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Monday, 20 June 2011

Why Can't Americans Make a Decent Cup of Tea?

As well as her guinea-fowl, Kitty keeps a small flock of ducks. They’re only a few weeks old – the previous lot having been wiped out by a raccoon – but they’re thriving, and finding their way around. Yesterday, as we sat in the car doing emails, one of them emerged from their little run, up by the workshop, and marched purposefully across the muddy yard, followed by the other thirteen, and headed to the pond that’s been carved out for them.

I couldn’t help laughing, even though the weather was so miserable. We have a saying at home, when it’s like it is today – i.e., cool, cloudy and wet; we greet total strangers in the street with ‘Lovely weather for ducks!’ and then we grimace and scuttle on, heads bowed, trying to stop our umbrellas from turning inside out.

Yesterday was a recovery day, not just from our exertions along the Old Jules Trail, but from the dinner at Gordon, where we met Daisy, the lady I’d chatted to on the plane – all the way from Amsterdam to Minneapolis – and some of her friends. The food highlight, and a first me, was a dish of asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto ham. Beautiful. And to add to our pleasure, we found that our hosts had even gone to the trouble of getting in some Fat Tire for us.

So we slept well when we got home, despite having to do the nightly bucket check. By that I mean the quick round of various containers upstairs which catch most of the the drips when it rains – which it is doing every blinking day right now. If we look after the pails, and empty them regularly, we manage to prevent the water getting down to where we sleep.

We had planned to take it easy on Sunday, but ended up putting in two long sessions collating all our photos and written material from the Trail. And guess what? Despite trying to photograph every important turn and feature along the way, we’d managed to overlook one important junction. I suspect I’ll be heading back to Hwy 250, south of Rushville, to make good the error.

We did manage a short walk in the early evening. We’d barely left the house when A. found a large feather and decided it was just what I needed to round off my new image as a sort of backwoodsman. I shall reserve judgement.

No, I correct myself. I shall remove it, discreetly but permanently. But, for the record, here it is during its brief period as a fashion accessory.

As ever, I got distracted by the flora. The first sunflowers are appearing here and there, so, despite the weather, summer must be on its way.

All along the riverside the trails, which were, a few short weeks ago, easy to follow are now encumbered by thickets of leadplant.

My Grassland Plants informs me that Native peoples used to smoke its leaves or, on occasion, boil them for a kind of tea. Reading this inspired the following thought, that American café proprietors should start using Amorpha canescens instead of that dreadful stuff that comes in bags and masquerades as tea. It cannot be any worse.

And now, because I have yet to eat my porridge – it’s not even on the stove yet – and am possibly a little less mellow than I will be in half an hour’s time, I’m going to indulge myself in a little rant about American tea. Let’s start with the Boston Tea Party. When was that? About 1776? It was a protest about our imperialism, and taxes and suchlike. And what did the Americans do? They boarded British ships in Boston harbour and tipped a cargo of tea into the briny deep. Fair enough, it was an outrage, but they made their point. The trouble is, Americans have been committing far worse outrages against tea-drinkers ever since. Let me raise just one simple point. The water in which tea is brewed. Go to any American diner and what do they do? They fill a thick china mug with hot water, whereupon the temperature plunges to about 165 F, and hand it to you – with the bag on a plate. The next question needs a new paragraph.  It is pretty crucial.

Has anybody who runs a diner ever read the back of a tea-bag, on which it clearly and simply states that you should pour boiling water over the tea-bag?

No. Case closed. Of course, if you really care about your tea you will warm your mug or cup with boiling water before you even think about brewing. Moreover, you will give tea-bags a swerve and use loose tea; but that’s as rare as hen’s teeth in this neck of the woods. I’m afraid I may have contravened US Customs rules when I arrived with three half-pound bags of loose Yorkshire Tea secreted in my back-pack, but... a guy has to survive. Before I leave this topic, I should declare an interest. Yorkshire Tea, whose product I swear by, are one of the promoters of the books I write with Mike Pannett: I mean those Yorkshire country cop memoirs – Now Then, Lad and the rest.

I believe Yorkshire Tea are on a sales drive in the U.S. right now, so check out their website,  You may struggle to find a decent brew in this country, but you can at least salivate over a few pictures of our rich, brown, refreshing national beverage.

Well, that little digression got me out of admitting to having found yet another flower I cannot identify. And, having embarked on a food and drink theme, I can announce that the celebrated wild turkey, given me by those kind hunters back in April, is now de-frosted and will be cooked today. Full report upcoming tomorrow.

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