The motorcar came to a stop in front of a building with tall windows that looked out over the village green. Though at present, it would be doubtful if any one even gazed out; the weather was beyond inclement, to the point of saturation. Dense pillars of rain washed over the grass, the cobbles, the concrete sidewalks, presenting a grey veil to the streetscape.
Three gentlemen exited the vehicle, and not bothering to even unfurl their umbrellas stepped purposefully toward the door, their overcoats spattering the water off as soon as it hit. Two young fellows, and a man whose erect bearing suggested a military background, but whose trimness almost decisively stated air force.
Big galoots do not get into the pilot programme.
They don't fit very well into cockpits, you see.
The proprietress took their order after having seated them in a comfortable lounge. Soon she came back with a vast tray, on which two pots, a large urn with extra hot water, and several plates, as well as three cups and saucers, presented an inviting view, much more beckoning, fascinating even, to the three men than any amount of wetness bucketing down outside.
England always looks rainy. Sodden, even.
But afternoon tea seems ever new.
After having enjoyed several cups, along with a nibble here and there of the goodies, the aeronautical gentleman relaxed in a comfy chair in the corner with a cigarette, while one of the younger chaps pulled out a pipe, filled it, and lit up. While he enjoyed his first puffs of flake, his brother grumbled at the fumes and pulled a well-worn book out of his coat pocket (the outerwear was hung by the fire to dry), then settled down at the table reading about chess. The games of the masters.
The older gentleman and the pipe-smoker debated over a map of the area, deciding where they would head tomorrow. Occasionally one or other of them sipped a bit more tea, taking care not to spill either ashes or hot liquid on the map.
So far it had been a splendid journey.
Devonshire was positively littered with comfortable oases.
Where afternoon tea might be had at certain hours.
And smoking was still permitted.
It was, after all, the seventies.
It has been a long time since I visited the South-West of England, and I have heard that the wheatgerm freaks in Whitehall have outlawed public smoking even there. Possibly they still allow it in coal mines, as people suffering from black lung and chronic pulmonary fatigue from digging up the slag cannot possible get any worse.
Or maybe there too it is illegal. Might as well make the last few years of the victims of industrialization even harder by sending them out into the rain to smoke.
Two of the three people in the vignette above are no longer in this world.
The R.C.A.F. bomber pilot flew his last sortie over two decades ago, and the chess player won his final competition back in the nineties.
Still, afternoon tea continues. It speaks of old times, good friends, and family members who are fondly remembered.
All three of us enjoyed taking tea when we were in England, as well as at home in the Netherlands. My father would often have it on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, back in Valkenswaard, and I frequently prepared myself a pot after school, to keep me company when reading or doing my homework.
My brother had it while studying chess.
A proper Devonshire cream-tea includes hot scones, clotted cream, fresh fruit preserves, a slice or two of cake, and a very large pot of strong tea.
I believe one should always follow it with a pipefull of fine aged Virginia flake, but that may not be precisely your fancy. Possibly you smoke Oriental mixtures, or light Balkan blends. Or maybe even not at all.
Taking the Devonshire cream-tea out of England emasculates it. Without a fresh green sopping wet countryside, and people speaking in poofter accents, high tea is not the same.
Reproducing the scones and clotted cream is rather ridiculous.
Pretentiously academic, even.
Fortunately here in San Francisco, we have alternatives. Not substitutes or mere replacements, but stuff that fits the tradition more than admirably, and better even than what they do in Blighty.
We live very well here.
We have Chinatown bakeries.
YUMMY BAKERY & CAFE
607 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94133.
This is one of my favourite places, because of an extensive selection of goodies of high quality. They devote care and attention to what they do, and it would be very hard to leave disappointed.
Their offerings would grace any tea-table.
Seriously good stuff.
Among other things:
芝士蘑菇包 Cheese and mushroom bun
火腿粟米包 Ham and corn bun
雞包 Chicken bun (baked)
叉燒包 Charsiu bun (baked)
菠蘿叉燒包 Pineapple charsiu bun
火腿芝士包 Ham and cheese bun
香腸包 Hotdog bun
粟米火腿包 Corn and ham bun
奶油包 Cream bun
蔥油條 Scallion bun
蛋撻 Egg tart
火腿南鬆卷 Ham and pork floss roll
蛋沙律包 Egg salad bun
藍莓芝士包 Blueberry cream cheese bun
菠蘿奶黃包 Pineapple cream bun
火腿蛋包 Ham and egg bun
毛毛蟲 Cream and jam bun
丹麥包 Danish pastry
提子包 Raisin bun
蔥油肉鬆卷 Scallion pork floss roll
椰香包 Coconut bun
紅豆菠蘿包 Red bean paste filled pineapple bun
肉鬆包 Pork floss bun
菠蘿包 Pineapple bun
椰菠蘿叉燒包 Pineapple charsiu bun
火腿芝士包 Ham and cheese bun
椰香包 Coconut bun
豆沙包 Red bean paste bun
南瓜包 Pumpkin bun
香芋包 Taro bun
紅豆龜仔包 Tortoise-shaped bun with red bean paste
蒜蓉包 Garlicky bun
墨西哥棒 Mexican roll
奶油筒 Cream horn
合桃拿破侖 Walnut Napoleon
草莓蛋卷 Strawberry roll
瑞士餅 Swiss pastry
奶油曲奇 Butter cookie
奶油蛋糕 Butter cake
合桃酥 Walnut pastry
紫菜酥 Seaweed pastry
雞仔餅 Chewy cookie
咖啡奶油筒 Coffee cream horn
老婆餠 Wife cake
冬瓜老婆餠 Winter melon wife cake
皮蛋酥 Preserved egg pastry
蛋黃酥 Egg yolk pastry
椰撻 Coconut tart
椰絲球 Shredded coconut ball
杏仁奇脆棒 Almond pastry
果醬蛋糕 Jam cake
咖啡合桃卷 Coffee walnut roll
朱古力牛油蛋糕 Chocolate butter cake
紙包蛋糕 Paper cupcake
糖多士 Sugared toasts
西糕大餅 Xigao cake
甘草花生 Licorice-flavoured peanuts
南乳花生 Namyu (fermented beancurd) flavoured peanuts
蒜蓉花生 Garlic-flavoured peanuts
As you can see, there are lots of delicious things to choose from. Anyone who cannot find something satisfying at Yummy Bakery & Café just isn't trying.
You can snack there, or far better yet, buy a lot of stuff to take home.
It will make your tea-time memorable.
No, I don't want you to get fat. But I do want you to have a good time.
Some hot-buttered toast, as well as little sandwiches -- cucumber, smoked salmon, cress, pâté, or potted meat -- would not be amiss either.
But you will have to make those yourself.
Please allow pipe smoking afterwards.
NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.
Apparently, tea wasn't always so sumptuous for RAF (and presumably, RCAF) officers:
Random! Oh my god and all this sh@t!
Well-bent or something!
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