NanceMuse: Well, if I'm supposed to act like an asshat, I'm not sharing any of these cucumber sandwiches. Or the crumpets. Or the scones.
TenMinJoe: Oh go on, just one scone.
TenMinJoe: Scone etiquette question: jam first or cream first?

That's how it all started. Scones are supposedly a Scottish invention, but the south-westerly counties of Devon and Cornwall—famous for clotted cream—have succeeded in turning them into an art-form: the cream tea. Yet there is an aesthetic and culinary division over this art-form: what's the correct order for the application of clotted cream and jam to scones when preparing a cream tea? Should it be sweet, sticky jam atop the rich, cool fatness of cream, or the other way about?

I've seen families enter into animated discussions on this very topic in the refined surroundings of a tea room and it managed to divide the Britnoders accordingly. TenMinJoe concluded that he prefers jam-first. My brother is resolutely of the cream-first persuasion, as I believe is TheLady. spiregrain commented that whilst the jam-first approach is one that might seem to be more common, he favours good butter and jam, without the clotted cream. Me? I do it however I so fancy, and that includes my preference for raspberry jam over the more usual strawberry, and fruit scones to plain scones. Some might call me uncouth, but I find the slight sharpness of raspberry superior to the intense sweetness of strawberry, and fruit scones more texturally interesting than plain ones.

But of course, I couldn't just say that I opt for jam- or cream-first as the mood takes me. In the interests of culinary curiosity, I had to both investigate the origins of the debate and experiment to determine what the differing effects of cream-first or jam-first were on scones, and the palate. An hour after this catbox exchange, a batch of scones was cooling on a rack in my kitchen and I was a little more enlightened as to the difference between a Devonshire cream tea and a Cornish cream tea.

So. A Devonshire cream tea has cream first, then jam, on a still-warm scone. Clotted cream is so rich, so close to butter in its fatness, that for the cream-first proponents it seems obvious that it should anoint the bread-y goodness of the scone before jam. If you are wondering how best to spread jam over the cream, you should be using a soft-set jam that can be spooned delicately over the cream, not a high-pectin preserve that is closer to a jelly and needs to be spread with a knife.

A Cornish cream tea, on the other plate, spreads a layer of butter onto the scone first, then jam, topped off with cream. The layer of butter is all-important: it prevents the jam from sliding off of the scone. This method has the obvious advantage of being able to slather cream on top of the jam and scone to the point that just looking at it will clog your arteries. It's also the method favoured by The Ritz. If that's important to you.

But what of the contrast in taste? Unless you have some warm-from-the-oven scones, some clotted cream, a pot of good jam (remember: soft-set, better if it is home-made), butter, and a pot of freshly brewed tea—my preference is for Assam, but I shan't object if you favour something else, such as Earl Grey—to hand, you are going to have to indulge in a little culinary imagination here.

First, you need to imagine how it feels when you sink your teeth into a warm, bready scone that has a layer of cool, fat, clotted cream slowly melting into it, topped by soft jam. What's the sensation as the intense sugariness hits the roof of your mouth? Is it overwhelming or does it send you into dreamy, sugar-induced raptures? How does it feel as this is followed by the cream? Does the cream help to clear the cloying feeling of the jam before scone brings a drier element into your mouth, or would you rather the lingering sweetness of the jam?

Now, take a sip of tea and clear your palate.

Try a bite of the Cornish version. What does cream-jam-butter-scone feel like as it meets your palate? Is the jam lost in the advance-guard of the cream? How does the butter affect the texture of the scone? Is shovelling the cream-topped edifice into your mouth more logistically demanding than the jam-topped version? Despite this variant containing more elements, is it less complex and less exciting for your palate?

Which do you prefer? Etiquette be damned: which tastes better? Still not sure? Then prepare one half according to Devonshire rules and the other half according to Cornish rules. It's your scone, after all. Right or wrong doesn't come into this; it's about what feels best when you eat it. That's why I shall continue to prepare mine just as I fancy.

Of course, if you still can't decide which you prefer you could create a stir by shunning jam altogether and having thunder and lightning: clotted cream drizzled with black treacle. You know, just in case you want another option.

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