Friday, 22 September 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 22 September

Thomas Blaikie tackles the sticky problems of goat’s cheese over-gifting and the eternal cream tea debate: jam or cream on top?

Dear Thomas
A dear friend has taken to keeping goats. Every year he arrives from his bolthole in Cumbria for his annual sojourn in the Dordogne laden with samples of his homemade goat's cheese. Unfortunately, two years ago he took to heart the profuse and genuine praise for his handiwork and arrived last year with enough cheese to feed all the refugees at Calais (and the gendarmes who guard them). This year he has exceeded even that feat. The back axle of his heavy-duty pickup truck groaned with the weight of his efforts. After all the fellow guests had departed, two entire boxes were unconsumed. His hostess was left with this jumbo cheese headache. She does not want to cause offence by asking him to cut down on the culinary gift. However, with his goats no doubt already in training for next year's giant cheese fest, what should she do? Cormac Higgins, Donegal, Ireland

Dear Cormac
I knew some people whose hostess gift (this was just for a two-night weekend stay) was one of those super-sized bottles of champagne – a Balthazar or whatever. Anyway, it took two people to carry it into the house. 'They must have forgotten I don't drink,' one of the hosts murmured. On another occasion they too produced an entire cheese, which became more and more disconsolate as the house party progressed.

I was brought up in the shadow of two world wars. At the dining table, my mother would insist that my father and I ate up the two remaining peas – otherwise they'd have to be stored in a tiny dish in the larder and eaten the next day. Quite right too. No matter how fat the times, it's wicked to waste food – or anything else for that matter. But these days, a lot of people don't seem to care. It's awful to say it, but a gift can be a burden – or even cause annoyance.

Over-gifting is either an anxiety or a vanity. House guests in particular seem to think their gift should equal in cost what they would have had to pay if they'd been staying in a hotel. But this is unnecessary. A few bottles of wine are quite sufficient. If offering food, consult with the hosts first. And manageable quantities, please. After, all, what's the point if it has to be thrown away? Also, guests will get bored of eating the same thing, no matter how delicious it is to start with.

Your friend needs soothing, as likely as not. I suggest the hostess phones him before next year's visit and tries to tackle the problem obliquely: 'I'm thinking about the menus,' she could say. 'I don't suppose by any chance you could possibly manage just a few of your lovely goat's cheeses? There are 16 coming to lunch one of the days.'

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Are you watching the new Bake Off? We must give it a chance, but I wasn't best pleased when, back in April, an advance publicity shot showed Prue, Paul et al brandishing scones mounted with jam and the cream on top.

This is the Cornish way, you see. I'm from Devon, where the jam's on top. Or so it's always said. But my mother confirmed that in all her 93 years this controversy has been going on. The thing is, a cream tea is a self-assembly affair, isn't it? So who exactly is dictating? A survey carried out by clotted cream makers Rodda's (I like them, even though they're Cornish) finds that 61 per cent favour the Cornish method. Drat! They're wrong, of course. The Devon system is right and logical. The cream acts as an adhesive, holding the jam on. Otherwise, 53 per cent said using the same spoon for the cream and the jam was awful, while 34 per cent condemned whipped cream in a cream tea.

We can agree about those two things at least. Cream tea's huge nationally, by the way, with 63 per cent of us having had one in the past two years.

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