“Again he had to force himself to sit still as he watched his host serve the tea. Merrick mostly tried to fulfil this role using his left hand, which was unaffected by the disease, although he still employed his right hand to carry out minor tasks. Wells could not help but silently admire the extraordinary dexterity with which Merrick was able to take the lid off the sugar bowl or offer him a biscuit from a plate with a hand as big and rough as a lump of rock.” From The Map of Time by Felix J Palma
H.G. Wells, after writing “The Chronic Argonauts” has been invited to tea with Joseph Merrick famed in London as the Elephant Man. Merrick seems to have been about the only person who thought Wells’s story was worth reading. He inspires him to write The Time Machine by recounting his own struggle to master a skill others told him he would never be any good at; he learned to weave baskets despite his ungainly hands (that part was true about him, he could weave baskets). They spend the afternoon taking a regular British tea which I have made just about as completely American as I could (not exactly on purpose).
2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda (I only had baking powder, it won’t work, so don’t try it)
1 tsp cream of tartar (which I didn’t have, so omitted and found out it’s for leavening not just a spice – oops)
3 ounces butter
1 large tsp honey
About 1/4 cup milk
As much cinnamon sprinkled into the dough as you can stand (I can stand quite a lot)
Preheat the oven to 450.
Mix the dry ingredients and form a well. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter. When it resembles coarse bread crumbs, mix in the honey and milk. On a well floured surface, roll out to about 1/4 in thickness and cut into triangle shapes. Glaze each scone with a little milk using a pastry brush and bake for 7 to 10 minutes until they have risen and are golden brown.
Or you could bake them until they haven’t risen and are golden brown pieces of shortbread only closely related to scones. Here ends the British portion of my tea. Traditionally, scones are served with clotted cream and jam. Of course, I couldn’t find that in Crown Heights, so I made do with some homemade whipped cream and black cherry preserves. I also found the idea of butter and cucumber sandwiches a little daunting so I made mine with cream cheese mixed with dill, salt, and pepper. I hate white bread, so I used pumpernickel (I did cut the crusts off, I guess that’s kind of British). I served some other finger sandwiches that had ham, sliced Cotswold (leftover from my cheese sampling) and a mashed avocado spread on rye/pumpernickel swirl. I also served some biscuits (Lorna Dunes). The tea that I served was from tea bags, but it was “English Breakfast,” and I served it in coffee mugs, because the second hand store didn’t have a full tea set.
I thought the sandwiches were much tastier than the scones, but my guests enjoyed everything, British or not. They even contributed some oranges inspired by the song Suzanne by Leonard Cohen.