In the summer of 2007, my grandparents took their three daughters, three sons-in-law, three grandchildren, and one grandson-in-law on a trip to the United Kingdom to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It was an amazing experience–one that we would not have had without their generosity–and it’s fun to have eleven other people to reminisce with about our favorite sites and experiences.
On our first excursion into London, jet-lagged and trying not to start out the trip on a cranky note, the twelve of us descended on The Queen’s Head pub. I think I had a jacket potato (known, on this side of the pond, as a baked potato).
One of the first evenings of the trip, we ate at a fancy restaurant called Chez…Something (that’s how I know it was fancy), where I had some amazing creme brulee. Afterward, we went on a boat tour of the Thames. Throughout the trip, we took over 700 pictures, which would have cost triple the price of our then-new digital camera in film and processing. I think we took at least 100 on this boat trip. Later, I tried to label all the pictures with the names of what we saw, but we saw so much it all blurred together. I remembered the names of these two places, however.
Dexter had his first encounter with fish ‘n’ chips and warm Coke. I’m not sure, but he may count this as the greatest culinary experience of his life.
Harry Potter fans might recognize this scene, which in real life is known as Alnwick Castle. Nearby, it has beautiful gardens, including one garden of entirely poisonous plants.
My family isn’t known for being particularly adventurous, but we broke away from the tour for a day to explore the English countryside. We hopped on a train in York and headed to Thirsk. A helpful employee at the train station looked at my dad and said, “Why on earth would you want to go there?” We had a very specific reason–to visit the home and practice of the late Alf Wight, better known as beloved author James Herriot. When I was in high school and college, my parents really enjoyed All Creatures Great and Small dvds, read the books, and listened to the audiobooks as they drove me back and forth from college every other weekend. We got off the train at Thirsk with “find the museum” as a plan. It was pouring rain. If we had an umbrella, we just had one, so it didn’t make a huge difference. We ran to the closest building, a pub which had just opened. The friendly owner called us a cab, and we sat and sipped our warm, iceless Cokes. Our cabbie was friendly, and although we were completely clueless Americans, he charged us a very fair price for the ride. It was cool to see a place that we had only imagined. We decided to walk back to the train station, but bought umbrellas at Tesco for 2 pounds for the walk. Our train stopped for a good 45 minutes on the tracks on the way back to York because the train ahead of us had caught on fire.
Dexter reenacts the ever-entertaining, repeating story of when Herriot has to stick his arm up a cow’s you-know-what for some veterinary reason or another.
Dexter and I in James Herriot’s car.
I am almost certain this red door belonged to someone famous who is now dead. I’m thinking an author.We saw Edinburgh castle, which was one of the many delightful things we saw in Edinburgh, my favorite city in the UK. Later, we saw Anne Hathaway’s cottage (Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress) and explored Stratford-upon-Avon. I bought a mug there with Shakespeare quotes all over it. I thought it was silly at the time, but I use it all the time and remember the trip.When we were first married, people often said to us, “You can’t be married. You’re only 12!” I wanted to let these people know how offensive that was to a 21-year-old, but didn’t think it would help. I often wondered how many of them actually knew a 12-year-old. On this trip, as we were checking out of a hotel, the woman at the counter said to Dexter, “You can’t be married. You’re only 18!” We were flattered and decided we like British people a lot. However, in this picture at Stonehenge, I can see why people thought we looked so young.
We also saw the Roman Baths in Bath, where heroines went to socialize in Jane Austen’s novels. Later, we visited Winchester Cathedral where Austen is buried. I was looking and looking for her gravestone, but as I walked up to a plaque on the wall about her, I realized I was standing on it.
But, back to Edinburgh. Dexter and I split from our tour group and explored the city with my brother and sister. It was a such a fun day! What sealed the deal was the amazing tea (not just the drink, but the afternoon meal) that we had at the Scotland Institute of Art. They were having a buy one, get one free deal, so we decided to try it out. It was beautiful–and comes in a close second to the performance of Mary Poppins at Prince Edward Theatre in Soho where Burt actually danced on the ceiling for my favorite moment of the trip.
Thanks to the delectable afternoon teas I experienced in the UK, I came back to the states a scone snob. Don’t get me wrong–I still like those big, fruity cookies at coffee shops, but I snicker at calling them scones. Real scones are actually a lot like biscuits, just a little drier. Which makes them the perfect accompaniment to a quality cup of tea. (Or coffee, which British people seem to drink as much or more than they drink tea.)
I knew I couldn’t wait for another trip across the pond to eat real scones again, so I searched high and low for a trustworthy recipe. Lo and behold, Alton Brown came to the rescue. When you make these–and you really, really should–I recommend splurging for some clotted cream and Smuckers low-sugar strawberry jam, which are pictured below. You won’t regret it.
Me, in James Herriot’s kitchen with some fake scones.
(Dried Cherry) Authentic British Scones
slightly adapted from Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here For More Food
- 2 cups (270 g/9.5 oz) all-purpose flour (feel free to substitute a little whole wheat flour)
- 2 tsp. (7 g/.25 oz) baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. (5 g/.25 oz) salt
- 1/3 cup (64 g/2.25 oz) Sugar
- 6 tbsp. (85 g/3 oz) unsalted butter, frozen
- 3/4 cup (177 g/6.25 oz) heavy cream, chilled
- 2 (100 g/3.5 oz) eggs, beaten
- 1/3 cup (85 g/3 oz) dried cherries, coarsely chopped (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375*F.
- Whisk cream and eggs together.
- Pulse flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the food processor 3 or 4 times. (If your food processor is broken like mine, you can sift it. I use one of these. You can also whisk it around probably still end up with scones.) Transfer the dry goods into a large bowl.
- Chop your frozen butter into cubes. Add cubes to dry ingredients and rub until about half the butter disappears and the rest is in pea-sized pieces. (Alton Brown suggests rubbing in the butter as you would rub a puppy’s ears. You can also use a pastry blender or a food processor, like I did, but the won’t be quite as flaky and delicious. *Also–see the picture of the unbaked scone above? You don’t want your butter chunks to be that big. Or they will melt and make a pool of butter on your baking sheet. Smaller pieces = the butter stays in the scone.)
- Make a well in the dry ingredient/butter mixtures. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and mix using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in dried cherries if using.
- Knead the dough on floured parchment or wax paper. I prefer using a silpat.
- Roll into a 1-inch-thick round or rectangle. Cut into 8 triangles. You could also use biscuit or cookie cutters to make these into circles like most of the scones I saw in the UK.
- Place wedges or circles on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Sometimes, I use my baking stone.
- Bake scones for 23-25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a rack to cool.
- Serve at room temperature with clotted cream and jam.
Look at the rest of my At-Home Coffee Shop Series!
I’m linking up today for the first time at Finer Things Friday!