The full afternoon tea is something quintessentially British; no other country does it as well as we do. If you are a visitor to this country, you can do no better than visiting a private tea room in someone's house. In Britain, we have a tradition of the best food emerging from houses rather than restaurants. The supper club movement and it's offshoot, secret tea parties continues this tradition of brilliant home cookery and baking. Gwyneth Brock runs a secret tea party in Manchester called Vintage Afternoon Teas. Her house, garden, kitchen, crockery and collection of tea pots are a sigh-inducing pleasure. As well as really tasty sandwiches with unusual fillings, you'll get scones and cakes that are as beautiful to look at as they are good to eat. Gwyneth is a superb baker: I include one of her guest recipes in my book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea party, out on Thursday. In the back of the book is a list of secret tea party tea rooms around the country, including Gwyneths.
Teapots of every shape and size
Gwyneth combines tea with crafting and sewing workshops called the 'crafternoon tea party' that she does with Jo Johnston of French Knots Craft Studio. I really enjoyed this, conversation and concentrating in a sewing circle, very therapeutic.
I made a little lavender cushion in the shape of a house. Yeah I know the stitching isn't that neat but I got there late and had to hurry to catch up. Otherwise it would have looked professional, of course ;)
Mini bakewells and cucumber and strawberry cupcakes
Light scones and clotted cream. Ladies, paint your nails and dress up for afternoon tea. Wear a satiny tea gown in the style of japonaiserie, wear your hair in a chignon, adorn yourself with silk flowers, don gloves and lace, relax in your femininity, drink tea and gossip.
Sitting back after a great spread
A well dressed tea table has flowers amongst the buttery crumbs
A glittering shiny collection of teapots.
Gwyneth's kitchen, all cream and bunting.
And at the end, the washing up....
Visit Gwyneth Brock's Vintage Afternoon Teas in Manchester.
I always forget how easy it is to make a steamed pudding. It seems like a pfaff...finding a pudding bowl, paper, string, cloth, setting it in a water bath to cook. But while this is a very slow method of cooking, once you have gathered the ingredients and unearthed the equipment, withdrawn from neglected corners of your kitchen, it's effortless. You stir it all into a greased and sugared bowl, no fuss, and leave it to cook for three hours or so.
Traditionally pudding were boiled in a cloth tied at the top and then hung to dry and mature so if you don't have a pudding bowl you can shape your pudding in that way. But I do love ceramic pudding basins, such as these from Mason Cash
, which you can buy in different sizes. I've used a '24'. If you aren't eating it on the day but saving the pudding for Christmas, re-heat by steaming for an hour and a half. Turn it out of the bowl and douse with plum brandy such as Umeshu which is a delicious Japanese plum liqueur, or Slivovitz, an Eastern European plum brandy. Light the pudding.
For the plums, it's a little early for the South African season which starts in December which is a shame because South African plums are so much easier to handle, not having a clingstone, a right pain to remove from the fruit.
150g self raising flour100g of candied ginger100g sultanas100g breadcrumbs100g dark brown sugar100g vegetarian suet or freeze the equivalent amount of butter and grate it. 1 tsp mixed spice powder1/2 tsp nutmeg250g plums, stones removed, sliced thinly1 apple, cored, grated75ml dark rum2 eggs225ml milkPlum brandy for dousing
Mix the flour, Sultanas, breadcrumbs, sugar, suet, spices together then add the fruit (plums and apple) the rum, the eggs and the milk.Thickly butter a size 24 pudding bowl and sprinkle with sugar (this helps it to be lit if you want to set fire to it when serving). Butter and sugar a piece of greaseproof paper big enough to cover the top of the pudding bowl. Then pour in the batter. Cover the bowl with the greaseproof paper then a layer of tinfoil. Smooth it down so that it makes a seal. Then tie a string around the lip of the pudding bowl, knot it and make a ‘handle’ by looping the string over to the other side of the bowl then tying it again. Prepare a pan deep and wide enough for the bowl to sit in with a lid that will fit over the top. Place the pudding bowl in the pan and fill halfway up the bowl with hot water. Place on a medium heat and steam the pudding for at least three hours (although you can steam it for up until five hours), checking every so often to make sure the water hasn’t run dry. After three hours, remove the bowl from the pan and serve immediately. If you want to keep it until Christmas day, replace the greaseproof lid and you can add more rum to keep it moist. To reheat, steam it for another hour and a half. Serve with brandy butter or clotted cream
My annual Christmas list for foodies.
Hatchet and Bear's site is a treat for those who love unique handmade objects, especially from wood. Last year I featured the hand turned wooden bowls from the aptly named Robin Wood; I even use mine in the microwave, for a portion of noodles or porridge. I like the feeling, the sensation of eating from natural materials. One of the most unusual looking objects for sale on the Hatchet and Bear site is the spatula. It looks a bit like an axe. £18
I like turquoise and blue for photographing food. Look for a bowl that has a colour or pattern on the inside rather than the outside. This handmade porcelain pouring bowl by Linda Bloomfield is attractive and useful. £24
Not necessarily something you'd use in the kitchen but a foodie themed 'Elspeth chocolate skirt' from Poppyengland.com. I saw one of the ladies that works with this online shop wearing one of their stunning print dresses at Britmums Live conference earlier this year, and immediately asked 'Where did you get that from?'. I discovered quite a few of their clothes; the stripy tights, the nicely shaped cardigans, beautiful shades of petticoat, all quite Sweeney Todd/cartoonish, a look I like. £85 for the skirt and £134 for the dress
I'm a pasta freak and like all the bits and bobs you can buy to make the shapes. How about these rolling pins from souschef.co.uk to make pappardelle, tagliatelle and spaghetti? £4.50p each
Do you know about Meyer lemons? These perfumed almost sweet lemons are grown in America; any cook, dessert maker, jam and preserve maker or ex-pat American will adore these as a gift. Order them from the lemonladies.com, a Californian orchard owned by Karen Morse. (Thanks to Gloria Nicol for alerting me to this). Shipping is included! Between $10 and $65.
Now you will need to wrap those presents so how about this incredible Plantable Broccoli Wrapping paper from Mr-Fothergills.co.uk £4.99 a sheet. Mine has just arrived, it's thick and luxurious. As someone pointed out, it's a gift in itself. Why not give someone a beautiful bunch of broccoli, wrapped in this paper?
A subscription to a food magazine. I suggest Cherry Bombe, a biannual that celebrates women in food. One year $38
Biscuit cushions from Not on the High St. These are cheerful as heck. Just right for lounging on with a cup of tea and a biccy. £22 each
For those foodies who a) like to eat in bed b) and blog about it from the same location, how about this 'ibed lap desk' "Check your emails or watch a movie whilst your iPad or tablet comfortably sits on your lap along with a bowl of popcorn and a drink. The iBed features padding to comfortably rest on your lap, a slot to firmly hold your iPad and just enough surface space to hold a plate or two. Use it in bed, on the couch or travelling, and with most tablet computers." What's not to like? From the Science Museum £10
I should have put this on my Christmas books list but it's such an important present for a foodie that it deserves a special place here. Any foodie that you buy this for will be forever grateful. Anyone that has ambitions to be a food writer/blogger needs this book. The Oxford Companion to food.
£26 or £20 on kindle
A course such as cookery, bread making or food photography would also be welcome for any foodie at Christmas. One is always in a state of learning in cookery. Here are a few suggestions:
Baking, cooking and patisserie courses at Bertinet Kitchen
, Bath, from £35 to £400
Have you any suggestions that a foodie might like for Christmas? Do let me know in the comments.