A week in the Lake District with my mum meant dedicated missions to find satisfactory tea and cake, mooching around bookshops, swanning across Windermere muffled against the brisk chill, and hunting down old Victorian buildings for my mum’s future Bed and Breakfast venture. It was the holiday to relax, forget about work, the to-do list and life’s ups and downs, instead we drank cup after cup of tea, built and stoked the log-burning fire, and filled up on fluffy, hearty elevenses and tea-time snacks – because we deserved it.
The pièce de résistance of all cakey snacks was the scone. The Lake District seemingly bake theirs to perfection, or else they have a wonderful recipe which I wouldn’t mind taking a look at, as each one was the size of a saucer, tall and stocky, buttery soft inside yet crumbly without. For our first lunch in Grasmere we huddled inside a small tea shop with tea cups in the windows, and dined on tureens of leek and potato soup with a side of an enormous cheese scone. We ripped them open to reveal a crumbly soft centre speckled with golden strands of cheese. Dunked into soup the chunks of scone would immediately collapse on impact, and eagerly scooped up with a spoonful of leek and potato.
These scones left their impression so the next few days took us on a hunt to find one equally monstrous but this time topped with generous dollops of jam and clotted cream. The cream tea is notorious around Britain, and the world, and there have been known scuffles over the question of which condiment is applied to the scone first – cream on top of jam, or jam on top of cream? Cream teas are one of my requirements for a perfect day: meandering around a picturesque town, a quaint cafe, a teapot and delicate tea cup, and a large scone studded with sultanas. The clotted cream is an essential requirement, send back any whipped cream please as the scone demands cream which is thick and dense hidden under a firm skin which you crack open with a spoon.
Scones were only the start of our doughy tea-time snacks. When in the North (naturally, I imagine that pronounced with a strong Northern accent, like Ned Stark in Game of Thrones) do as the Northeners do. My dad, Sheffield born, has a weakness for the teacake, a brioche-like bun, stuffed with dried fruit and glazed until shiny. Gently toasted it is served slathered in molten butter, like a sweet, fruity bread roll. And not to forget, the crumpet. Mum bought a bulging packet which sat on top of the bread bin in our hired home for the week. Upon our return every afternoon, we would light the fire then boil the kettle, brew mugs of tea and toast a couple of crumpets, ready to coat in fuchsia pink rhubarb jam.
So, alongside our daily intake of buns, we settled into routine in our home away from home. Nightly homemade dinners of simple comfort food – sweet potato and mango curry, spaghetti carbonara, mushroom risotto – were served at the kitchen table with a couple of glasses of wine to nurse. And then for dessert… because, after all the treats of the day, we still needed dessert. Our kitchen held a collection of mix-matched utensils, pans and baking dishes, so, on the discovery our planned crumble would be the size of a doormat, we decided on a deconstructed version.
Cinnamon crumble mix was lightly toasted in the oven. Meanwhile, I warmed through some roughly chopped mango and frozen summer fruits. These were poured into bowls, coated in crumble and doused in custard (Ambrosia, but of course). Practically ready-made and rustic, we ate bowlfuls on the sofa by the fire. Later that week we ‘used up’ the remaining fruit in another effortless pudding, this time with a packet of Jamaican ginger cake, dark and treacly (and another tin of custard).
Take my advice; never shy away from a holiday in February. The cold winter sun glints across the hills and lakes, and the air is fresh and clean. You wrap up warm as you march out into the chill, but you know that log fires and treats await you back home.