A nice cup of tea

In 1946, George Orwell wrote the following in the London Evening Standard.  I am with him all the way, and especially when it comes to the sin of putting sugar in your tea and the almost equivalent sin of not using skimmed milk:


If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points. This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

  1. First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
  2. Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  3. Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  4. Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  5. Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  6. Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  7. Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  8. Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
  9. Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  10. Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  11. Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)


Old-time nature photography

I happened, by chance, onto the Facebook page of the Ottawa Camera Club, an exceedingly venerable group well past its centenary, where I found this delightful photograph of old-time nature photographers setting off for a ramble.

No lightweight digital cameras and high-tech weather proof clothing for them – hardy pioneers all.


Ice Storm time of year again

Overnight we finally had a decent amount of fresh snow falling but today the temperature has gone up to around plus 4C and there is freezing rain – tonight it is forecast to drop like a stone to minus 17C

Freezing rain is, cannot be denied, beautiful on the trees (so long as its weight doesn’t break them, which it can) but the roads are worse than the proverbial skating rink.  We really do need a decent snow dump without this mess so that the plants get a nice insulating blanket around them – sadly, I fear a lot of dead plants come the spring this year.

Climate change – ugh!

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Christmas Eve Disappointment

Squirrels are regulars in the garden of the Squirrelworks/Sparroworks HQ and at this time of the year they know there is food to be had if pnly they could get past the squirrel-baffles we have on the feeders. usually they cannot but right now we have one clever and athletic guy who has worked out that he can just make it with a big leap from the distant tree … made easier by the nearest feeder being this caged version with handy wires to grab hold of. So, this is where he wants to be …

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Where he wants to be


Sadly (if you are a squirrel) we are cleverer than he is and moved the various feeders around so that now he has to grab hold of a small, tubular metal niger-seed feeder if he is going to make the leap worthwhile and thus far he has failed.

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Approaching the launch-pad

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In flight

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Disappointment …. hah!


But he’ll be back, squirrels are good at perseverance if there is the possibility of food.




First signs of winter

Some flurries this morning put a bit os snow on the garden and the first ice is forming on the pond. Tie for some seasonally white photographs.

This snow will be gone shortly, just a foretaste of what lies ahead … at least, it had better be gone soon as we are having a new septic tank installed tomorrow !!

Euonymous berries next to the pond

Euonymous berries next to the pond


Garden bird feeding station - the year-round post on the left and the newly installed winter one on the right. Something for everybody.

Garden bird feeding station – the year-round post on the left and the newly installed winter one on the right. Something for everybody.

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Ice forming around the pond

Ice forming around the pond







White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Modified Sourdough Bread Recipe

In England last week I happened across a book for sourdough bread bakers (“Do Sourdough – Slow Bread for Busy Lives” by Andrew Whitley who runs, quote, one of Britain’s leading organic bakeries). What’s nice about it is that the methods are born of real life commercial practice with a healthy leavening of serious science and plenty of explanations for why things happen. This is not always as common as one would like in the sourdough world.

I was pleased to find that the method I have evolved by myself – which I know makes terrific bread – is not far from the author’s proven techniques … however, I have been experimenting today with the book to hand to try and improve on what I have been doing for some years now and have come up with the following recipe. It’s a bit different but it does seem to have produced an excellent loaf. If you would like to try it you should note that it creates a high-hydration (ie: wet and sticky) dough that is better suited to making a tin loaf than a free-form cob. I would probably reduce the amount of water a bit if making cobs using a basket in which to prove them.

So … the following really easy method makes a standard 3lb weight loaf. The book, being European, uses weights rather than cups as a measure – somewhat more accurate anyway.

1. Mix together 200g of flour and 120g of water and leave to stand for half an hour.

2.  Add 150g of your sourdough starter, knead thoroughly and leave to work for 4 hours in a warm place

3. Add a further 500g of flour, 300g of water and 6g of salt. Knead very well. Put it into a bread tin of a suitable size – it should about half fill the tin – and leave to prove for some 3-5 hours depending on temperature of the room. As it is November I allowed my bread to rise in a hot box … my hot box being simply a large cooler chest with a jug of hot water alongside the bread tin to warm the air and the rise was completed in 4 hours.

4. Bake for 10 minutes (fan oven – add 25 degF if you have a non-fan oven) at 400degF and then reduce to 350degF for 20-25 minutes until baked.

And that’s all there is to it. Start the process at 8am and you have a loaf for the evening meal.

Keeping warm …

Yesterday was our town’s environment day during which residents could choose a free tree (we are having an Amelanchier arborea – Downy Serviceberry or Chokecherry – see http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=9), visit the kiosks set out by a number of environmental organisations and listen to interesting talks. One of those talks was my well honed presentation of wildlife gardening but it was followed by a session given by a colleague on the town environment committee about winter composting.

Our traditional compost bin - works well in summer.

Our traditional compost bin – works well in summer.

The composter

The composter

Kitchen vegetable waste with wood pellets surrounded by thick leafy vegetation

Kitchen vegetable waste with wood pellets surrounded by thick leafy insulation

It was the winter part of that that attracted us, composting itself being something we have done for years. Turns out that given the right method you can have a compost heap working away at 50 degrees while the air temperature is more like -20. This is achieved either via an expensive Swedish device that we will probably get next spring (http://www.joracanada.ca/en/jk125.php) or by cunning use of leaves for insulation and tiny wood pellets. The theory of the system is explained in the link above but suffice it to say that my friend J was so enthused we rushed out yesterday to lay in a stock of wood pellets while I spent the morning raking up bags of leaves.

Then it was time to do some housekeeping around the garden which included cleaning leaves from the pond and erecting a critter-proof cage over the sunken pots of lilies that I half buried in the vegetable garden for overwintering. A good weekend all told.

The anti-squirrel et al pot protector

The anti-squirrel et al pot protector

Euonymous, just beside the waterfall

Euonymous, just beside the waterfall

Redbud tree and second dahlia bed ... still some flowers and colour

Redbud tree and second dahlia bed … still some flowers and colour

Clearing leaves from the pond

Clearing leaves from the pond (apologies for artistic focussing)