Tea how I like it, and my aunt’s biscuits

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I’m not someone who’s fussy when it comes to how I have my tea. I’ve a friend who really is, so much so that offering him a cup rapidly becomes an exhausting and emotionally draining process; “Don’t pour it yet! That’s too much milk! Pour mine last!”, that sort of thing. Frankly I’m happy with whatever I’m served – weak or strong, hot or warm, too much sugar or not enough sugar, or honey if there’s no sugar in the house (a common problem in Brighton), I really don’t mind. And I’m happy draining a cup of stone cold tea that I’ve forgotten about too (something I remember my dad frequently doing when I was little – elbow stuck out horizontally and the cup going from full to empty in a matter of seconds).

I should just point out though that the above ‘not-minding’ applies when I’m given tea at someone’s house and NOT when I pay for one in a cafe where the surly passing of a cup with a bag in it and some not-even-freshly-boiled water poured over the top is deemed enough to justify £1.80 or more. I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough. Oh, and I’d also like to point out that while I don’t mind how my tea comes when I’m someone’s guest I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate when it is good. I do. The best cup of tea I’ve had in years was enjoyed sat at the kitchen table of stand-up comedian Ben Norris at about two o’clock in the morning last October. We’d just driven back from a gig in Birmingham and we were absolutely exhausted. I still had the London to Brighton leg to complete after dropping off Ben in Sydenham and so I went in for tea to revive me. The combination of a) good tea, b) beautiful fine bone china cups and saucers, c) the perfect temperature, d) extreme exhaustion and the appetite for a cuppa like I’d never had one before, and finally e) great company AND a lovely house (he really does have a lovely house), made for one of the best tea-drinking experiences I can remember.

Generally, at home, I drink tea how everyone else likes it, but then there’s the odd occasion when everyone else is out that I have it how I really like it. Which is with Mate.

Mate is traditionally drunk in South America as a beverage in it’s own right and served in an interesting way by being prepared (just mate leaves and hot water) in a hollowed-out gourd with a straw stuck in it (the straw having a fine mesh at the bottom end to filter the leaves out) which is shared by all those drinking it as part of a social ceremony, and of course without milk or sugar. But when we were kids my dad occasionally bought it and mixed it in with the traditional black loose leaves that we usually had, a preparation completely untraditional and a practice that I can’t seem to find evidence on the internet of other people doing. The mate itself is interesting-looking with the appearance of cracked dried green leaves with bit’s of stem and a fair amount of green dust mixed in, and when brewed with regular black Yorkshire tea it imparts a smoky flavour unlike anything else – sort of going in the direction of Earl Grey but drier and much less perfumed. It’s really good though and I’d recommend you try it. You can get big bags of mate from most health food shops. And it’s very high in caffeine so it might satisfy that first-thing-in-the-morning caffeine requirement instead of an espresso for a change.

To continue with the nostalgic theme that I’ve started with the tea (and following on from the last blog entry I did, but then so much of what makes food and drink taste good is nostalgia) I made some biscuits today that we in our family call ‘Philippa Biscuits’. They’re so-called because ever since I can remember, when visiting my aunt and uncle (Philippa and John) they had a batch of them, freshly made, in a tin. And they’re something which I too baked frequently when I was a little boy. They’re dead easy and while similarly oaty and worthy-tasting they’re less heavy than flapjack and so you can have a few more of them without feeling too much guilt.

Philippa Biscuits
(enough for about 16 large biscuits)
70g rolled oats
70g desiccated coconut
70g wholemeal self-raising flour
50g demerara sugar
pinch of salt
110g butter
1.5 tablespoons golden syrup
1.5 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Set the oven to 170 degrees C and line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Then melt the butter with the water and syrup and once it’s all liquid add the bicarbonate of soda and stir it together. It’ll froth up. Straight away pour it onto the dry ingredients and mix them all together and then form the mix into walnut-sized balls and place them on the baking trays. Leave a decent gap around them as they’ll spread out in the oven.

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Finally, bake for about 20 minutes. Leave them to cool on the trays for at least 10 minutes because if you try lifting them they’ll fall apart. Then put them onto a cooling rack and as soon as your tea with mate in it is ready, tuck in to both.

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That’s the basic recipe. I’ve tried adding a bit of powdered ginger, that was nice, and a bit of chopped stem ginger which worked too. Experiment, and if you come up with a good variation, let me know.
(George)

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