On this day in 1940, that great British staple – a cuppa, a brew, a cup of Rosy (for the Cockneys among us) – came under the ration. Thankfully, the British government understood the country’s deep need for tea; that anything less than two to three cups a day would strike at the very heart of wartime morale. Action was immediate and swift when war broke out, and tea was dispersed to warehouses across the land. In the event of air raids on London, tea would not be bombed. Phew!
Even so, life on 2 oz a week was far from ideal for a nation that had previously been used to putting the kettle on every time someone got out of bed, arrived at work, had a conversation, returned from work or put their feet up, not to mention the obligatory pause in whatever one was doing at 4 o’clock. The popular wartime song Everything Stops For Tea, featured in The Ministry of Food exhibition, is a jolly homage to the British 4 o’clock tea break.
But, surely, this was key to Britain’s wartime survival, because instead of getting withdrawal symptoms from not enough tea in the day, Britain put the kettle on and made sure teatime retained its place in society, regardless of whether there were fields to plough, animals to tend or meals to prepare. The practice of tea o’clock stirred the nation’s spirit and allowed people on the home front to ‘pour’ over their news. We even think that our ingenious 1940s housewives could have rustled up a pretty decent afternoon tea on their limited resources. No need to let standards slip if the vicar’s wife is coming round for tea, is there?
If you really think you couldn’t face a scone the frugal way, ie. without dollop upon dollop of clotted cream, then drop scones are a tasty alternative, and simple too. Here is a recipe we came across in We’ll Eat Again – A collection of recipes from the war years selected by Marguerite Patten:
Sift 4 oz plain flour with 2 level teaspoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add 1 tablespoon dried egg powder then beat in ¼ pint milk and 2 tablespoons water.
Grease and heat a heavy frying pan, electric solid hotplate or griddle. To test if the right heat, drop on a teaspoon of batter, this should turn golden brown on the bottom in one minute. Put the mixture in tablespoons on to the plate and leave until the top surface is covered with bubbles then turn and cook on the second side. The scones are cooked when quite firm.
Our advice is to smother your drop scones with jam, obviously of the home-made variety using your home-grown fruit! One more thing: if you are having the vicar’s wife round for tea, there are certain rules of etiquette that need to be respected, the most important of which is whether the milk should go in before or after the tea itself. George Orwell, writing just after the war, caused a stir by declaring that it should be after, but, for this most delicate of matters, we have to refer to that bastion of British civilisation, Debrett’s, who tell us that the milk is poured first. And whatever you do, don’t dunk your biccies in polite company…. Happy teatime!