Uncovering the Real England: Cream

Hello from Salad-Land… North Shore, Massachusetts. I wrote the following a couple weeks ago while I was in the land of English Cream. Oh, the decadence of it. On vacation in England, sitting in the sun in Bill’s mum’s English garden, drinking a cup of coffee with a big glug of English double cream in it. Double cream pours out of the tub like a thick crepe batter.

In England, cigarette wrappers are prominently marked, “SMOKING KILLS.” I wonder how many more decades will pass before double cream, clotted cream, single cream, and any other full-fat cousins, will have a similar warning.

Still, in the Malcolm house in England, a lighter version of cream is now in the fridge: Elmlea. Elmlea can be purchased as a single cream or a double cream, but the dead giveaway that it’s a fraud: it doesn’t float to the top of the coffee when poured – at least the single version didn’t when I poured it into my coffee. I read the ingredients to see how Elmlea is lightened: Added vegetable oil. Processed. I can’t remember the exact grams and what the serving size was, but this is an exaggerated, approximated ratio: 3,000 to 2,500. To which I ask, why bother? So, the last half of the trip, I used the real thing.

Double cream has multiple purposes, in addition to floating on coffee.  When eating trifle, Yule log, and most other spoon-eaten desserts, cream is slathered over the top. Nowadays, I try to get to the distribution point to stop this pour – with the exception of the Yule log.

On one of these pourings, which initially felt over-the-top, I had a couple déjà vu moments. Growing up, Dad poured milk over every cake dessert, and as kids, we used to break up graham crackers, sprinkle sugar on them, and reduce them to mush with milk. Then there is the famous cookie that loves milk: Oreos. This smothering of milk products over food was not as foreign to me as I initially thought.

But back to cream.

For the first 18 years of my life, I drank raw, whole, straight-from-the-cow milk. I remember pulling 2-quart pitchers from the fridge in the morning and being disgusted by 1 ½ inches of cream on the top. We would ladle it off and dump it down the drain. Every single chunky bit needed to be gone before we would pour it on our cereal.

Fast forward 23 years to cream tea.  It's up for discussion which is spread first on the scone: jam or clotted cream, but either way, the combination of sweet and rich atop a fresh scone and accompanied by English tea... mmmm.  That's a "cream tea."

Clotted cream originates from Devonshire in England and it spreads like butter. The most memorable cream tea I’ve had was next to a clapper bridge on the Dartmoor in Devon. Scones & jam served on paper plates with tubs of clotted cream: ¼ pound per person.  Fortunately, as I sat down on a rock next to a clapper bridge, my tub rolled into the stream, so Bill and I shared one.

Since first having clotted cream in 1989, I’ve browsed recipes trying to work out how it’s made. One specified, “First, go to a local farm for fresh milk, preferably from Jersey cows.” I love it when a recipe is an adventure.  Some day.  Probably not in Iowa.  Most dairy cows I see there are Holsteins. Probably not in England. I don’t know any farmers. Perhaps Vermont, known for its small dairies and friendly community. And, home of Ben & Jerry’s: the frozen American cousin of clotted cream.


The rest of the summer I write about salads and fish. However, I still sip coffee with half & half every morning and think back to that double cream rich coffee morning in an English garden.

P.S. This recipe for clotted cream looks pretty simple and true to recipes I found in English cookbooks, but I haven’t tried it myself. I’m afraid to. Honestly, it’s in my best interest to let clotted cream remain on English soil... with goose fat.