Heather's Monthly Articles
Birthplace of the Cream Tea
February 2016


Birthplace of the Cream Tea
Cornwall on the left. Devon on the right.
Photograph: John Gollop/Alamy, Tim Hill/Alamy

In this seemingly endless season of debates, bear a thought for the sweetest of arguments that has been raging across the pond for generations, if not centuries. Come November, we’ll at least get a couple of years reprieve before the politicians go at it again. Not so in south west England, where the dispute as to whether or not jam or cream goes on the scone first rages on.

Birthplace of the Cream Tea
Jam first, cream on top.

While it may seem trivial to some, jam or cream first is an age-old dilemma that has divided the neighboring shires of Devon and Cornwall and their respective proponents. In Devon, the warm scone is split into two halves, with each half being spread with lashings of clotted cream, followed by strawberry jam. While the Cornish spread the strawberry jam on their scones first, which they top off with a generous dollop of clotted cream. Both are equally delicious. But not according to the neighboring feudsters.

Birthplace of the Cream Tea
Cream first, jam on top.

The folk in Devon argue that cream is like butter, and who in their right mind would ever spread butter on top of jam? Plus, they say, jam on top of cream prevents the cream from getting on your nose! According to the Cornish though, the only place for the cream is on top, so as to better appreciate its taste. Unless, they argue, it’s Devonshire clotted cream, which they claim is far inferior to Cornish clotted cream, hence it needing to be covered in jam to disguise its taste!

Birthplace of the Cream Tea
Tavistock Abbey
Birthplace of the Cream Tea?

To add fuel to the bickering is the fact that a definitive resolution has yet to be adopted in which of the two counties the Cream Tea actually originated. Both claim to be the birthplace of this scrumptious afternoon tradition. Currently, Devon has the edge on Cornwall, thanks to an important discovery made in 2005 in the medieval town of Tavistock. For it was there, when piecing together ancient manuscripts, that historians found that back in the 10th century, workers who were helping restore the town’s Abbey after it had been damaged by Vikings were thanked by the Benedictine monks with a gift of bread...spread with clotted cream and strawberry preserves.

As reported by the Tavistock historians, those first cream teas proved so popular that the monks also fed them to passing travelers, who in turn passed along the monks’ dish as they roamed into Cornwall. That seems like one up to Devon, but at least the Cornish have their pasties.

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