The English meal of tea can be all shapes and sizes. Morning tea is taken with a cookie or two; afternoon tea is elegant, a matter of silverware and wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches. Devonshire tea comes with fresh scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam, while around 6 o'clock you can expect high tea to include a hot entree such as fried fish and chips with copious bread and cakes.
Most substantial of all is a farmhouse tea, for which the table is packed with dishes varying from meat pies, salads and cheese to a dozen or more cakes and breads. The sheer exuberance dates back to an earlier age, when work meant hard manual labor with appetites to match. To modern tastes, the following simplified menu still adds up to a hearty meal.
The principal dish is ham-and-egg pie, one of the savory double-crust pies for which the English are so famous. The filling of hard-cooked eggs, diced ham and ground pork is simplicity itself, relying on an age-old seasoning of sage, thyme and nutmeg. The pie should not be rich and melting like French pa te', but firm and meaty, rather like cold meatloaf.
This texture is given by thoroughly beating the pork-and-ham filling so it clings together before cooking. Always eaten cold, ham-and-egg pie is best the day of baking, though it can be kept in the refrigerator.
From my childhood in Yorkshire come two other recipes. Brandysnaps were a festive treat, a crisp wafer cookie with a brandy flavor that comes from molasses (the British use golden syrup) and butter, not liquor (brandy goes back to "brandt," meaning burnt). The batter spreads eagerly over the baking sheet and must be removed while warm (a nonstick surface is helpful) and rolled around a spoon handle -- great fun for a child.
Bakewell tart is an old standby, baked in a bar cookie pan with raspberry jam and a thin soft topping of butter and sugar. There are many versions but Nanny's, needless to say, was the best for it included ground almonds.
To these I've added a new favorite discovered on the Wensleydale farm of Agnes Metcalfe. When we dropped in for tea last August, ginger cookies were instantly produced to accompany the freshly brewed cup. With three sons and an active husband, Agnes habitually makes them by the hundred -- "but they don't last long." Timetable
A good example of old-fashioned hospitality, everything in this menu except the meat pie can be baked a week ahead -- or more if you wish.
Up to 1 week ahead: Bake brandysnaps and store in airtight container. Make ginger cookies and store in air-tight container. Make bakewell tart and store in airtight container.
Up to 3 days ahead: Bake Ham-and-Egg Pie and keep in refrigerator.
Up to 1 hour before tea: Set Ham-and-Egg Pie, brandysnaps, cookies and bakewell tart on plates for serving. Set the table.
15 minutes before serving: Boil kettle for tea.
5 minutes before serving: Brew tea. HAM-AND-EGG PIE (8 servings)
Good with cooked chicken or game instead of ham.
Pastry for top and bottom crust of a 9-inch pie
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
3/4 pound cooked country ham, finely diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 egg, beaten with 1/2 teaspoon salt (for glaze)
Line an 8-inch pie pan with pastry. Beat pork with ham, salt, pepper, nutmeg, thyme and sage until mixture forms a ball, 3 to 5 minutes. Spread half the mixture in pie shell. Arrange halved eggs in a circle on mixture, pressing them down slightly. Cover with remaining mixture.
Roll out remaining pastry dough to a circle and cover pie. Trim excess dough with a knife and flute edge of pie, pressing to seal dough together. Brush pie with egg glaze. Roll out dough trimmings and decorate pie with leaves; brush leaves with glaze also. Make a hole in center of pie. Roll a strip of foil around a spoon handle and insert foil cylinder to form a chimney. Chill until dough is firm, about 15 minutes.
Bake pie in a 375-degree oven until brown, about 30 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees, cover pie with foil and continue baking until a skewer inserted in center of pie for 30 seconds is hot to the touch when withdrawn, 30 to 40 minutes. Let pie cool.
Ham-and-Egg Pie is best eaten the day of baking but can be kept up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Cut it in wedges for serving. BRANDYSNAP WAFERS (Makes about 20 3-inch wafers)
If you like, roll these wafers while still warm into the traditional cylindrical shape.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light molasses
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
In a saucepan melt butter, sugar and molasses, stirring until butter is mixed. Let cool slightly and stir in lemon juice and vanilla. Sift flour and beat into mixture.
Test one wafer first: drop a teaspoonful of mixture onto nonstick baking sheet and bake in a 325-degree oven until wafer is lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. If wafer is very thin and hard to remove from sheet, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour to mixture. If too thick, add a tablespoon of molasses.
Transfer wafer to paper towels to absorb fat and cool on a flat surface, or roll wafer around a wooden spoon handle upper side outwards.
For remaining wafers, drop 5 to 6 teaspoonfuls of mixture on baking sheets, leaving plenty of room for spreading, and bake.
Brandysnap Wafers can be baked up to 1 week ahead and stored in an airtight container. AGNES' GINGER COOKIES (Makes 3 dozen cookies)
The most popular accompaniment to British tea.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter plus extra for sheets
3 tablespoons honey
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons ginger
1 cup sugar
Butter 2 baking sheets. In a saucepan heat butter and honey until melted and let cool.
Sift flour with baking soda, baking powder, ginger and salt into a bowl. Stir in sugar and make a well in the center. Add butter mixture and eggs; beat until smooth.
Roll mixture into walnut-sized balls and set far apart on prepared baking sheets. Flatten cookies with bottom of a glass. Bake in 300-degree oven until edges of cookies are brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
Transfer cookies to a rack to cool. They can be stored in an airtight container up to a week. NANNY'S BAKEWELL TART (8 to 10 servings)
Best eaten the same day, though Nanny maintained fresh pastry would lead to indigestion.
FOR THE PASTRY:
2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup cold water, more if necessary
FOR THE TOPPING:
3/4 cup (8 ounces) raspberry jam
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten to mix
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup (4 ounces) ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Sift flour and salt onto work surface, and make a large well in center. Put shortening and butter in well and work lightly with fingertips until mixture forms large crumbs. Sprinkle water over mixture, mix ligthy to incorporate moisture evenly, adding more if dough seems dry, and form into ball. Chill 15 minutes. Roll it out and line a 15-by-10-inch bar cookie pan. Spread jam in base of pan.
Cream butter, add sugar and beat until light and soft. Beat in egg and almond extract. Stir in ground almonds with baking powder. Spread mixture as evenly as possible in pan. Note: It will melt and spread during cooking.
Bake tart in a 350-degree oven until filling is browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool to tepid in pan, then cut in rectangles for serving. Tart can be baked up to a week ahead and pieces kept in an airtight container.