Tall Teatime Tales

The Cream Tea: should one put the jam on first, and then the cream; or the cream on first, and then the jam?

The Devon cream tea specifies cream first, then jam, thus anchoring the cream on the scone firmly. The Cornish advocate jam first, then cream. Perhaps this is because they do not move the scone around much. I can vouch for the fact that if you gesture wildly with a Cornish cream tea, the cream can end up in any number of places, not least someone worthy lady’s decolletage.

Felix asserted with zealous conviction that it is in fact against the law for someone to make a Devon cream tea in Cornwall. And vice versa.

I should have applied the brakes, but my mouth was too full of scone, jam and cream.

“I once saw this documentary,” he ventured, and we all took a deep breath. Evaluation, in these cases, is all, for he speaks with the authority of Archimedes himself, but not always with the same bedrock of factuality.

“I once saw this documentary where a man found a house which was exactly on the border between Devon and Cornwall,” he continued authoritatively, “and in the house was a room which was split exactly between Devon and Cornwall too.”

This seemed wildly improbable.

“…..and the reporter sat in the Cornish part of the room and he made a scone with the cream on first. And the he sat in the Devon part of the room, and put the jam on first. And so he had committed an offence in two counties.”

The mental picture of the local Devon and Cornwall constabularies screeching up outside the house to arrest the offending cream tea maker was compelling.

“But Felix, I said, “I thought that the border between Devon and Cornwall was the River Tamar.”

Felix did not miss a step. He knew he was rumbled. But his grin got much, much wider.

“Yes, that’s what I said, ” he continued. “he made the cream teas in a boat in the middle of the Tamar!”

I adjusted that mental picture of police cars to police boats.

There is no better word to describe tales like that than ‘tall.’

The historians can trace the term as far back as Cambridge satirist John Eachard’s The Ground and Occasions of the Contempt of the Clergy, published in 1670. It is a book lampooning the style of address used by clergy and politicians. The author’s father was a clergyman.

If a sermoniser uses constable’s talk, Eachard says, he is thought honest and well-meaning but not bright. But if he ‘soars aloft in unintelligible huffs, preaches points deep and mystical, and delivers them as dark and phantastical” then he is thought most able. Tall words, he says, are what dazzle; tall words and lofty notions.

The tall tale: an art, used carefully.

Take Alfred Bulltop Stormalong, the American folk hero: beached in New England as a baby he got a job as a watchman on a ship. He left sea to try his hand at farming and ranching but circumstances discouraged him: he ended up returning to sea, and attracting acclaim for his activities.

Thing is: he was five fathoms – 30 feet, to you landlubbers – tall.

His ship was so long the men had to use horses to get from one end to the other. and its mast was so high it had to be folded down to let the moon pass by.

His battles were with tornadoes and ancient sea creatures. A myth, old Stormalong. The tallest of tall tales.

The gandiloquent tall tale is a gift.

But best not tell too many; or the edges between tale and truth might blur.

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47 thoughts on “Tall Teatime Tales

  1. I’m so unsophisticated I didn’t know there were rules for these things… Just as well I have you, Kate, to keep me right on the proprieties. I’d hate to be arrested for a jam offence πŸ™‚

  2. now I know what the difference is! we have cream teas in both Devon and Cornwall and personally I thought they were the same πŸ™‚

  3. are cream (and jam) scones a tall tale?
    I have a habit of making just one scone, if I want one for tea. They go stale so quickly otherwise, but I seldom have cream to hand for them ;-(

    1. That sounds like an art form, Sidey. I can never make less than ten…I think Felix’s involvement of the Conserve Constabulary qualifies it as a very tall tale indeed πŸ˜€

  4. yum πŸ˜€ i normally put jam first, but i guess it doesn’t really matter, it still tastes awesome

  5. Now, the safest thing is to avoid cream teas!
    Felix’s tale is true when it comes to licencing laws and small independent states on the Continent.
    I do not believe that tale a-tall, a-tall! πŸ™‚

  6. Always the peanut butter first and then the jam…heavenly!
    Bravo to Felix for his budding penchant for story telling, don’t confuse him with the facts.
    β€œI believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge – myth is more potent than history – dreams are more powerful than facts – hope always triumphs over experience – laughter is the cure for grief – love is stronger than death” – Robert Fulghum.

  7. Cream first or last either way they are a delicious concoction, but it must be strawberry jam with Devon or Cornish clotted cream for me.
    Felix has definitely inherited your story telling gift.

  8. Aha, I live with a tall man who tells tall tales, only thing is that after a while he starts to believe in them. tee hee Felix is quick on the retake and will do well for it in life. I imagine such lively teas at Shrewsday Manor.

  9. I’m not that familiar with scones or tea, but what I see in that photo is exactly what I need to go with the cup of coffee I’m enjoying at the moment. Looks divine!

  10. Love this: Evaluation, in these cases, is all, for he speaks with the authority of Archimedes himself, but not always with the same bedrock of factuality.

    Why let FACTS get in the way when one has something to say? πŸ˜›

  11. Aren’t there rules for tea as well? If I brew it in a pot, I pour my cream in the cup before I add the tea, because it stirs the cream around better. But, if I brew the tea in the cup, then I add my cream after, because it cools the tea and dilutes the brew.

    Felix is destined to be an attorney. Definitely.

    1. Oh, don’t get me started on tea, Andra πŸ˜€ The rules surrounding tea are complex indeed. And different for each blend. I remember the young bucks at university would impress their women by inviting them back to their rooms….only to be confronted with a bewildering array of blends of tea. Even more bewildering was their encyclopaedic knowledge of how to serve them: tea, no lemon, no milk, milk in last, yada yada yada….
      A comically British art of seduction. I wonder if tea ever got anyone into bed.

  12. Dear Kate, I laughed out loud–a belly laugh and that’s not a tall tale–when Felix shifted gears so adroitly and said the man sat in a boat in the middle of the river. Oh the delight of it! Peace.

  13. I am sorry you don’t have a recoding of this charming Felix tale, Kate! What a creative mind–and a quick one, too. My great-grandmother has been gone for fifty years, yet her “tall tales” are still legendary in our family. She had one about a man run over by a steamroller and slid under the door! As silly as it comes, she told such a great story that we have never forgotten it and still refer to it at times in memory of her humor! I thought of her, as well as my other grandmother who appreciated the art of English tea time! Good times! Debra

    1. Your grandmother sounds brilliant, Debra. The Americas seem to have a special place for the tall tale: and when I read them, I can almost hear them being read out. They are auditory delight.
      I should have had my Audioboo up and running, shouldn’t I?

  14. Felix has the makings of a lawyer πŸ™‚ Personally, I prefer to put the jam on first, but that’s to keep the gluten-free (sad) scone from falling apart πŸ™‚

  15. No offense intended, but I wish I hadn’t chosen to read this post. Because now I have cream tea firmly in mind, and I don’t have anything resembling that in the house, which is a good thing for my health and well-being, but I can’t stop thinking about scones and jam and cream, in no particular order. And I’m hungry, but a fruit plate will not answer.

    Quickly getting off that topic–I’d never heard of Alfred Bulltop Stormalong. Guess I haven’t spent enough time in New England. Thanks for introducing us.

    As for Felix: If he ever decides to move to the U.S., he would find wonderful opportunities in the field of politics.

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