The great debate will continue for years to come and I won't attempt to argue the case either way, for what makes a really good cream tea is a warm and fluffy scone, homemade strawberry jam and gooey clotted cream, washed down with a pot of freshly brewed tea.
Unfortunately, even in Devon, the cream tea can be a unpredictable experience. I have been served dry scones of questionable pedigree with an indifferent red jam and vacuum packed clotted cream, but more often than not, have been surprised by the light, crumbly texture of a fresh baked scone topped with lashings of decadent cream and a fruitilicious jam. Why so unpretentious a confection should be so special a treat is a mystery that can be answered only when you have found your favourite tea shop. It goes beyond the mere physicality of the humble taste buds. It is the unique fusion of sincere no-frills hospitality, sweeping views of the Devon country-side and the titillatingly balmy weather which elevates the simple cream tea into a delicacy to be craved, savoured, celebrated.
The classic cream tea comes with a choice of two basic scones: the plain and the fruit scone. I am not a fan of the fruit scone as I feel the raisins add a cloying sweetness to the dish. My other half says the raisins remind him of dead flies. The tearoom in Sidmouth Garden Centre does a variation on the fruit scone replacing the raisins with glacé cherries which is worth a try. They also serve up scones with the 'soup of the day'!
My favourite haunt for the classic cream tea is the The Orangery, Powderham Castle. The scones are large, heart-shaped and served with generous helpings of clotted cream and jam. It is best eaten on the sun-drenched patio, while taking in views of the imposing castle and its grounds. Another, slightly off-the-beat favourite is the Southern Cross in the village of Newton Poppleford. They serve made to order savoury scones flavoured with feta and sun dried tomatoes or the more conventional version of the cheese scone with local cheddar and herbs.
Cream before jam.... I'll let you decide.....