Battle of the Cream Teas

The residents of Devon and Cornwall don’t agree on much generally, but least of all where food is concerned. A couple of years ago I discussed the ongoing row between those two English counties on the crucial question of pasty crimping: side or top? With issues of that magnitude on the table it’s no wonder there’s so little intermarriage across county lines down that way.

Lately they’ve been feuding over Devon’s attempt to secure Protected Designation of Origin status (called a PDO, like a French AOC or Italian DOC) for the Devon cream tea. Folks in Devon claim it’s necessary in order to protect a ritual that’s been native to the area for nigh on 1,000 years. The Cornish say the application is all about sour grapes over the fact they managed to secure a PDO for clotted cream before Devon.

That may be, but there seems to be strong evidence that the building blocks of the modern cream tea existed in Devon as far back as 1,000 years ago. It’s true that tea didn’t arrive in England until the mid-1600’s. Still manuscripts found at Devon’s Tavistock Abbey that date to the late 900’s show that abbey monks fed laborers with bread slathered with clotted cream and strawberry preserves.

Where did the scones come in? Not until later. How much later is probably impossible to say, though it’s a safe bet that Devonish types adopted the scone well before the Cornish. Even in my day, some 25 years ago now, you could still stay at a Cornish B&B and wake up to a traditional Cornish “split”, basically a yeast-raised roll that was the basis of the Cornish cream tea until very recently.

But the question remains: is it possible to get a PDO for a cream tea? Usually those sorts of designations are reserved for things like wines and cheeses, not so much for an arrangement of component foods. But there’s no question that it’s game of them to try. Whatever happens I think they can at least some consolation that in much of the world (certainly here in the States) the cream tea will always be synonymous with Devon.

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