Cream tea, Two Bridges Hotel, Dartmoor
A cream tea at the Two Bridges Hotel, Dartmoor

By Gillian Adams

Do you take cream or jam first? This may seem like an unusual question, but it’s one that is hotly debated in the counties of Devon and Cornwall, which lie in the South West of England.

The traditional cream tea consists of scones or Cornish splits topped with strawberry jam and clotted cream, and served with a pot of tea. Cornwall claims that you should put the jam on first, but Devon says it’s the cream. The recognised authority on British etiquette, Debrett’s of London, agrees with Cornwall, that jam first is the correct way to take your cream tea.

It’s the done thing in royal circles too. In 2018, it was reported by The Independent that a former chef of Elizabeth II said: “The Queen always had homemade Balmoral jam first, with clotted cream on top at Buckingham Palace garden parties in the royal tea tent and all royal tea parties.”

Debrett’s also says that the tea should be loose leaf from a pot. Some people may prefer a lighter tea, but I like a strong English breakfast tea with mine to balance out the sweetness.

The idea of tea in the afternoon came about in the early 19th century when the Duchess of Bedford wanted to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner. This afternoon tea included sweet treats and sandwiches. 

According to the Cream Tea Society, it was in the middle of the 19th century that the traditional cream tea evolved and became popular in the South West due to tourists flocking to the region when the railway opened.

Crime author Agatha Christie was also a huge fan of taking tea in the afternoon. Her summer holiday home in South Devon, Greenway, is now owned by the National Trust and houses her family’s collections of silverware and china.

Greenway cream tea  Devon

The National Trust is an organisation that looks after historic houses in the UK and opens them to the public. A few years ago I visited Greenway, which is a Georgian mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens in a high location overlooking a river.

It was fascinating to wander around Agatha’s summer residence, and of course I visited the tearoom for a delicious cream tea. Having sampled cream teas in many National Trust properties, I’ve have found that you can be assured of getting a large scone.

One of my favourite places to enjoy a cream tea is at an independent tearoom at Powdermills Pottery in the centre of Dartmoor National Park in Devon.

This small pottery, that also stocks other local crafts, is housed in part of the buildings that were once a 19th century gunpowder factory. It’s my favourite tearoom as the cream tea comes in the pottery’s own hand-made stoneware, and the food is all locally sourced. Best of all, and the most important thing for me, the scones are light and fluffy and melt in the mouth.

Even though the cream tea is traditional to the area, it’s not limited by it. When travelling in New Zealand many years ago I spotted a number of signs for Devonshire cream teas. I was little curious as to how my local speciality had ended up so far from home and discovered that as New Zealand was once part of the British Commonwealth, it had adopted some traditions and this was one of them.

New Zealand takes cream teas very seriously and there is even an annual 50k marathon called the Tarawera Trail, which includes a refuelling station offering cream teas to athletes. 

This made me wonder how they ate theirs – jam or cream first? Even though I live in Devon, I’m half Cornish and take mine jam first. How would you eat yours?



Top photo, Two Bridges Hotel, Dartmoor:

Powdermills Pottery:

The Independent article: The Queen settles scone debate

National Trust Book of Scones: Amazon UK or Amazon US

Gillian’s Dartmoor walks website: Divine Dartmoor Walks 

Check out my tea time inspired patterns by clicking on the links below:

Cream tea mug by Gillian Adams

Cream tea pattern

Lemon fresh pattern mobile phone case

Lemon Fresh Pattern

© Gillian Adams 2019

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