AN INTRODUCTION TO CORNWALL
Cornwall’s culinary history is unique to the UK. The peninsula is surrounded by fertile fishing grounds on three sides and has a strong tradition for seafood dishes, including the unusual Stargazy Pie, featuring pilchards with their heads protruding through the pie crust, as though looking up at the heavens. Cornwall is also well-known for its savoury cornish pasties, often locally referred to as oggies, while historically these famous baked goods might have had sweet fillings too. The soil is not particularly well-suited for many arable crops, but its rich grass makes it ideal for dairy farming. The resulting milk forms the base of some of its most famous exports, such as clotted cream, cheeses, fudge and ice cream.
Cornwall’s quirkier products, however, are also a result of its geography and climate whick makes the Cornish peninsula a hotbed for many foods which cannot be easily found elsewhere in the UK.
‘Their ornamental camelias have grown in abundance on the Tregothnan Estate for more than 200 years, making them the oldest outgrowing plants in the country.and grown in conditions that mimic renowned tea-producing regions such as Darjeeling in India.’
THE NEW DARJEELING
Cornwall and the South West of England benefit from a different climate from the rest of the UK. They have what is known as a ‘languid spring’ rather than a proper winter, meaning that it doesn’t get particularly cold and generally winters are much less harsh than in other parts of the country. Combined with an acidic soil, humid air that loses its damaging saltiness, and many places with protection from harsh winds, plants including tea bushes, camellia sinensis, can flourish here. In fact Winston Churchill suggested that much of the South West be covered by tea plants during the Second World War in the event of a blockade, to ensure that the Brits didn’t run out of this particularly crucial foodstuff.
The Tregothnan Estate is responsible from bringing tea to Cornwall. Their ornamental camelias have grown in abundance on the Tregothnan Estate for more than 200 years, making them the oldest outgrowing plants in the country. These tea bushes are sheltered from salt winds and other hazards, mimicking conditions in renowned tea-producing regions such as Darjeeling in India while The Estate has its own unique micro-climate that is ideal for tea production. Located a few miles from the coast, the Estate benefits from the deep-sea creek of the Fal Estuary running through it. This 18m deep-sea creek doesn’t freeze over during winter and helps maintain warmth and humidity throughout the year.
This means that they are ideally placed to grow rare plant varieties, many of which cannot grow productively outside of greenhouses in the rest of the UK. There are other tea plants in England, but they are more likely growing in greenhouses, such as those at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and these Cornish camelia are studied for a greater understanding of the natural chemistry and organic conditions required for them to flourish, helping other producers with diversification of farming across their own land. The hardiest Cornish tea bushes are supplied to determined tea enthusiasts in much colder parts of the UK, including Scotland, though the loss rate is higher and productivity significantly lower.
‘Widespread use of tea is evident in China from at least the second century AD, finding its way along the Silk Roads and West of the Himalayas by the eighth century. Tea reached Europe proper via trade in the late sixteenth century – now in its black form.’
A TEA-POTTED HISTORY
The widespread use of tea is evident in China from at least the second century AD, finding its way along the Silk Roads and West of the Himalayas by the eighth century. Tea reached Europe proper via trade in the late sixteenth century – now in its black form. Green pigmentation turns darker if the leaves are allowed to oxidise naturally before drying, lending itself better to foreign export. Initially, the significant distances tea exports travelled meant a significant price-tag, with the product to be enjoyed by those monied few.
In France, it was usurped fairly quickly after its introduction by coffee. In Germany, it was regarded as a medicinal drink, rather than enjoyed in its own right. In England, Charles II’s wife Catherine of Braganza was largely responsible for making it fashionable in the 1660s, and by the Georgian period tea had become an obsession across the British Isles. By the mid-eighteenth century, tea had shaken off its ‘exclusive’ label and was enjoyed by all classes in all settings, from afternoon tea in stately homes to a breakfast cuppa on the tables of the poorer classes.
‘Kea plums are only found in a single valley in Cornwall off the Fal Estuary. Ancient orchards were discovered around 400 years ago on the same 20 acres of land close to the village of Kea where they can be found today.’