Can you believe it, we’re in a tea garden in Kerela, one of the most beautiful parts of South India – even more amazing – the plantation is called the Connemara Tea Company. Later I inquired from the manager of the plant Mr.Navaraj, if there was an Irish connection, he looked blankly and asked politely, where is Ireland? He pointed to the portraits on the wall, the last three generations of the family who owned the plantations – obviously Indian – I tried a few more questions but am still none the wiser. Nonetheless we managed to get access to the tea processing plant, something our guide couldn’t guarantee because of an element of secrecy around the method of production. The Connemara Tea is CTC which stands for Cut, Tear and Curl, exactly the process used for Barry’s Tea which we all know and love.Â The tea bushes need direct sunlight and grow in tropical areas on the rolling hills. Teas grown at the highest altitudes, for example, mature slowly and have a lower yield, resulting in higher quality. In fact the best tea comes from North India – Darjeeling and Assam.Â Tea grows on Camellia Sinensis which if left to mature can reach a height of 25 feet, but for tea production they are pruned to a height of about 21/2-3 feet, and after four years of constant picking they are kept manicured to the right height. – they continue to be productive for about 60 years.Â Silver oak grow in lines through the tea gardens, this soft wood tree acts as a windbreak and absorbs moisture which helps to produce a better flavoured tea with a desirable crispness. The silver oak wood is used to make tea chests and for firewood to process the tea and to introduce a smoky flavour in varieties like Lapsang Souchong. Women in bright colourful clothes pick tea leaves at incredible speed, nipping off two tender leaves and one bud, they flick them into a little basket and then into a pannier on their backs. The way in which tea is harvested, dried and processed will affect the flavour of the brew – Indian tea tastes quite different to that from China or Ceylon, and teas from Assam in Northern India differ in flavour to those from Nilgiri in the south.Â They harvest every 10 days for 10 months of the year. First the freshly picked leaves are put into long troughs for withering, cold air is blown through, this concentrates the cell sap, a chemical change takes place, and 20% of the moisture is removed. This process lasts for about a day and then the leaves are put into a hopper and a pre-conditioning machine which first crushes, then tears and finally curls the leaves. The sap is exposed to the air, the tea is then put into a fermenting drum for oxidation which causes the chemical polyphenynol to form and finally theoflavin which adds briskness to the liquor.Â The Manager, Mr Navaraj explained that if fermentation is prolonged another chemical called theurubigin is formed which gives a good rich colour to the tea.Â After 45 minutes to 1 hour, fermentation is arrested and the tea is put into a drying machine at 50C – the enzymes are killed – fermentation ceases. Finally the tea is put into a roaster or dryer for about 10 minutes and that ends the process. Most of the tea produced by the Connemara Tea Company was for home consumption but I bought a few packets to taste from the little shop by the entrance. Across the road, little stalls served hot sweet tea with milk for just a few rupees but the ironic thing was that when we asked for tea in the hotels where we stayed we were offered Tetleys’ Tea Bags – is it a case of ‘the faraway hills are green’! Locals clustered round and stared at us as we drank our tea at the stall, the children came running up to ask for ‘one peno’. Everywhere one goes in India the children look for pens as souvenirs, so if you plan a trip to this fascinating country, collect up all those stray biros and pencils from around the house, so you can enjoy the yelps of delight and huge smiles when you present them with a pen.
Lana Pringle’s Barm Brack
Lana Pringle from Shanagarry makes this moist fruity tea brack, it keeps wonderfully well in a tin and is traditionally served sliced and buttered.
14 ozs (400g/generous 2 cups) dried fruit, raisins and sultanas
2 ozs (55g/generous * cup) cherries
2 ozs (55g) chopped candied peel – see recipe
4 ozs (110g/generous * cup) soft brown sugar
4 ozs (110g/generous * cup) granulated sugar
15 fl. ozs (450ml/generous 1* cups) tea
14 ozs (400g/scant 3 cups) plain white flour
* teaspoon of baking powder
3 tins 4 x 6* x 3 inches deep (10 x 15 x 7.5cm deep)
or 2 tins 5 x 8 x 2* inches deep ((25.5 x 38 x 6.5cm deep)
Put raisins and sultanas into a bowl, cover with tea (Lana occasionally uses a mixture of Indian and Lapsang Souchong, but any good strong tea will do) and leave overnight to allow the fruit to plump up. Next day add the halved cherries, chopped candied peel, sugar and egg and mix well. Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in thoroughly. The mixture should be softish, add a little more tea if necessary (2 fl.ozs/50ml/* cup). Grease the tins with melted butter (Lana uses old tins, heavier gauge than are available nowadays, light modern tins may need to be lined with silicone paper for extra protection.) Divide the mixture between the three tins and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 40 minutes approx. Lana bakes her barmbracks in the Aga, after 40 minutes she turns the tins around and gives them a further 10 minutes approx.* Leave in the tins for about 10 minutes and then remove and cool on a wire rack. *If you are using two tins the barmbracks will take 1 hour approx.
Jasmine Tea and Lemon Parfait
Rory O’Connell makes this delicate parfait with Jasmine Tea at Ballymaloe House
150 g/5 ozs/3/4 cup sugar
100 ml/31/2 fl ozs water
1 tablespoon (1 American + 1 teaspoon) Jasmine tea leaves
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) lemon juice
450 ml/15 fl ozs whipping cream, whipped until thick
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Serve with a fruit salad using some exotic fruits.
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the tea leaves and stir, then cover and remove from the heat. Leave to marinade for 5 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve into a clean pan and bring back to the boil and continue to cook until it reaches the thread stage. Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Pour in the boiling syrup in a thin stream, beating well. Then slowly pour in the lemon juice and continue beating until the mixture becomes white and fluffy. Beat until completely cool. Chill for 5 minutes. Fold the whipped cream and lemon zest into the mixture. Pour into a 25 x 10 cm/10 x 4 inch terrine mould or loaf pan lined with cling film (plastic wrap). Cover and freeze until set. To Serve: Cut 2 cm/3/4 inch slices of parfait and place in the centre of each plate. Serve with a fruit salad made some exotic fruits. This parfait will keep very well for a week or so in the freezer, cover well.
Agen Stuffed Prunes with Rosewater Cream
This ancient Arab Recipe from the Middle East will change your opinion of
prunes – a pretty and delicious dish.
450g (1 lb) Agen prunes, pitted
Same number of fresh walnut halves
150ml (1/4 pint/gen.1/2 cup) each water and red wine or more or 300ml (1/2
pint/11/4 cups) water or cold tea.
300ml (1/2 pint/11/2 cups) cream
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) castor sugar
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) rose blossom water
A few chopped walnuts
Rose petals – optional
We’ve experimented with taking out the stones from both soaked and dry prunes, unsoaked worked best. Use a small knife to cut out the stones and then stuff each with half a walnut. Arrange in a single layer in a saute pan. Cover with a mixture of wine and water, or cold tea. Put the lid on the pan and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add more liquid if they become a little dry. They should be plump and soft. Lift them gently onto a serving plate in a single layer and let them cool. .Whip the cream to soft peaks, add the castor sugar and rose blossom water. Spoon blobs over the prunes and chill well. Just before serving sprinkle with rose petals and a few chopped walnuts. Just before serving, scatter a few chopped walnuts over each blob of cream, sprinkle with rose petals and serve well chilled. This dessert tastes even better next day.