URGENT UPDATE: I think people are reading this site, for between posting this piece this morning and coming back from lunch, Amazon has nearly sold out of my favorite jam: only 13 jars of Tiptree Little Scarlet Conserve are left. Buy yours now! It may, like Twinkies, become extinct!
In my life I’ve spent many months in the UK, including various places in England and five months in Scotland. I love the place, and the people are wonderful.
There are also many glories, highest among which is a British pub that has real ale. There is nothing in the U.S. that is like a historic old local that has real cask ales served at the proper temperature (a temperature always mischaracterized by Americans as “warm”). In fact, Oxonians will recognize the great pub where I had lunch yesterday: The Turf Tavern in Oxford. I had a fine pint and a wonderful fish and chips with mushy peas (a vegetable dish, by the way, that many abhor, but I love). But I have two further observations about England since I’m travelling and can’t do substantive posts:
1. The Brits are overly punctilious about two things: tea and marmalade. There is “tea time” and “coffee time,” the latter in the morning and the former at all other times, but rigorously between 3:30 and 4 p.m. Even many Brits who like coffee won’t drink it after noon solely because it isn’t proper.
Here’s a story that demonstrates this peculiarity. I once was making cappuccinos with my office espresso machine in the late morning (this was in Chicago). To be nice, I made an extra one to give to my friend and chairman, the Brit Brian Charlesworth, a famous evolutionary geneticist. I walked across the hall to proffer the steaming drink to Brian, whereupon he looked at his watch to see if it was the right time to drink coffee. Since it was after 10 a.m., he refused my offer. This is what I call “overly scrupulous” (“neurotic” is a less proper term).
And there are all the lovely jams that the Brits make—some of the world’s best, which include gooseberry and raspberry preserves, and what I consider the world’s finest jam: Wilkin & Sons’ Tiptree Little Scarlet Strawberry Conserve. (If you ever see a jar, buy it instantly, though it’s pricey, but be sure it’s the “Little Scarlet” version, for Wikin & Sons make other strawberry jams. I’ve just found Little Scarlet on Amazon for $22.14 for 12 oz.) This was James Bond’s favorite jam, and it’s made from a variety of small, deeply flavored strawberry cultivated only by Wilkin & Sons. It is ethereal, far better than any strawberry jam—nay, any jam—I’ve ever had.
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Yet despite their multifarious array of jams, many Brits go for the same thing at breakfast: orange marmalade. Boring! It’s pure habit, nothing else. It must be habit (or a perverse adherence to tradition), for there are so many other jams that are better.
2. The Brits say “different to” rather than “different from.”
“Little Scarlet is different to other strawberry preserves, even the other types made by Wilkin & Sons.”
“Different to” is just wrong; it sounds wrong and it is wrong. I can live with “tyres” and “centre,” but not “different to.”
Oddly, every Brit I’ve tried to convince that this phrase is wrong has been baffled, and then disagreed!
But enough kvetching, for tonight I get to experience one of the glories of British academics: a formal dinner in college—in this case a formal dinner at New College, Oxford. This is something I always wanted to do and has been on my bucket list forever. Academics in gowns! Dinner in courses with good wine! High table! And port and dessert in a separate room!