I’ve made it this far in life without being completely sure what a crumpet is, though I have a general idea. I grew up in a region of the United States where Tastykakes were a popular snack food, including various flavors of a pastry known as Krimpets. While there seems an obvious connection between crumpets and Krimpets, the latter actually take their name from the fact that they are crimped and thus have indentations on their sides. But this contributed to my confusion over what a crumpet is.
The crumpet, as I discovered, is something like a pancake. Rather than rehash the specifics of what it’s all about I’ll direct you to a previous article that appeared here. I also found it interesting that a forum thread at a food site examining the differences between crumpets and English muffins had generated nearly 50 responses over the course of several years. Apparently, there are those who take their crumpets seriously.
Of course, this being a tea site, the proper question to ask is how – and perhaps when – did the crumpet and tea become a pair. It was only about a decade ago that I became familiar with tea and much less than that for the crumpet, and yet I can recall hearing the phrase “tea and crumpets” when I was just a kid.
The first reference I was able to locate dates all the way back to 1786, in a book called The Experienced English Housekeeper. It includes a recipe for those who would like “To Make Tea Crumpets.” It’s a pretty basic recipe that only runs to a few paragraphs but it suggests that the relationship between tea and crumpets was already well-established by then.
The first reference to the actual phrase “tea and crumpets” comes in 1808, in a novel called Miss Balmaine’s Past, by Bithia Mary Croker, a prolific English novelist who spent many years in India. In it, one of her characters settles down “in a roomy armchair to enjoy tea and crumpets.” The phrase turns up again in 1824, in Mornings at Bow Street: A Selection of the Most Humourous and Entertaining Reports which Have Appeared in the Morning Herald, by John Wight.
Of course, after that the floodgates were opened the and the uses of the phrase became too numerous to count. But let’s close with a snippet from the Irish poet, Thomas Moore, who immortalized it in verse:
Ye spinsters, spread your tea and crumpets;
And you, ye countless Tracts for Sinners,
Blow all your little penny trumpets.
See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.
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