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(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

Your typical Englishman thinks his home is his castle and woe betide anyone who crosses him!  An Englishman’s garden, however is something else. Most men cut the lawn and leave the other stuff to the wife but occasionally you see the odd man weeding, mostly they like growing vegetables and flowers for showing. The English love their gardens and take great pride in having a postage stamp size lawn with flower beds either side at the front of their houses. Back gardens, or yards as you may call them, are more for fruit and veg and maybe a greenhouse. Sitting out in the garden is something that does not come easily to most British people and BBQ’s, whilst gaining in popularity, are still not the first thing that comes to mind when we see a bit of sunshine.

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(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

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(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

My own garden is a bit different to the norm: I do not have a front garden as such, because we have a long driveway and that has flower beds on either side but there is no lawn at the front, no, that is round the back. The back garden has a lawn and flower beds, a greenhouse, and spectacular views of the distant moorland. When I moved here in 1999, the lawn was there but a bit tired looking, and the flowers beds a bit bare – but the view was great. Since then I have tried to re-vamp the garden somewhat and now we have a beautiful lawn with full flowers beds, a small pond at the base of a rockery, one or two huts, and a greenhouse where I can bring seedlings on. It has been a labour of love for me and also my friend Erica who has helped a lot this year. Spring has now arrived here and we have so many bulbs in flower that the garden is awash with colour!  I have quite a few seedlings coming on for the Summer months so I will keep you all up-to-date on progress in my very English garden.

~JB

Editor’s Note: We carry two English Garden teapots. Julia, would you take these out to the garden for tea?

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(c) Crystal Derma for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

As a tea lover, I can’t go a day without at least one cup of tea. I brew my tea either using teabags, self-made teabags with loose leaf tea, or loose leaf in a strainer. Lately in my efforts to go green, I have begun to use the strainer as much as I possibly can. I find it fun and easy to use and it’s very interesting to open the strainer after brewing to see the steeped tea leaves. I have noticed that the tea leaves expand in the hot water, so it’s very important for the tea to have much room to brew as it can. If you have seen advertisements for tea (at least in Britain), you will notice they boast how much room the teas will have to brew. So far, PG Tips is a game changer with their pyramid tea bags, while Yorkshire comes square and Typhoo is round and flat. The teabags also do not have tags or strings. Many tea companies have eliminated the use of these due to their efforts to reduce paper and other material waste that would affect the earth.

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(c) Crystal Derma for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

The teabag came to be entirely by accident! In 1908, a tea merchant named Sir Thomas Sullivan sent packets of loose tea to potential buyers in silk-muslin sachets. The buyers took this as a new way of brewing tea by simply tossing the bags into boiling hot water to brew and enjoyed it. Sullivan was confused and surprised when his customers began to ask for “tea bags” but was unable to continue his silk-muslin combination due to high costs of silk. To combat this issue, Sullivan adopted the use of gauze sacks.

Since then, tea has been sold in bags but before the teabag, it was sold loose and brewed in infusers and strainers. In 19th and 20th century England, however, tea was brewed in silvery tea balls (also called tea eggs). Some are made with mesh so the tea leaves have a harder time escaping, while others are metal with tiny perforations. These have been making a comeback lately since many people are trying to make efforts to go green. It is good to use larger-leafed teas like Organic Pearl River Green Tea to steep inside an infuser. If you have a tea with tinier leaves, like Organic Peppermint Tea, it is probably a better idea to use a paper filter so the tea leaves do not seep through the strainer and float throughout your tea. However, everyone’s tastes are different. Either way, brew green!

~CD

Empire Bisc

(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

Last year The English Tea Store mentioned that I would be writing a blog of recipes and also trying those recipes out. Penny Shiel asked for a good recipe for Empire biscuits and I have now found one. The basic biscuits are shortbread and two biscuits are sandwiched together with jam and then icing put on top plus a glace cherry if liked.  You will need;

12 oz butter
4 oz sugar
12 oz plain flour
4 oz cornstarch
a few drops of vanilla essence

a small amount of jam
4 oz icing sugar
water

Oven 180 C, 350 F or gas mark 4

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(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

2 baking sheets with baking parchment.

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(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and add the vanilla essence, then beat in the flour and cornstarch until everything is combined. Turn out onto a floured board and roll out to 1/2 inch thick, cut out 48 rounds using a small plain scone/biscuit cutter and place on the baking sheets, not too close together. Bake for about 20-25 mins until golden but not brown; if necessary cover the biscuits with foil after 10 mins to stop the biscuits from browning too much. Allow to cool on the baking sheets and then transfer to a cooling rack.  When cold place one teaspoon of jam on one biscuit and put another biscuit on top.  Then make your icing with icing sugar and water, not too runny though! Ice each biscuit top and if liked place a small piece of glace cherry on top.  This makes about 24 completed biscuits which will keep in an airtight tin. I ate mine with some lemon tea.

~JB

According to British history writers, afternoon tea was introduced in 1840 by Anna the seventh Duchess of Bedford. She became very hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon but dinner was not served until 8 in the evening – to her, a big gap between lunch and dinner. She asked for tea to be delivered to her room along with some bread and butter, the sandwich having been introduced in the 1760’s when the Earl of Sandwich asked for his meat to be put between two slices of bread so as not to interrupt his gambling game!

The Duchess decided to invite her friends along to join her in this little ritual and the afternoon tea increased to not only small sandwiches (cucumber sandwiches were popular then) but scones with clotted cream and jam and cakes too were added to this ‘small’ meal.

afternoon-teaThe tea was usually made in a silver teapot and the cup would normally have been bone china. Ceylon or Indian tea was popular then and was, of course, kept in a tea caddy.

Tea in Great Britain was very heavily taxed in the 18th Century and was therefore kept under lock and key! Silver tea caddies fell out of favour in the 19th Century and zinc lined wooden boxes were popular, still locked, usually with a matching spoon. Caddy spoons are very collectible in their own right as well as the tea caddies themselves.

Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702-1714, was a kind-hearted Queen, sister of Mary II, who really enjoyed drinking tea with her friends, Sarah Churchill in particular. Sarah Churchill’s husband of more than 40 years became the first Duke of Marlborough. So maybe afternoon tea was invented earlier than 1840 after all but just not called afternoon tea.

Arthurs_seat_edinburghNowadays afternoon tea at home is usually just a cup of tea from a tea bag and a biscuit, but one can still enjoy a real Afternoon Tea in some hotels and I for one am really looking forward to meeting our editor when we have Afternoon Tea in Edinburgh, the Capital of Scotland.

~JB

Editor’s note: I am also very much looking forward to meeting our UK recipe/blogging correspondent when I travel abroad!!

blueberry-sweet-fruitOur other Tea of the Month is Bingo Blueberry, a full flavored tea with a strong blueberry character. Enjoy 15% off this tea for the rest of the month. This particular tea was specially formulated to acknowledge the great taste and known health benefits of blueberries. In addition to the antioxidants in the blueberries, hibiscus brings the added benefits of Vitamin A and C to the blend. Bingo Blueberry will accommodate the tastes of people who want to experience a refreshing healthy new style drink without caffeine. It is excellent as a hot drink and simply dynamite as a cold drink. You will want to add a pinch of natural cane sugar as this accentuates the natural flavorings and brings out the subtle tastes of the dried berries.bingo

Ingredients in this tea are fruit pieces and flower petals. What better way to welcome spring?

Simnel cake is a traditional Easter treat but some time ago it was made for Mothering Sunday so you can make it then if you like.  It has almond paste baked into the middle of it and also almond paste made into balls and placed on top of the cake for decoration. You can make your own almond paste or use bought.

For the almond paste you will need:

9 oz Caster sugar
9 oz ground almonds
2 eggs beaten
1 tsp almond essence

Place the sugar and ground almonds into a bowl and add the beaten eggs to a soft consistency, add almond essence and knead well.  Roll out a third of the paste into a 7 ” circle. Put the rest on one side.

For the cake you will need:

6 oz butter
6 oz soft brown sugar
3 eggs
6 oz plain flour
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice (optional)
12 oz mixed dried fruits
2 oz chopped mixed peel
1/2 lemon, grated zest only.

1 egg beaten for glazing plus 1 or 2 tablespoons apricot jam.

Grease and line a 7″ cake tin and set the oven to 140 C, 275 F or gas mark 1

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs and beat well. Fold in the flour, salt, mixed spices if using and finally add the mixed dried fruit, candied peel and lemon zest. Put half the mixture into the tin and smooth the top. Cover with the circle of almond paste and add the remaining cake mixture, smooth the top but add a slight dip in the centre to allow the cake to rise. Bake for 1 3/4 hours or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

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(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

Brush the top of the cake with the warmed apricot jam, divide the remaining almond paste into two and roll a circle for the top of the cake. Place this circle on the top of the cake.  Make 11 small balls with the remaining paste and place in a circle on top of the cake. Put the whole cake back into a hot oven for 10 mins or under the grill for 1 or 2 mins to brown the almond paste balls.

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(c) Crystal Derma for use by The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

TTH_COBL_-00_lid-on_Copco-Travel-Tea-Infuser-Mug-BlueEveryone is always on the run, myself included. If you’re like me, you may have a good collection of not just mugs, but also travel mugs. Not only can  you bring your drink of choice with you whether it’s a hot cup of coffee or a nice cup of tea, but you can also do your part in going green. Millions of people use paper cups each year while drinking their coffee or tea and only so little of these cups are cycled. The rest end up in landfills. The good news is that we can do something to reduce the amount of waste.

TEADMUG1000018965_-00_red-white-blue-stars-insulated-cupA growing trend in reusable cups is that they have a section to put fruit in so you infuse your water (or iced tea!). I have been eyeing one of these for quite awhile and I am looking forward to finally purchasing one. There is also the option of infusing your tea while you’re on the go! This little cup has a strainer for tea! You can bring your loose tea of choice and steep on the go! No need to waste a paper cup or even a teabag!

A great thing about travel mugs is that you can pick any size, color, and shape. You can purchase these just about anywhere and for a very good price. They don’t just come in a standard hot cup, either. They also come in cold cup styles, many of them with a straw, so you can save cold paper cups as well!

I like to carry a reusable cup whenever I am out and about. Not only does it help me go green, but I am also able to save money. I have reusable water bottles that I am able to fill with water at a drinking fountain, saving me up to a dollar each time (be sure to use the bottles made for this purpose, not refill a regular bottle of water, due to chemical leaching). There are also hands-free water bottle refill stations popping up at places like gyms and airports. Many coffee shops also offer discounts for bringing in your own reusable mug.

Stunt Double: The Brown Betty is devoted to steeping tea and yet is content to remain in the background. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Stunt Double: The Brown Betty is devoted to steeping tea and yet is content to remain in the background. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Part of the Brown Betty’s charm and claim to fame is that it is made from red clay, or terra cotta, making it a ceramic tea pot. What the heck is terra cotta, though? It translates from the Italian to “baked earth.” It is a porous clay that is mostly used for sculptures and flower pots after being fired to almost 2,000 degrees F. Without the Rockingham glaze (or the newer cobalt) to seal it, it would be useless for the Brown Betty. Rumor has it that glazed terra cotta will ring if lightly struck.

This wraps up our series on the Brown Betty teapot, but before we go, I of course wanted to point you in the direction of something good to eat. Brown Betty is also a delicious fruit compote, usually apple. There are myriad recipes out there, and as this is a decidedly American dessert, I won’t ask Julia to jump through our hoops to try to “British it up.” But I am including her recipe for apple crumble.

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(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

Julia’s Apple Crumble

About 12 ozs fruit (baking apples or something else)
2 oz butter
4 oz self raising flour
2 oz sugar.

Oven 190 C,  375 F  or gas mark 5.

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(c) Julia Briggs for The English Tea Store, all rights reserved.

I like to cook the apples and add sugar before I start but if you are using fruit from a tin it may not need cooking or sweetening.  Put the fruit in a greased oven-proof dish. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs and then add the sugar.  If liked, sprinkle some cinnamon over the apples and then spread the crumble evenly over the top.  Bake for about 30 minutes until golden on top.

Editor’s Note: We carry a crumble mix that makes this easy-peasy recipe even easier-pesier!

~JB

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(C) Julia Briggs for use by The English Tea Store. All rights reserved.

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(C) Julia Briggs for use by The English Tea Store. All rights reserved.

Tomorrow we will publish Julia’s bonus recipe for an apple compote but she also wanted to share this variation, called Eve’s Pudding. She says, “This is delicious with either custard or cream.  It also works with rhubarb which is just coming into season! Here is one I made with apricots.”

About 12 ozs fruit (baking apples or something else)
4 oz butter
4 oz caster sugar
2 eggs
4 oz self raising flour

Oven 190 C,  375 F  or gas mark 5.

I like to cook the apples and add sugar before I start but if you are using fruit from a tin it may not need cooking or sweetening. Put the prepared fruit in a greased oven-proof dish.

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and stir in the flour gently.  Spoon this mixture over the top of your apples and bake for 40 minutes.

~JB

peachBoth of our teas this month are fruity, just right for the fresh blossoms of spring here in the states. Peach apricot is our first choice for the month, being a Ceylon black flavored with real papaya, apricot, and peach fruit. I love peaches. Chambersburg is a drive to the east from where we live in PA, and the peaches you get there are unrivaled: big enough to be a full meal for two, sweet, and so juicy you need a knife and fork to eat them. Families make a day of going for Chambersburg peaches just like they do Bedford apples in the fall.

According to the peach apricotAlmanac, peaches ripen faster in a closed paper bag at room temperature. If you are a gardener like me, you are familiar with this principal. I remember weekend fall days in the garden, picking all the green tomatoes that were healthy, hoping to get them in before the cold snap ruined them. We’d wrap the tomatoes in newspaper and pack them in paper bags to store in the basement until we were ready for them. They ripened this way and we were able to extend our growing season. When you live in the Laurel Highlands of PA, the growing season is short and anything to extend it is appreciated!

Until the Chambersburg peaches are ready, this tea is the next best thing, with a very heady aroma. This tea is steeped 3-5 minutes for best body and just a smidge of sugar really makes it come alive. At 15% all month, it’s all the sweeter.

~Your Editor

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