With the clocks about to go back for the winter and pumpkins being carved for Halloween, I couldn’t help feeling that the timing of new cookbook Tea with Mrs Simkins couldn’t be better. With over 230 pages of recipes for teatime cakes, scones and other treats, it evokes a feeling of time spent gazing contentedly into the flames of a roaring fire and chatting companionably over crumpets and muffins, even if many of us have only seen similar scenes in BBC Sunday afternoon serials rather than in our own living rooms!
The really interesting feature of this cookbook, written by a popular columnist for the weekly Blackmore Vale Magazine, is that it doesn’t just give you a list of recipes. Instead it gives you a little history of exactly what teatime is, how it came about and how it differed depending on who was holding it. I never realised before that Afternoon Tea and High Tea were entirely different articles! There are also explanations and suggestions of what to serve at different types of teas, from a small child’s birthday party, to a Christening party and even a relaxed Sunday afternoon in front of the tv tea! There are also notes on the different types of tea that can be drunk at teatime, to allow you to match your food to your brew – something we’re more used to seeing in the wine world.
The recipes are divided into sections according to the type of food involved; sandwiches, savouries, cakes and buns and so on. Each chapter contains handy hints to help make cooking and preparation easier, in addition to enticing sounding recipes such as Chocolate Brownie Buns and Little Hot Chilli Pies, as well as old favourites like Cherry Cake and Seed Cake. There’s also a useful chaper entitled ‘Sundries’ which explains how to make those essential accompaniments like Old Fashioned Lemonade and proper Strawberry Jam.
For me personally, the best part of the cookbook was the section on cakes. Although I can happily make muffins, jams, chutneys, pastry and even bread, every time I try to make a cut-and-come again cake, it always seems to go wrong. Either they don’t rise enough and end up like bricks, or they rise but then sink disastrously the moment you take them out of the oven! This book was the answer to my baking embarassments! By following the top secret advice on the pages at the beginning of the cakes chapter, I successfully made this Dorset Apple Cake!
My only criticism of the book is that it could have been improved by a few pictures of the finished bakes, cakes and treats, as for the novice cook these are much more useful than written descriptions (one person’s ‘golden brown’ might be another person’s ‘burnt’!)
Overall I think there is something in here for all ages and abilities and there are quite a few recipes suitable to do with children – something to keep them busy in school holidays! Although you might not refer to this book on a daily basis, it is great for dipping into for inspiration when you fancy something a bit special for a change, and would make a lovely Christmas present, especially for the traditional cook.
Tea with Mrs Simkins is available now from www.howto.co.uk priced at £12.99
I have one copy of Tea with Mrs Simkins to give away. Just leave a comment on my blog by 9pm on 14th November to be in with a chance to win! (All commenters will go into a hat and I’ll draw one out at random).