By Jennifer Abella
One of the tastiest traditions of the Jane Austen Summer Program is the afternoon tea, and this year we’re doing something different. The tea — held Sunday, June 19, at 2:30 p.m. — will be catered by Amanda Fisher, proprietor of The Blakemere Company in Chapel Hill, and held at Chapel Hill’s La Residence. The menu will feature treats made from period-correct recipes, and Fisher, a native of Devon, England, will be on hand to discuss them. We chatted with her about afternoon tea’s traditions and more.
The word “clot” is an old English word for “thick,” and clotted means thickened cream. It has been made in England since the Middle Ages and started out as a way to preserve cream from rapidly spoiling before refrigeration was invented. In America clotted cream is a funny name … too many cardiologists I suppose. But once you know it just means really rich, very thick cream, you will feel just fine about it and enjoy!
Is clotted cream made in Devonshire is called Devonshire cream?
Clotted cream and Devonshire cream are NOT the same and are made with different processes. Devonshire cream does not have a crust as it is made in a different way. It is harder to find in England than clotted cream. I am from Devon, but I don’t know how to make Devonshire cream! I learned how to make clotted cream when I was 15 in a friend’s mom’s farmhouse kitchen.
What’s the secret to a good clotted cream?
The secret for good clotted cream is to use great cream from local farms and pay attention to all the details!
How did you find yourself in Chapel Hill, and what made your start your business, the Blakemere Company?
I came to Chapel Hill 5 1/2 years ago as my husband got a new job in the Triangle. I started my business 4 1/2 years ago as I found the right cream to make clotted cream right here in North Carolina, from small local farms who make cream the old-fashioned way! It has been really great to bring tasty treats from my homeland to the Triangle and do a little bit to break the myth that English food is bad!
What exactly makes afternoon tea an “afternoon tea”? When and how did it originally start? Are there still facets of those early traditions that still survive today?
Afternoon tea started in the late 1700s. It is reported that the Duchess of Devonshire started the fashion when the dinner hour became later and there was a gap in the day of up to 7 hours in the day without a meal. It also was a great opportunity to invite one’s friends and relax with nice dainty foodstuffs and the luxury of tea, which was at the time very expensive. Very much a ladies’ meal, the new custom gave rise to new recipes, pretty dishes and china tea sets, silver kettles and teapots, which the hostess could use to make the tea, and even ladies’ fashions. It is called afternoon tea because it is served in the afternoon usually about 3 or 4 p.m., differentiating itself from the evening tea tray, which would be brought in to the drawing room after dinner. The facets which survive: dainty china; the ritual itself, still very much a ladies’ meal; the recipes…
What’s your favorite part of afternoon tea?
Scones and jam and clotted cream and coronation Chicken sandwiches! And a very nice cuppa in a lovely, thin bone china cup!
What can visitors expect at the program’s tea in June?
I have been researching old recipes for ages, and I will be using period-correct recipes for most of the dishes for our Jane Austen tea. We will be serving you four courses of delicious traditional recipes, a yummy savoury course, English scones, handmade jam, lemon curd and clotted cream, tartlets, cookies, Eton mess, Victoria sponge cake and a flourless chocolate cake. And of course lots and lots of tea! I will also be there in person to talk about everything as it unfolds.
Interested in joining us for tea? You can register now at Eventbrite (or fill out the mail-in form to pay by check); registration is $35. Sign up to reserve your seat now — and get your taste buds ready.