10 Questions for Ditch Townsend: A Devon Cream Tease

Ditch Townsend

10 Questions is a new concept for this blog.  If you wish to be asked 10 Questions and you are a food lover, chef or producer, please contact me via the contact page.

Eating Exeter accepts contributions from seasoned bloggers, aspiring journalists; pretty much anyone who wants to have a go. Our newest contributor is Ditch Townsend who writes one of my favourite blogs ‘Devon Cream Teas’ which reviews and rates Cream Tea’s that are available in the Devon area, hence the title.

I first heard of Ditch’s blog through Twitter, but had heard of a ‘man writing a devon cream tea blog’ via a friend’s significant other who works in a cafe that was reviewed by Ditch.  The blog is intriguing and enjoyable to read, this fascinating insight in to the life of a cream tea blogger was certainly a bonus start to the beginning of a format that I’ve been wanting to start on Eating Exeter for a while now.

Over the next couple of weeks, Eating Exeter will be publishing some exclusive reviews of some of the high-end cream teas that are available.  But Ditch is adding new reviews regularly so I would urge you to head over to devoncreamteas.info and have a look at what he is up to.

1. Why Cream Teas?

Ever since I first tasted one in north Devon as a teenager, and was momentarily rendered speechless by its sensuousness, I’ve had a love affair with them. Growing up in southeast Asia, there was very little so rich except for coconut cream, and the ubiquitous condensed milk in tins. Much as I love Asian cuisine, it was wonderful to find something so different in the UK – I remember too my aunt saving the ‘top of the milk’ for my cereals when I made the occasional pilgrimage back to England as a child. Maybe its a Freudian thing? Either way, at this point in my life, I just need to re-wire my pleasure circuits, which have become in danger of burning out.

2. What did you do before you started this blog?

I’ve spent most of my adult life living and working in often remote and difficult places (for me) in Asia and Africa, generally with extremely marginalised people (e.g. drug users, and people affected by leprosy). Since returning to the UK with my family in 2009, I’ve worked in community development, most recently at the Hospice in Weston-super-Mare for a couple of years, trying to help families work out ways to strengthen and use informal networks of support. To be honest, I needed a break from all that, and am now on an extended ‘sabbatical’ – and who knows, maybe even a new career path…

3. Have you ever had High Tea at Claridges? Is there anywhere in particular you’d like to have a cream tea?

I’ve had the chance to take afternoon tea at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and with the British Ambassador’s wife in Yangon (Rangoon), but neither had clotted cream… I’m not really into opulence however, but I am into self-help therapy: I did a summer as a student working as a volunteer in a clinic for undocumented people in Amsterdam’s red light district. I was continuously being shocked, and sought refuge in an English tea room in the basement of a book shop on odd afternoons off. There I could get Earl Grey tea, and a scone with cream (not clotted) and jam. I needed to reconnect myself to a gentler reality, and the taste sensations were usually a great help in rallying me. But for me, the best cream tea would be the one produced at the least expected moment, in the most unlikely place possible, at the time when it would be most therapeutic.

4. I really like your writing style, surely you’ve done this before?

I’m glad you like it. I’ve written before, for magazines, promotional stuff, personal blogs, and I really enjoy it. I’m nearly four months into writing a daily experimental Twitter Fiction feed called ‘Dissonant Dan’ at present. I tend to write observations better than stories, so I’m more suited to snap-shots like food reviews, than to narratives like novels.

5. Clotted Cream or Jam first?

That’s like beating a straw man isn’t it? The traditional Cornish way is to use butter first, then jam; a dollop of clotted cream is just a tasty extra. But I have a moustache and have to be pragmatic: to avoid cheesiness (see my rather gross explanation at http://devoncreamteas.info/curdling/), I prefer to turn my scone upside down. This is fine if thick cream is applied, like plaster, to the scone first, but is horribly dangerous if jam underneath provides a Teflon layer to prevent cream adhesion! Anyway, cream first tastes better 😉

6. Has there been any challenges you’ve faced whilst writing your blog?

Money! Apart from more expensive ‘high end’ boutique cream teas, which I’m not blogging about on my own site, I’m trying to pay for myself or get completely unvested sponsorship… anyone? b) Cream from the average cream tea will have 50% of my recommended daily fat allowance. I try to eat just one eighth of a scone with cream and one eighth without, at any given venue… unless it’s just too gorgeous and I give in. (This also means that I shiftily shuffle away from most places with half a scone crumbling in my pocket, because I don’t want chefs and waitresses to think that I hated it all so much, that I left most of it!) c) Pounding caffeine headaches if I drink 6 cups of tea in one afternoon whilst researching… d) I try not to comment on service – the Trip Advisor world seems to major on that and it tires me; anyway I suspect I’m as much of a difficult customer as anyone is a difficult member of staff: maybe they’re legitimately just reacting to me!? Anyway, a couple of times, I’ve had to mention some mishap which spoiled a cream tea, but felt so sorry for the person concerned, that I didn’t want to write anything… in the end, both times I have, but with lashings of sympathy offered in one case, and a re-review allowing for an upgrade a month later in another case. e) I hadn’t thought that a relaxing pastime would upset people quite so much sometimes. I know I wouldn’t like to be criticised, and some people mistake my wry comments for snide comments (I’m really not a sarcastic person), but… c’est la vie, it’s just my style. Anyway, I have redoubled my efforts to be constructive and where possible, focus on things that can be changed, without cringing from being authentic for my readers. Too much that is written nowadays is about selling rather than participating.

7. Is it scone as in cone, or scone as in gone?

Tricky. I was brought up to say scone like gone because it was more ‘proper’. But it was recently pointed out to me that it’s often an accent thing in the southwest, rather than a cultural thing. I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t call it a scone (like loan) when I’m in Devon.

8. Do you have any long-term goals for the blog?

I’d like to cover the whole of Devon; to keep it updated; to map seasonal closures; to track changes in cream and jam sources; to explore local cream and jam supplies; to understand the art of scone making; to understand tea; to understand some of the business issues; and to rid our cream tea landscape of its red-flavoured sugar-gunk cankers. Ultimately, I’d like to see that EVERY DEVON CREAM TEA SHOULD BE A GREAT CREAM TEA (and cream first).

9. Would you say that, like me, you’re a ‘tea-snob?’ Any favourite blends?

I don’t understand tea very well at all. But I love a pungeant, fresh Earl Grey (see http://devoncreamteas.info/tea/) – the best ones shouldn’t need lemon, because bergamot oil is a citrus oil already – hence why I have milk with mine so as to retain any unevaporated fragments of bergamot and not smother them with a different, stronger citrus. One tea I watched at all stages of production, as I went to primary school where it was grown, is the mostly unblended, and phenomenally fragrant (if a little bitter and grassy from my recollection) Cameronian Gold from the Boh tea estate in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands.

10. Are there any particular food writers or bloggers who you admire or read regularly?

Can I say you? Not that it’s necessarily true (let’s pretend it is), but I’m new to this foodie world and haven’t yet been socialised to recognise its most mythical figures 😉 You tell me..

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