A cup of tea

Coffee anyone? No problem at all! An espresso, cappuccino, laté or flat white is made to perfection even in the most modest country towns. We admire the young barista, usually male, with a top knot and a few tattoos to show his credentials. The coffee is pushed down with the finest tamper, milk is heated to 60-65degrees and poured with a flick of the wrist to create ornamental flourishes upon the crema.

Now let’s try ordering a cup of tea. If I’m lucky, the water poured over the teabag has actually boiled but if ordered as a takeaway, the milk is added before the tea has had time to brew. The result is tepid, watered-down, and stained milk.

If I sit down at a café and ask for tea, I am likely to get it in a thick coffee cup or a mug. Only tea drinkers seem to understand that the thickness of the cup affects the taste. Should a teapot make an entrance, the ubiquitous teabag still hangs limply within. It is a rare café that keeps tealeaves on its shelves.

Last week, I went out for breakfast with a friend. We chose a well-known establishment which serves excellent meals. As we ordered, I asked the young waitress to tell me how they made their tea. She explained the procedure in great detail without a hint of irony.

‘We boil the water, take a teabag out of the box, put it in the cup and pour the hot water over it,’ was her enthusiastic reply.

I was reminded of Basil Fawlty and the fresh orange juice. Chef had just opened a new bottle. I had to restrain myself from laughing or telling the young waitress not to worry about the tea and bring me a Screwdriver instead. Alas, the reference would have gone over her head.

I had often wondered why David Herbert included a recipe for a pot of tea in his Complete Perfect Recipes. I found it rather quaint. Perhaps he had similar experiences to mine and wanted to show how easy it is to make a decent cup of tea. For those who are curious, he starts the entry with the following words:

Throw out your teabags and return to the ritual of a real cuppa made from tea leaves!

Fill a kettle with fresh cold water and bring to the boil. When the water has almost reached the boil, pour a little into your teapot, swirl it around and pour it out. Add 2-3 teaspoons of tea leaves to the pot.

When the water is boiling, fill the teapot with boiling water. Put on the lid and leave to brew for 3-5 minutes.

David Herbert

And there we have it, a perfect cup of tea.

Christmas Pudding

Remember to soak in brandy and flambé!

I am the sole heir of a Christmas pudding recipe handed down through the generations. While Margaret was alive, she referred to it as her family’s secret recipe and I was the only person with whom she shared it. Over the years, I have faithfully followed the recipe and have delighted many friends both in Australia and overseas with this traditional Christmas treat.

I always think of recipes in terms of the person who shared it with me. Each time I make a dish, it is infused with love for, and memories of, the person who was kind enough to share their skill and knowledge with me. It is a true act of friendship to hand someone the gift of a great recipe. I hardly ever use commercially printed cookbooks, but I always return to the scraps of paper with scribbled recipes that friends have shared. Not only does it bring joy to think of people who have accompanied me at points in my life, it also brings joy to the people who are in my life now. A recipe is a gift of paying it forward.

I have never cared much for keeping secrets. Now that I am the sole guardian of Margaret’s Christmas Pudding recipe, I wonder about the felicity of the secret. Imagine if our forebears had kept recipes for bread or wine a secret. Would we have national cuisines if all recipes were fiercely guarded or just family feuds over the best dishes?

I don’t want to be the last in line to make this adaptation of a great Christmas pudding. The recipe is too good for that. My apologies darling Margaret but the secret is out.

                                                Christmas Pudding

6 oz breadcrumbs
2 oz flour
4 oz butter
½ lb sultanas
½ lb currants
4 oz raisins
2 oz glacé cherries
1 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated)
½ tsp mixed spice
½ lb brown sugar
2 eggs
¼ pint stout
½ cup grated carrots
1 tsp marmalade
½ cup warm milk
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 tsp bicarb

Mix butter and sugar until smooth. Mix all dry ingredients except spices and bicarb. Dissolve latter in warm milk, add lemon juice, rind and add beaten eggs and stout. Mix all ingredients together. Cover and leave. Stir again and if dry, add more milk and stout.

Cook for 5 hours in buttered pudding container with a tight lid, lined with grease proof paper. Serve hot.

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