Tag Archives: Ceylon Tea Trails

Cucumber Sandwiches – that old English High Tea Tradition

Whilst visiting Ceylon Tea Trails two weeks ago I was presented with the most delicious cucumber sandwich at high tea. Whilst not a great lover of “High Tea’s”; one because it interferes with my sunset beer and spicy salty nibbles, two because I frankly have not had that many due to the fact that I am not from English aristocracy or sufficiently affluent to be able to afford eating out at any other time other than lunch or dinner (you don’t seriously expect me to slave away in the kitchen all day just to prepare a dainty sandwich and a home-made scone to accompany a cup of tea??).

Well almost not! The cucumber sandwich at Tea Trails was so good that I have tried to recreate it at home today. Before I give you the recipe, here’s a little history of the little dainty sandwiches that accompany a high tea…

It is the sandwich that defines the English high (or afternoon) tea: its presentation and filling; its size and shape and slenderness; whether it is with or without the crust. Tea sandwiches should know their place—that is, before the scones and well before the cakes.

 It was in 1840 that Anna Maria Stanhope, seventh Duchess of Bedford, hit upon the idea of afternoon tea, a light repast designed to bridge the lengthy gap between lunch and dinner, which in fashionable circles wasn’t taken until 8pm. The sandwiches served at teatime are just filling enough to inhibit overindulgence in the scones, cream and jam, and iced ginger and chocolate cakes.
Afternoon tea at Ceylon Tea Trails complete with cucumber sandwiches
Afternoon tea at Ceylon Tea Trails complete with cucumber sandwiches

The cucumber sandwich may well be the apotheosis of the English teatime snack, immortalized in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest when Lady Bracknell arrives for tea, only to find that her nephew, Algernon, has scoffed the lot. Consequently he is forced to tell a little lie, with his butler’s connivance: namely that “there were no cucumbers in the market this morning… not even for ready money”.

Many varieties of the cucumber sandwich exist nowadays, the Americans have added cream cheese, mint, dill and even ground raw garlic or onion powder (which to me sounds tasty but defeats the object of having a light teatime snack) etc., the Indians (particularly during cricket matches) sometimes add green chutney and slices of boiled potato. The original, however, was just very finely sliced bread with butter and skinned slices of cucumber sprinkled with salt, pepper and a dash of lemon juice.

Cucumber sandwich
Cucumber sandwich

I didn’t want anything too fancy so I took the basics and added some different but subtle touches:

Ingredients (serves two or three):

  • 1/4 cup very finely chopped chives (in Sri Lanka I used the leaves of the tiny red shallots). You could use fresh mint here too but I couldn’t find it in Sri Lanka
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (I used Hellmans…it has to be thick mayo not runny)
  • 6 slices of bread (sandwich bread is good because it is dense…white or brown, although I would prefer brown – I only had white today)
  • 3-inch length of cucumber
  • salt
  • pepper
  • lemon (or lime) juice to taste

Method:

  • Firstly mix the mayonnaise with the chives (and/or mint) and some salt and pepper (and lemon juice if desired but take not to make it too runny) in a bowl. Chill.
  • Warm the butter to room temperature so it is spreadable.
  • Slice the cucumber as finely as you like it. Skin it first if desired.
  • Spread the butter on 3 slices of bread and ensure there are no holes for the cucumber juices to make the bread soggy.
  • Arrange the sliced cucumber on the buttered slices and dust with salt, pepper & lemon (lime) juice.
  • Spread the remaining 3 slices liberally with the chilled mayo mixture
  • Put these slices onto the bread slices with cucumber, gently push down and slice into slim fingers or little triangles (take the crust off if desired for a more authentic effect)

Brew a cup of tea and enjoy!

The Enchanting Tea Country – Ceylon Tea Trails 3 Hospitality

This is the third and final instalment of my trip memoirs to the Sri Lankan Tea Country and staying at Ceylon Tea Trails . The other two blog articles can be read here and here, where I talked about winning the Sri Lanka in Style prize, the wonderful Castlereagh Lake area (near Hatton) where we stayed and the breathtaking scenery and flora. Now I’ll be waxing lyrical about the beautiful Castlereagh Bungalow property, the exceptional hospitality and how well we were looked after from the minute we arrived to the second we (sadly) departed.

We were just time for that great tradition “high tea” on our arrival and that certainly did not disappoint…with delicately scented Orange Pekoe tea (adding milk is a crime! We were however only to find this out on our second day!), chocolate cake slices, mini lemon meringue pies, mini carrot cake pieces, delectable home-made scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam to mini cucumber, egg & cress and cheese salad sandwiches…we didn’t even have time to explore our home for the next 2 days before tucking in!

High tea at Ceylon Tea Trails
High tea at Ceylon Tea Trails

After being rejuvenated it was time to explore the bungalow.  Dating back around 90 years, the lodge, or bungalow, nestles in a leafy forest glen, with the appearance of a charming single-storey colonial house. It wasn’t grand, as that would look out-of-place; it was more quaint and cabin-chic; wooden panel floors, with cream walls, a green corrugated iron roof and many picture-frame windows, all wide-open, with a ‘country-chintz’ style of décor (as Luxury Explorer so brilliantly puts it).

From the main (road side) you enter a welcoming reception room which doubles as reading room with an open hearth.

Castereagh Bungalow Reception & Reading Room
Castereagh Bungalow Reception & Reading Room
Lovely antiques and decor in the Castlereagh Bungalow Reception room
Lovely antiques and decor in the Castlereagh Bungalow Reception room

The individual guestrooms are to the right and the sitting room and  dining rooms are to the left which both lead to the veranda which overlooks the pool which in turn looks out over Castlereagh Lake.

The sitting room is extremely homely and it is easy to spend a lot of time here reading your favourite book and drinking your preferred pre-dinner (or post-dinner 😉 ) drink…

Castlereagh Bungalow Sitting Room
Castlereagh Bungalow Sitting Room
Serve yourself to drinks; a pre-dinner aperitif or a brandy to heat you up over a rainy night playing boardgames in front of the fire
Serve yourself to drinks; a pre-dinner aperitif or a brandy to heat you up over a rainy night playing boardgames in front of the fire

The Castlereagh Bungalow has 5 guestrooms and although we were in the smallest (The Tate Room) it was still enormous. The bedroom boasts a four poster bed  which would accommodate two of the tallest North Europeans with ease. The bed had so many pillows and cushions I lost count before falling asleep. There is also a huge wardrobe and a large writing desk overlooking the lake, should you feel inclined to do any work at all and a comfortable chaise longue to generally do very little in.

The best bit, however, was the bathroom…

Tate Room bathroom - Castlereagh Bungalow
Tate Room bathroom – Castlereagh Bungalow

It’s the little touches that makes this place so special…

Complimentary Tea Toiletries
Complimentary Tea Toiletries

Once cleaned up after the dusty train journey it was time for drinks and dinner. Both were served on the veranda because of the warm weather! It was still cooler than down in the Low South West and much more bearable. We did not need jackets nor the fires lighting (which I privately thought was a shame!) .

Private table set at dusk
Private table set at dusk
Just what the doctor ordered
Just what the doctor ordered

Although fairly informal (thankfully with no dress code), the first dinner was a grand five course affair:

Cream of Asparagus soup with truffle oil (with a selection of home-made brown and white crusty rolls)

Apricot and rocket salad with mandarin pieces and a blue cheese and walnut dressing (this was beautiful!!)

Second course
Second course

Then we had deep-fried cheese (I think Brie or Camembert) with a berry coulis/compot type-thing…excuse me for not remembering exactly – I was enjoying myself too much!!

For mains – a fillet steak (mine medium rare) in a red wine & taragon jus with roasted vegetables and potatoes dauphinoise…BY FAR the best steak  I have ever  had in Sri Lanka!

Main course
Main course

All I remember  is that the desert was more-ish (something with chocolate, fruits & tea!) – I was so full by this point I couldn’t eat another thing. Talk about being spoilt. There’s me looking like the cat who got the cream:

Happy and stuffed
Happy and stuffed

With such an enormous amount of food in me and exhausted from travelling there was nothing more to do than retire to the most comfortable bed complete with Egyptian cotton sheets for the night (ah bliss).

Breakfast the next day was equally scrumptious. Gallons of tea followed by a fruit plate so well-presented  you almost felt ashamed to eat it.

Tropical Fruit Plate
Tropical Fruit Plate

This was followed by a full English, which I could not finish (I would like to see somebody try!!):

  • 2 eggs cooked how you like
  • 3 rashers of bacon (cooked crispy…they ask)
  • 1 huge herby sausage (I gave half mine away…it was massive!)
  • 1 crispy potato cake with herbs

AND all this came with croissants, rolls (white, brown, crusty & soft and some sweet pastries)

Obviously if you can only stomach cornflakes in the morning they will cater for you too 😉

You need some exercise after that  so we went for a long walk only to find that on our return they had laid out the tables for lunch (!!)

Lunch table
Lunch table

With a glass of crisp Pinot Grigio on offer and three courses:

  • Cauliflower and cheese cream soup
  • Grilled garlic jumbo prawns with a salad of iceberg, rocket and tri-coloured peppers
  • Apple crumble with home-made vanilla ice cream

Who was I to refuse??

I am quite embarrassed to admit that our high tea on that day was served at 5.30pm instead of 4pm and our Sri Lankan Rice & Curry at 9.30pm instead of 8.30pm 😀

More food??
More food??

All this was accommodated with a smile – hospitality at it’s best! I WILL return.

The Enchanting Tea Country – Ceylon Tea Trails 2

One of the amazing things that strike most people about Sri Lanka are the huge differences in landscape and climate that such a small country boasts. Following on from my previous post about my trip to the Tea Country with Ceylon Tea Trails, there is one such thing which I want to share with you and that is the absolute abundance of beautiful flora in the Hill Country (AKA Tea Country).

Fresh tea bushes
Fresh tea bushes
Castlereagh Bungalow details
Castlereagh Bungalow details

We were staying at an elevation of 4,025 feet (1,227 metres) and in complete contrast to the South Western coast where I live normally, there were no coconut trees and paddy fields to speak of.

What we saw instead were luscious green hills carpeted with tea bushes as far as the eye could see, tall pine trees towering over mountains with waterfalls and amazing flowers that would not look out of place in royal stately gardens in the UK.

Many of these plants are not indigenous to Sri Lanka and were imported (as were the failed coffee crops and the hugely more successful tea!) to the island by the British.

Scotsman James Taylor is attributed to planting the first tea estate in Sri Lanka. It was in 1867 that Taylor planted 20 acres of tea on the Loolecondera estate (of which he was superintendent). It was here he perfected the technique of fine plucking – `two leaves and a bud.’

Ceylon tea became the front-runner of the industry and was much loved for its unmatched quality and variety. The alchemy of land, sun and rain in the Paradise Island of Ceylon, as it was known then, presented the ideal climatic conditions for cultivation of tea. Ceylon added a new dimension to tea by producing variations in taste, quality, character and appearance, largely based on the territory of the region. Ceylon tea with its distinct taste and character became every consumer’s favourite cuppa.” – courtesy of Dilmah Tea.

With the British tea planters came their wives who I imagine had a vital role to play in some of the beautiful floral displays which can be seen to this day. Created by a touch of home-sickness perhaps or simply to stay busy but the ideal climatic conditions in the Tea Country means that their initial efforts are still currently enjoyed by many and will continue to please in the future.

Lilies galore!
Lilies galore!
Roses, carnations, tea and a magnificent lake (and a thistle??)
Roses, carnations, tea and a magnificent lake (and a thistle??)

One flower which is local – the Hibiscus…although I had never seen a white one!

Wonderful white hibiscus
Wonderful white hibiscus
Amazing anthuriums
Amazing anthuriums

The evergreens thrive in the Hill Country because of the warm days, cool nights and more than average rainfall. I can’t get enough of the beautiful tea plantations on rolling hills…

Tea plantations near Dick Oya
Tea plantations near Dick Oya

Complete with quaint churches….

Warleigh Church. Built: 1878
Warleigh Church. Built: 1878

And imposing but pretty tea factories  in the hills opposite the Castlereagh bungalow, surrounded by extremely tall (and in most cases elder than me) pine & eucalyptus trees…

A tea factory as seen from the Castlereagh Bungalow
A tea factory as seen from the Castlereagh Bungalow

Stunning floral displays everywhere you look…I don’t know the names of some of them. Please inform me if you do!

Floral display near the pool and summer house
Floral display near the pool and summer house
Tropical crimson poppy-like flowers
Tropical crimson poppy-like flowers – Canna lilies…thanks Anne Morton for pointing that out to me!
Spherical flowers
Spherical flowers
Orange and yellow carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus)
Orange and yellow carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus)

And this is what it’s all about:

Tea leaves
Tea leaves (Camellia Sinensis)

I hope you’re enjoying these pictures as much as we did taking them. Next the incredible Ceylon Tea Trails hospitality!

The Enchanting Tea Country – Ceylon Tea Trails 1

I’ve been on a trip…a trip of a lifetime.

A few months ago I entered a photography competition through Sri Lanka in Style and amazingly enough I won!! Needless to say I was surprised, very excited and completely bowled over. The photo below was my entry:

Business after the tsunami
Business after the tsunami

Entitled “Business after the tsunami”, this photo encapsulates the Sri Lankan spirit; to keep going when things are tough. It was taken on Beruwela beach about one month after the tsunami. The thambili (coconut water) seller does not really look happy but he knows that thirst must be still be quenched and that his and his family’s livelihood must continue.

Anyway, the first prize was a two-night all-inclusive stay at Ceylon tea Trails.

From the Ceylon Tea Trails website: “Ceylon Tea Trails is the world’s first tea bungalow resort connected by hiking trails, situated in the heart of Sri Lanka’s stunning tea country. The award-winning boutique resort comprises of four colonial tea planters’ bungalows, offering gracious living thanks to butler service, gourmet cuisine & authentic period furnishings. Guests are absorbed into life on a working tea estate, whilst reveling in five-star luxury.

I had only been to the  Hill (and Tea) Country in Sri Lanka once before so needless to say I was extremely excited. What greeted us on our arrival was beyond our expectations.

The view from the Castlereagh Bungalow overlooking Castlereagh lake was stunning:

Spectacular views over Castlereagh Lake
Spectacular views over Castlereagh Lake
Pool at Castlereagh Bungalow
Pool at Castlereagh Bungalow
Castlereagh Bungalow @ Ceylon Tea Trails
Castlereagh Bungalow @ Ceylon Tea Trails

Castlereagh Bungalow

Built in 1925, Altitude: 4,025 ft (1,227 metres).

The actual bungalow lies nestled on the banks of Castlereagh Lake in a woody glade and is perhaps the most romantic of the four Ceylon Tea Trails bungalows. It is also the most remote and is reached along a picturesque and somewhat bumpy road (which adds to the ambiance!) from Dick Oya (near Hatton) around the lake and over the reservoir. The road passes through tiny villages and tea plantations where pickers are busy at work in their bright attire. Whilst driving through these areas you are greeted by warm genuine smiles and waving children.

Tea everywhere
Tea everywhere
Lush green tea fields
Lush green tea fields
Smiles all around - tea pickers
Smiles all around – tea pickers
Ancient Hindu Kovil (temple) on an island in Castlereagh lake
Ancient Hindu Kovil (temple) on an island in Castlereagh lake

I have much much more to share with you, awesome scenic photo’s of flora, pictures of the bungalows’ interior, a bit of history and some tea-infused recipes…please stay tuned 🙂

I’ll leave you  with this for now…courtesy of Tea Trails…

Luxury in the Tea Country of Sri Lanka
Luxury in the Tea Country of Sri Lanka