Squashed Flies and Constant Comment

SONY DSCI remember my first taste of tea. It was just me and my mother sitting at our Formica kitchen table in Mansfield, Ohio. I was about three and a half, maybe four. We had a tin of Constant Comment in front of us, and it was delicious.

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.
—C. S. Lewis

Ever since that first sip, I’ve been a confirmed tea drinker. I learned then that tea is about comfort, warmth, and stillness. There’s no other drink I’d rather sit with when I’m reading a good book. No other drink that goes so well with a movie while I snuggle with my husband on the sofa. No other drink that I enjoy when I’m sitting alone in the coffee shop with my laptop. Tea makes the book more absorbing, the movie funnier, and the work less tedious.

 I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.
—Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

One of my favorite tea times took place in London, the city of tea drinkers. Chris, the girls, and I had been sightseeing all day. We were exhausted. By the time we arrived at Hyde Park, we all suffered from a full-blow case of Tourist Collapse. All we wanted was a quiet, grassy spot under a tree.

What we found instead was much better: an empty table at the Lido Café, perfectly situated along the Serpentine. We all ordered tea and took a box of squashed fly biscuits from our backpack. (We’re not proud.)

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Here we are at the Lido in the summer of 2011.

 Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist?
I am glad I was not born before tea.

—Sydney Smith, A memoir of the Rev. Sydney Smith

Now if you are new to squashed flies, you are not alone. As far as I know, they are a British phenomenon. My husband, though, who grew up in London, knows and loves these teatime biscuits. Squashed fly biscuits are basically sandwich cookies with a currant filling.

So we sat with our squashed flies and hot tea and eventually took out our books to read and journals to write in. (That journal, by the way, explains how I remember the name of the café.) We sat quietly, sipping tea, reading, and writing until we started feeling more energized. By the second pot, we had put our books away and begun chatting and noticing the city around us again.

And that, I believe, is the power of a good cuppa. It soothes, calms, and energizes. And as I write this, I realize it is just the thing I want. So please pardon me as I put the kettle on.

* * * * *

DIY Constant Comment

  • 4 tablespoons black tea
  • 15 whole cloves, crushed
  • 1 ½-inch cinnamon stick, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon dried orange peel, broken into small pieces

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

* * * * *

Squashed Fly Biscuits

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  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped raisins (or you can use currants if you prefer)
  • coarse sugar, optional for sprinkling on biscuits before baking
  1. Whisk together  flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into small cubes, and work it into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender, mixing until  dough is crumbly.
  2. Add  ice water, mixing until the dough holds together.
  3. Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a rectangle. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F once you remove the dough from the refrigerator.
  5. Roll out one piece of dough on a lightly floured work surface into about a 10″ x 14″ rectangle. (Don’t bother cutting off the ragged edges.)
  6. Brush the surface of the dough with the beaten egg, sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Then spread half the surface with 3/4 cup of the raisins.
  7. Fold the other half of the dough over the raisins so you have a raisin sandwich. Roll out the dough again, until you have a piece of dough about 6″ x 15″. Some of the raisins may poke through—that’s to be expected.
  8. Brush the dough lightly with beaten egg, and sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.
  9. Trim the ragged edges off. These are yours to eat because you don’t care what they look like.
  10. Cut the dough into about 15 rectangular cookies.
  11. Transfer the cookies to a lightly greased baking sheets.
  12. Repeat for the remaining piece of dough.
  13. Bake the cookies for 14 to 18 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.
  14. Serve with tea.

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