Well, it’s summertime, the paperback of The Bookman’s Tale has been published, and I know your book club is busily reading it even as I write this, so one question must be burning in your mind. What do we serve to eat at the book club meeting? It only seems fair that, if you dedicate a whole meeting to talking about my book, I provide you with a menu.
Food does not play a central role in The Bookman’s Tale, but English life and culture does, so for your meeting, I’ve chosen a traditional English summer tea. My wife, Janice, and I have spent many happy summer days in England and we often end up with friends (at our home or theirs) when tea time rolls around. Sometimes this is as simple as a quick cup and a digestive biscuit; other times it’s two hours sitting round the table in the garden eating so many cakes and sandwiches that dinner becomes out of the question. For your menu, we’ll strike a happy medium between these extremes.
First, the tea: put boiling water in your teapot to warm it before you brew. Then empty and put your loose tea in with more boiling water to steep. Serve with milk and sugar.
Scones are an essential, and real English scones aren’t much like what you get at Starbucks. The best recipe we have found actually comes from an American, Alton Brown—you’ll find it here. Serve right from the oven split open with a big dollop of clotted cream (you can get this at Fresh Market or other high end groceries) and a spoonful of strawberry jam.
Sweet must be balanced with savory, and I suggest a great pairing of summer sandwiches—cucumber and smoked salmon. In both cases, start with a square or small rectangle of fresh whole meal bread. Spread with a little butter and then top with thinly sliced cucumber or Scottish smoked salmon. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the cucumber and top the salmon with a sprig of fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon. I prefer my tea sandwiches open faced, but you can add a top piece of buttered bread if you like.
Since this is a special occasion, I think you should have another sweet and the one I suggest is known to the English simply as the Queen Mother’s Favorite Cake. It’s a toffee iced date cake that reminds me of my favorite English dessert—sticky toffee pudding. Here’s a recipe.
If you spend enough time discussing the book, you can move from tea right into cocktail hour. It’s summer time, so I suggest a classic Pimm’s Cup. We start by chopping up strawberries, oranges, lemons, and limes and putting them in a pitcher. Top up with Pimm’s # 1 (if you can find it, if not you can make your own with one part gin, one part red vermouth, and one half part triple sec). Chill and then pour about a half glass over ice, topping with a little gingerale and a little Lorina sparkling lemonade (the closest thing to UK lemonade we have found; you can find it at high end groceries). Add a sprig of fresh mint and enjoy.
So, now you are ready to tuck in. I hope your book club enjoyed The Bookman’s Tale, but I know they will enjoy this great English tea.