circle and cover meat. Trim excess dough with knife. Flute edge of pie, pressing to seal dough together. Beat together egg and 1/2 teaspoon salt for glaze. Brush pie with egg glaze. Roll dough trimmings. Cut in shape of leaves. Use to decorate top of pie, brushing pastry leaves with glaze.
Make hole in center of pie. Roll strip of foil around spoon handle. Remove foil from spoon and insert foil cylinder in pie hole to form chimney for steam to escape during baking. Chill 15 minutes or until dough is firm.
Bake at 375 degrees about 30 minutes or until brown. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Cover pie with foil. Bake until skewer inserted in center of pie 30 seconds is hot to touch when withdrawn, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool pie. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.
Note: Substitute cooked chicken or game for ham, if desired. Ham and egg pie is best eaten day of baking but can be kept up to 3 days in refrigerator.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light molasses, about
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour, about
Melt butter with sugar and molasses in saucepan, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Cool slightly. Stir in lemon juice and vanilla. Sift 3/4 cup flour. Beat into mixture.