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British food is anything but bland, boring

Moya Stephens shares insider's view on British cuisine

STAFF PHOTOS: BARB RANDALL - Moya Stephens, owner of Lady Dis British Shop and Tea Room, shares her British cuisine this week.

As we put a British plate on our dinner table, we might be tempted to use a ruler to ensure exact placement of the silverware, “Downton Abbey” style. People around the world are fascinated with the PBS television series. The show is more about the customs than the cuisine, so I visited with Moya Stephens, owner of Lady Di’s British Store and Tea Room in Lake Oswego, to get the scoop on what would be found on a British plate.

Moya kindly sat down with me to discuss the foods of the United Kingdom, and first off wanted to dispel the myth that British food is bland and boring.

“I think that stems from World War II, when foods were heavily rationed,” she said. “It was difficult to get anything and very limited. British housewives had to be creative and basically served meat and potatoes. They used every part of the animal — the kidneys, liver, heart and created dishes we might look down our noses at, but way back then it is was what they had to eat.”

Moya said there were bakeries and green grocers, who offered fresh bread and limited fresh fruits and vegetables. But for the most part home cooks prepared simple meals with what was available; dishes like steak and kidney pie, shepherd’s pie and fish and chips.

The cuisine became more interesting after WW II and the formation of the European Union, when people began immigrating to Britain. In particular, people from Pakistan and India brought their curry.

“Brits love curry like Americans love Mexican and Chinese food,” Moya said. “As more people moved to the U.K., it was a like food revolution. They opened restaurants and introduced new cuisines.”

Pub cuisine is also popular and can be simple comfort food or more sophisticated.

“Pubs serve all kinds of weird and wonderful foods. Britain has a huge diversity of foods and flavors anymore,” Moya said.

The Brits have always been good gardeners, Moya said, and “allotments,” or community garden plots, are commonly used to grow produce for home use. “They are fashionable again. Just like here in the United States, people like to grow their own food.”

And they have a love of drinking lots of hot tea, which is understandable when you consider the location. The U.K. consists of England, Wales and Scotland, known collectively as Great Britain, and Northern Ireland. Ireland, of course, is separate. The U.K. is located off the northwestern coast of Europe and is bordered by Ireland, the Atlantic Ocean, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, North Sea and English Channel. The geography is varied and includes cliffs along some coastlines, highlands and lowlands and hundreds of islands off the western and northern coasts of Scotland.

The U.K. is in the northern hemisphere, however, the Prime Meridian splits the U.K., making it half the eastern and half the western hemisphere. The relative location of the U.K. is to the southwest of Norway, north of France, west of Denmark, northwest of Germany, and to the west of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Drinking from fine china teacups makes having a cuppa more special.

I was surprise to learn that London has an average rainfall of 23.4 inches, far below Portland’s 39.14-inch average rainfall. But the skies above London are usually cloudy, which explains the love Brit’s have for a spot of afternoon tea.

If you haven’t enjoyed tea at Lady Di’s British Store & Tea Room, you really ought to make a point of doing so soon. British charm and warmth greet you at the door. The staff is made up of British ladies who speak with the most delightful accents.

Afternoon tea includes tea sandwiches, warm savories, English scones and Devon cream and strawberry preserves, mini desserts, fruit garnish and tea. An assortment of luncheon dishes are also on the menu, including Ploughman’s Lunch with assorted English cheeses, bread, hot sausage roll, Branston pickle; soup; assorted tea sandwiches filled with salmon spread and cucumber, English cheddar and tomato, cheddar and chutney and cream cheese and cucumber; and an assortment of scones, crumpets, cakes and English biscuits, which are cookies.

The shop also offers a wide variety of British foods you can’t find just anywhere, such as chutneys and other sauces, teas, cakes, sweets and biscuits.

Marmite, a yeast extract, is a popular part of the British cuisine.

Stephens says this salad cream is very popular among Brits.

The shop is located at 430 Second St. in downtown Lake Oswego. Shop hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and the tea room is open 11 a.m.-3: 30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

You don’t need to make reservations, but it is always polite to let them know you are coming. Call 503-635-7298.

Brits love to bake, and Moya shares her recipe for English scones with us today. She serves them with pure cream, called Double Devan cream, and strawberry preserves. You might want to have a cuppa at Lady Di’s first, so you know how to serve a proper tea and then enjoy making your own.

Let’s put the plate of your heritage on our table. Give me a call or email with the favorite recipes of your family.

Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!

English Scone Recipe

Traditionally English scones are round, unlike the American triangle shape — and look similar to a biscuit but have slightly more sweetness and density. They can be plain or with sultanas (golden raisins) and the very best way to eat them is sliced through the middle with lashings of clotted or double cream, and strawberry preserves. Yum!

16 ounce self-rising or all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoons salt

2 ounce baker’s sugar*

4 ounce cold butter, cubed (I use unsalted)

Milk to bind, approximately 1/2 cup

Beaten egg to glaze

4 ounce raisins (optional)

Heat oven to 350 F. Put flour, sifted with salt and baking powder, in large bowl. Add butter and rub with your fingers until the mix resembles bread crumbs. Stir in sugar.

Make a well in the dry mix and add milk, combining it quickly. It may seem pretty wet at first. Scatter flour on a board, tip out the dough and fold over two or three times. Roll out until it is a little smoother, about 1-inch thick and then cut into rounds with a 2 1/2-inch cutter.

You should make approximately 8-10 scones. Brush tops with beaten egg. Bake in oven for approximately 15 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on wire rack.

Cook’s note: Baker’s sugar, also called castor or caster sugar, is superfine, quickly dissolving sugar. It is so named because the granules are small enough to fit through a sugar “caster” or shaker. You can put granulated sugar through a food processor to make it.

Recipe courtesy of Moya Stephens, Lady Di’s British Shop and Tea Room

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 and by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter @barbrandallfood.com.