I can still hear it echoing off the stone walls:
It was November, 1974, and I was 7 years old. My mother and I were visiting England for the first time. At that time, government fares to Europe were cheap, the exchange rate was very much in the dollar’s favor, and – the kicker – my mother’s favorite cousin and her family were living in London.
We hit as many of the major sites as we could that week. We did the Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Harrod’s. We also took a tour to Shakespeare’s home and Anne Hathaway’s cottage. I remember thinking that the cottage was really charming, and several of us ended up having a food fight with apples that had fallen from the trees in the yard.
Mom and I were highly amused by the experience we had EVERY time we went out to eat: the first thing the waitstaff did – before speaking to us for the first time – was to bring me a *cold* Coca-Cola. Coke has always been my beverage of choice, so I was fine with it. The first time it happened, it just seemed like a happy coincidence. By the third time, my mother was curious and asked the waitress why she’d brought it to me without even asking. The waitress responded, “Don’t all American children drink cold Coca-Cola?”
On the downside, that was the week that the Irish Republican Army instituted a new practice of placing package bombs in post boxes. Six bombs were placed in boxes around the city – known as the 1974 London Pillar Box Bombing – and more than 40 people were injured in the combined incidents that week.
There are two overriding memories from that trip that stand out in my mind. First was on our visit to Windsor Castle. For my mother, a life-long Anglophile like her father, Windsor Castle was a must-see attraction. I believe that that was also a chartered tour with lunch included. Back then, the food in England was not very…varied…and I had struggled to find things to eat, so when I found fried chicken on the menu I was overjoyed. I was SO excited to be able to have my favorite meal for lunch. They brought it out and placed it in front of me. It looked absolutely perfect, and I took a huge bite, anticipating one of my favorite flavors on Earth. And then time stopped.
All I could taste was FISH.
Even today, I’m not the biggest fan of fish. Back then, I despised it. I spat it out as fast as I could, and wailed, “EW! FISH!” The sound echoed off the walls, and I swear the room went silent. My mother didn’t believe me, but tasted it, and was as shocked as I was at the flavor. The mystery was finally solved many years later when we regaled our British cousin, Penny, with the story. She confirmed that there had been a period of a couple years in the early 70s when – in order to save money – chickens were fed fish meal. But the Brits also found it disturbing to have their chicken and eggs taste of fish, so the practice was discontinued.
Once I had thoroughly embarrassed myself and eaten who knows what for lunch – it was NOT that chicken – we proceeded on our tour. I honestly don’t remember much about the tour and the things that we saw. I remember St. George’s Chapel, and some interior rooms, but that is about it.
The second – more tangible – memory involved our trip to Buckingham Palace. To say that I was excited about seeing Buckingham Palace is a massive understatement because my mother told me that it was where the Queen lived when she was in England, and I fantasized about meeting her while we were there. We got there early enough to see the Changing of the Guard before our tour. Again, I don’t remember too much about the interior, but I do have vague memories of a long hallway with rooms leading off to one side. I was the only child on the tour, and a very nice gentleman who worked at the Palace stopped me to ask if I was enjoying my visit. I told him I was, and asked if the Queen was there. He said that sadly, she wasn’t, but if she had been, he would have gotten me in to meet her. As it was, he said that he would tell her how much I enjoyed my visit. I bought it hook, line and sinker!
Once we were home, I remarked that it was really nice of that man to tell the Queen about me. My mother’s response was, “Why don’t you write her a letter and tell her yourself.” It’s a miracle that the letter happened at all: my mother was adamant that it be done according to etiquette, and neatly hand-written. She sat me down with a book that explained the proper etiquette for correspondence – remember, I was *7* – and made me rewrite the letter 7 or 8 times until it was perfect. The only thing that kept me going was her claim that I would get a letter in response. I didn’t buy it, but I had come too far to quit, and off went my letter. Months later, long after I had forgotten about it, a letter addressed to me arrived in the mail:
I must admit that it was a pretty nice payoff.
Funny enough, many years later, I did find myself in very close proximity to Her Majesty. In 1991, on my third day of work at the Library of Congress, Dr. James Billington hosted Her Majesty, Prince Phillip and 350 members of the British entertainment industry – including Angela Lansbury, Michael York and Sir Richard Attenborough – to open the British Film Industry’s festival. I was working in the Visitor Services Office, and our job was to provide tours of the newly-renovated Jefferson Building tothe guests. In order to prepare security measures, the Secret Service was stationed right outside our office, and we hung out with them all morning. They told us that when we were in the room with Her Majesty, we were to stand absolutely still. “Or, what? You’ll shoot us,” we joked. A deadly serious, “Yes,” was the response.
The luncheon ended, and we were in position on the opposite steps of the Great Hall, ready to meet guests for tours. Dr. Billington walked out with Her Majesty and Prince Phillip. We had been told that he was going to show them the Main Reading Room and several special maps. Afterward, they were supposed to go downstairs and exit through the carriage entrance. They went on their way, and the guests started streaming out. Since it was only my third day, I wasn’t quite up to speed to give a tour, so I assigned tour guides to groups of guests. We had gotten pretty much everyone off on a tour, and a small group of us milled about the Great Hall. All of a sudden, the Main Reading Room doors opened, and Dr. Billington walked out with Her Majesty. We were stunned, but remembered what the Secret Service had told us, so we backed away as quickly as possible. As it happens, that section of the hall is not that wide, so there was a limited distance we could travel. As Her Majesty walked by – no more than 6 feet from me – she nodded and smiled at EVERY SINGLE PERSON she passed. She really does have the most beautiful smile.
So, I really didn’t have a choice but to follow my mother and grandfather into full-on Anglophilia, even earning a Bachelor’s degree in History with a specialty in medieval English history. That interest was spurred on by the fact that my mother and grandfather traced our ancestry back across the pond, and found some big guns. A couple of the highlights are my 46th (or something like that) great-grandfather who built a lot of the castles still standing in England, including Windsor Castle. Another great-grandfather ordered William Wallace’s execution.
So yes, I will be up at 4am tomorrow – that’s about when I get up for work anyway so it’s not a challenge – to watch the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, history in the making. When I first started plotting this blog post, I had planned to do a full-on afternoon tea menu, but one suitable for breakfast. It then occurred to me that no one else in my family was going to be up at that hour, so I had to pick one item and that was not difficult: scones, clotted cream and strawberry preserves. I decided on lemon scones because I thought the flavor would work well with accompaniments for wedding viewing but would also work well on their own. I was right: my husband and daughter love them so much that I’m not sure that there will be any left for me tomorrow morning. Accompanying the scones will be a very special tea in the commemorative mug that I got for Mother’s Day:
The nice thing about these scones is that it’s almost impossible to mess them up. All you need to do is mix the dry ingredients, cut in the butter and add the wet ingredients. Just bring it together, dump it out onto a floured surface & cut out according to which shape you want. You can also substitute half & half, buttermilk or milk instead of the cream. These scones end up being a little moist with a little bit of crumb. Two tablespoons of lemon zest may sound like a lot, but it really just ends up being a nice back note.
And now it’s time for me to go to bed.
Lemon Cream Scones
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more for rolling
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes.
1 cup heavy whipping cream, plus a little extra to coat the scones
1 teaspoon vanilla
Turbinado/raw sugar for coating
Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Set aside.
Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Cut the butter into the dry mixture using a pastry blender or fork until it resembles sand.
Add in the cream and vanilla, and mix until incorporated. If the dough seems a little wet, add a little more flour. Place the dough on a lightly-floured surface and gently press out the dough to the thickness you want – they are not going to rise very much. Cut out whatever shape you wish for the scones. Depending on the shapes you cut, you may have scraps of dough left. Very gently rework the scraps back together and cut as many more as you can.
Place cut scones on the sheet tray. Mix together the extra tablespoon of cream and the egg, and brush onto the tops of the scones. Sprinkle Turbinado sugar over the top.
Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
Eat as is, or serve with clotted cream and your favorite fruit preserves.
The scones will last for a couple of days…if your family lets them last that long.