Those who know me well know that I’m a walking contradiction – or a hypocrite, depending on your definition of the word. Politically, I’m left of centre but more pink than red; environmentally I’m lime-green rather than green-green – on account of the fact that I run our air-conditioner (powered by solar energy) all day during summer.
I’m a reverse snob in that I rarely read (or watch) anything that’s been nominated for a serious award yet consider myself too highbrow for most reality TV – with the exception, of course, of Bake-off and Masterchef.
It should, then, come as no surprise when I say that I’m not a luxury brand junkie but at the same time I am addicted to Fortnum & Mason’s English Breakfast Tea – I have it every morning. Fortunately, these days I’m able to buy it in my local department store.
There’s something so English about Fortnum & Mason’s – but it’s an Englishness that’s of the upper-crust, posh variety. Which is what makes my fascination with the store and my need for their tea even more of a contradiction for this staunchly egalitarian colonial.
Perhaps it’s the history and the nostalgia associated with the store. This is a store that was literally built on spent wax. William Fortnum was a footman to Queen Anne and one of the perks of his job was that he was allowed to keep the spent candles. The royal household insisted on new candles each night so that meant a lot of spare wax that young Will was able to sell for a decent profit. He also had a grocery side-gig and by 1707 had saved enough to convince his landlord Hugh Mason to go into business with him. And the rest, as they say, is history and F&M is now the most famous corner store in the world.
Nigella had this to say:
“Some of my earliest food memories are of Fortnum & Mason: my mother’s favourite chocolates were their rose and violet creams; my great-aunt would come to London sporadically and take me out there for the world’s most lavish and exotic ice cream sundaes, at a time when pretty much everywhere else was just vanilla, chocolate or strawberry.”
Whatever it is, there’s something about Fortnum & Mason – and their amazing food hall – that keeps me coming back; even as I continue to be disgusted at the obscenity of some of the money that’s spent there. Remember how I told you about the £2000 Christmas crackers?
It’s still on my bucket list to have tea there some time – when I can get my head around the price, that is: £60 per person.
In the meantime, I can dream and, thanks to the cookbook my bestie gave me for Christmas, I can cook some of the exceptional food that the F&M restaurants and hampers have become famous for. As an aside, kudos to Mr Bestie who not only managed to buy this in the store without me seeing it but carried it around all day – and it was a 25,000 step London day. #respect
Tom Parker Bowles (yes, of those Parker Bowles’s) has written this book. I’ve read a few of his books now – he is a fabulous food writer – and I’m not sure that F&M could have chosen anyone better to honour their foodie tradition. He had this to say about his early memories of visiting the store at Christmas:
“For me, it was utterly magical, more Narnia than Piccadilly, with all the fur wraps and fake snow and sugar-dusted Turkish Delight that came with it…There was a smell of spice and tea and expensive eaux de toilette. We fought our way through the festive hordes, past the tailcoated staff (more soldiers than shop assistants) and found ourselves in the Fountain, where that banana split, with its lashings of cream and fruit and chocolate and ice cream, seemed impossibly big. It was lust at first sight. As it had been for my mother and father, and for generations of excitable, star-struck children.”
As well as being beautifully written, this book is also beautifully photographed by David Loftus (see below) who just happens to be one of my photography heroes. It’s not however designed as a coffee table book – and that’s just as well as mine already is full of post-it notes and more than a few splatters.
The most obvious recipe to bring you would be the famous Fortnum & Mason scones, but this is on their website – the link is here – and you really should try them.
Instead, I’ll give you the granola – which I’ve tweaked only a tiny bit – and which is now the only granola my daughter tells me that I should be making. It’s full of nuts and orange zest and is seriously good with Greek yoghurt. F&M serve it with Greek yoghurt and Lime Marmalade (see below).
Oh, and don’t go piling this one into your bowl – with this much sugar, you only need a little.
Fortnum & Mason’s Granola
What you need…
- 55g unsalted butter
- 60g honey – real honey, not supermarket pretend honey
- 25g golden syrup
- 85g demerara sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 25g hazelnuts, chopped
- 75g pecan nuts, chopped
- 35g pistachio nuts
- 50g flaked almonds
- 70g sunflower seeds (I also use about the same amount of pepitas)
- 30g desiccated coconut (I use flaked coconut)
- 125g porridge oats – not the quick cook or instant kind
- Grated zest of 2 oranges
- I also throw in a handful or so of chopped cranberries
What you do with it…
- Preheat oven to 150C.
- Put the butter, honey, golden syrup and sugar into a saucepan and melt over low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
- Combine the nuts, seeds and oats in a large bowl, add the orange zest and pour in the syrupy-butter mixture. Sarah doesn’t like the nuts to be too chunky so I give them a quick blitz – it’s a personal taste thing. If you put the coconut and cranberries in now, the cranberries turn into hard, chewy nuggets and the coconut ends up over-baked so unless you’re going to really keep a close eye on it, add these at the 40-minute mark.
- Mix it well and spread it out on a parchment-lined baking tray. Bake for around 60 minutes, turning the mixture every 15 minutes or so.
- At the 40-minute mark take it all out of the oven and mix through the coconut and, if you’re using them, the cranberries, and put it back in for another 15-20 minutes or until it is golden brown, again turning the mixture at least once.
- It will crisp up when cool and, if stored in an air-tight container, will keep for 3-4 weeks.
Have you ever been to Fortnum & Mason? Have you had tea there?