Wednesday, 13 May 2009

How to do a cricket tea - Part 1

It's very fashionable to be down on being English at the moment. Our transport system is antiquated and expensive, our weather ranges from rain to weedy sun to - oh, snow at Easter, our politicians are mainly expenses-claiming scumbags, and our social services are being kicked into touch by the Welsh and the Scots (as is our rugby team). And our national dish is an Indian curry which India has politely disowned. But there are some reasons to be proud of being English, and most of them involve endearingly bizarre character traits and habits. And one of those is the pottering amateur.

The English love pottering; they love their sheds; they love tinkering and pursuing random hobbies. Sometimes that produces morris dancing (which I personally love because it's so archaic and jolly) and sometimes it produces the Industrial Revolution. It also promotes a sense of taking part, fair play and derring do, often targeted to sports which we gaily take overseas and then lose at. And one of those is cricket. English weekend cricket is a reason to love living in this country. Drive past any village on a summer weekend and there will be a patch of green with 22 slightly overweight and red-faced gentlemen standing and watching two people heft a wedge of willow at a lethally hard ball. Sometimes they will exclaim and make unfathomable hand gestures. Occasionally one will break into a comedy run, usually thankfully outpaced by the one or two eager fit young bloods on the team. NB The Scientist is one of those young bloods, but he is keen to maintain his ability to run after the ball, and so will hopefully be the country's only sprinting nonagenarian village cricketer one day. Even my sprinting, actually-bothering-to-warm-up, stroke-practising-in-the-kitchen beloved other half, however, has a soft spot for what is the essence of English weekend cricket - the tea.

Our cricket tea (photographed by Paul - thank you!)
From left: be-jammed scones, chocolate biscuit cake (in squares), sliced lemon drizzle sandwich cake, clotted cream (in bowl), sandwiches aplenty, more scone, shameful reconstituted meat products (nothing to do with me), crisps, torso of cricketer eager for his tea.

Cricket teas are legendary. In fact, a search on the Internet revealed that some clubs devote more web space to their teas than they do to their matches. They embody the very niceness of English sporting endeavours (no doubt why we rarely lift a major trophy), what with all their 'no no, after you', cucumber sandwiches, china cups and Battenburg slices. Even the cricket commentators at Lords get cakes sent to them by fans. In essence, cricket would not be cricket without a good tea.

At The Scientist's local club they are very egalitarian about their teas. There is a rota for every home match, and the nominated incumbent of the week goes off and spends their budget on whatever they see fit. Of course, with a keen eye to a baking opportunity I had been eager for The Scientist's number to come up ever since we arrived in Warwickshire, and a couple of weeks ago he came back from nets and casually threw into conversation that he'd been asked to do it a few Sundays hence. I immediately went into planning overdrive. We brainstormed the best cakes he'd come across in all his days of playing village cricket; we compared the overall balance of chocolatey and fruity, slices and individual items, the risk of weighing down the home team as opposed to the visitors depending on who batted first. We made, revised and re-revised the lists.

This is how I like to put it. I think that readers of this blog will already realise that in reality all this meant that I faffed, stressed, read baking books from cover to cover, presented The Scientist with a new set of options on a daily basis, and he said 'whatever you bake will be lovely'. And I mean that in a supportive way.

In the end, we tried to keep it simple. I found some really good tips on quantities in a book I couldn't resist buying from an Amazon seller - Cream Teas and Boundaries: Village Cricket Tea Recipes. We revised these a bit in accordance with The Scientist's own preferences, and so having now executed our tea duties successfully, I thought it might be useful to set out our hints and tips for anyone else asked to provide a cricket tea. After the length of this post, recipes will follow later!

Here is what we made, for two teams and a few associated supporters and scorers:

4 loaves' worth of sliced bread, divided equally into ham, grated cheese and egg mayonnaise sandwiches. Half of the cheese and half of the ham sandwiches had pickle in them. We used two white and two white/wholemeal loaves, and spread them with marge under the fillings. Salad additions are also acceptable, but The Scientist is sick of picking out tomato and cucumber from his sandwiches so we didn't bother. That's the prerogative of the tea-maker :)

One pack of supermarket mini sausage rolls and one of mini cocktail sausages

One large packet of tortilla chips

One large lemon sandwich drizzle cake

One large quantity of chocolate biscuit cake, cut into 24 squares

18 fruit scones, halves and spread with strawberry jam, served with clotted cream

Tea and orange squash.

This quantity worked out fine - we could have got away with only three loaves of bread, but people liked snacking on the leftovers after the match. And another bag of crisps wouldn't have gone amiss. The quantity of cakes worked out perfectly.

Hints and tips
If there is more than one of you making the sandwiches, set up a production line. Ideally employ a friendly graduate of the maths or physical sciences persuasion to work out exactly what quantities you need. Fortunately I have one of those on hand for these eventualities. We both buttered the bread and divided it into equal piles. I pickled the ones that needed pickling, and The Scientist took care of the other fillings.

Put the uncut sandwiches back into the plastic bags the bread came in for ease of carrying, and cut them in situ. This prevents the edges from drying out, and doesn't take too long.

If you can, leave buying the sandwich ingredients until the morning of the match (see above comment on possibility of snow at Easter)

Making some of the baked goods the night before will free all parties up for stress-free sandwiching on the day. I only had one cake tin of the right size for the lemon cake, so I made one layer the night before, and the second the morning of the match. We also made the chocolate biscuit cake the night before and stored it in the fridge. That only left one cake, the icing and butter icing, and the scones to make that morning.

Cut and jammify scones at home, and take them sandwiched back together. They just need separating again to be served.

After all my dithering, it was also interesting to see what went first when the weary teams came to claim their tea. I have to admit (to my chagrin) that the sausage rolls and mini sausages were popular, although they were admittedly placed at the front of the table. The lemon cake took a little while to get going, but then disappeared very fast, and the biscuit cake and scones were particularly praised (how I kvelled). I didn't notice any particular preference for sandwich fillings, though the opposing team had a probably unusual number of non meat-eaters. Happily The Scientist is well used to catering for veggies and so this didn't lead to an unedifying scramble for the egg sandwiches even though we hadn't known in advance.

I would make other cakes next time just for variety, but having one large sliced cake and one tray bake was a good division, and I will never cater another cricket tea without those exact same scones again. They were wonderful. And if you've got this far, you will be rewarded with the recipe next time :) As to the result of the match, I'm afraid we must draw a veil to spare the home team's blushes.


Johanna said...

such a lovely whimsical english post - and an impressive spread

Local cricket is so very midsommer murders - and very relaxing to watch. I love the title of your cookbook - I wouldn't be able to resist either

Anonymous said...

Scrumptious !!

Might just be tempted to join you when your number next comes upx

Granny Munchkin

Lysy said...

Thank you Johanna! Is there an Australian equivalent to our laid back weekend cricketing? The book's a good one - I'll be posting a recipe from it in my next post or two.

MG - you would be most welcome to attend our next function as tea-providers. I am suddenly angling for The Scientist to play every home game just in case they need more scones! At the very least I will make you the scones next time you come :)

The Scientist said...

Sprinting nongenarian, huh? Crikey... :-)

Jenny said...

Cricket is my favourite sport for this very reason. Any game where tea breaks and cake are scheduled in sounds good to me.

Rachel Cotterill said...

That tea looks fabulous, I'm almost tempted to take up cricket! Or at least go along to support my village team... they must need help getting through all that cake ;)

Lucy said...

Thank you thank you thank is my turn to do teas at my husbands (out of premature early retirement) cricket club and I was a little stumped at the thought of a cricket tea for at least you have saved me. I suspect I will copy your spread identically, with the Australian addition of watermelon cut into large chunks. It is forecast for ovet 40`c this Saturday, so think of them all, sweating on an Adelaide paddock.........