Somehow, even if you’ve never been to our fourth Harney Holiday Desteanation, London, you probably feel like you have. Between London being the focus of literature, movies, world events and of course the royal family, London has touched our lives in one way or another. Their love of tea, of course, makes the capital of the United Kingdom even more near and dear to our hearts!
My parents, Brigitte and Mike Harney, just came back from a whirlwind tour. They can attest London is very vibrant. Culture is returning, many restaurants are very busy making great-tasting food and are full of charming people. They saw a play at The Globe Theater, which we help support, as well as attending an opera with the English National Opera.
Established more than two millennia ago, this endlessly fascinating city of nine million has a diverse culture, with more than 300 languages spoken. Known for many things, including being one of the world’s major financial centers, London is a city of ancient landmarks and modern architecture. It comes as no surprise that it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, with well-known landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus (not really a circus; think more NYC’s Times Square and you’ll be much closer), Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square and so much more...the list goes on and on. London is home to four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London, the Palace of Westminster, Kew Gardens and the historic settlement in Greenwich. Harney teas are sold at both the Tower and Kew Gardens.
While in London, you can shop at world-famous stores like Selfridges and Harrods, hit Upper Street for more than a mile of English pubs and restaurants, sightsee to your heart’s content, hit the West End for fabulous theater, visit several world-famous museums and so much more. Make sure you make time for Fortnum & Mason, a famous department store and the Queen’s grocer. Check out their hamper gift sets for which they are well known, and book afternoon or high tea in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, named in honor of Her Majesty’s visit in 2012 when she formally opened the room in the company of their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge. On his recent trip, Mike had lunch downstairs at 45 Jermyn Street with The Jane Pettigrew. Jane has been the most important tea person in London for decades.
Also on your London visit, make sure you’re on the lookout for red foxes. That’s right, roughly 10,000 red foxes inhabit London where, for the most part, they and Londoners live together in harmony. For the most part.
Blending London-inspired teas is as easy as buttering a scone, since the British are legendary for their love of tea. Our HRP teas, however, are the only line we created that is specifically supporting a British institution, Historic Royal Palaces. This independent charity looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle. The HRP line has a bit of a complicated origin story. Our founder and my grandfather, John Harney, was asked if he wanted the licensing rights to market teas for these historic British palaces owned by the Royal family (but not for residential use). Papa John was of Irish descent, but despite that he could not resist helping the Royal family. So we decided to do the tea in a new, octagon-shaped tin with jewel-like colors (or should we say “colours”), a nod to the fact that the royal jewels are kept in the Tower of London. Subsequently, we have become the largest licensor for the Historic Royal Palaces, which we think is pretty cool.
Here are some of our more London-focused HRP teas, along with some classic British blends:
- Victorian London Fog
- Victorian London Fog HRP
- Earl Grey
- Earl Grey Supreme
- English Breakfast
- Earl Grey Imperial HRP
- Hot Cinnamon Spice HRP
- Royal English Breakfast HRP
- Royal Palace HRP
- Tower of London HRP
- Shakespeare’s Globe
The Holidays in London
We have no idea what in the world was wrong with Ebenezer Scrooge! It is virtually impossible to hate Christmas in London. Celebrated just as widely and vigorously there as it is here in the U.S., there are lights and merriment everywhere. If you visit London during December, don’t bother packing your bah humbug. You won’t need it.
If you want to start with lights, there are plenty of ‘em! Two of the must-see stops are the lights in Kew Gardens where you’ll experience sparkling tunnels of lights, dancing waterside reflections, mesmerizing flickering flames in the Fire Garden and the glorious panoramic Palm House light display. For something equally as spectacular -- or possibly even more so -- make sure to make the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park a holiday destination. It features the UK’s largest outdoor skating rink and Winter Wonderland’s Christmas Market, one of the largest of London’s many Christmas markets. Winter Wonderland lives up to its name in so many ways, including the chance to see all of London sparkle from high up in the Giant Observation Wheel.
Can’t choose which lights to see? Then take the Christmas Lights London by Night open-top bus tour to see Christmas lights at places like Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Marble Arch, The London Eye and Tower Bridge.
If ice skating is your thing, THE place to go is the ice rink in front of the Natural History Museum bedecked in twinkling lights and featuring a magnificent Christmas tree. Of all the many holiday ice skating rinks to choose from, another great choice is the Somerset House courtyard. Afterward, warm up with a serious cup of hot chocolate from Hotel Chocolat or sip on a cocktail in the Moët & Chandon Skate Lounge. You don’t have to invite us twice.
Looking for something a little warmer? Enjoy Christmas in London at one of their winter terraces, a London specialty. From après-ski-style hideaways to rooftop bars that have been transformed into enchanted woods, you can get cozy and toasty while enjoying a glass of mulled wine. Another way to stay warm is to enjoy London’s department stores and boutiques. See the light displays in stores on Oxford and Regent streets, or shop ‘til you drop while enjoying the Christmas sights at Seven Dials, Covent Garden or Carnaby Street. Another memory-in-the-making, goosebump opportunity is to stop in at St. Paul’s Cathedral during one of the Christmas Carol events. You’ll never hear those songs the same way again.
Of course, what would Christmas in London be without an afternoon tea? At the Waldorf Hilton London, you’ll be transported to the magical world of The Nutcracker at their Sugar Plum Fairy Afternoon Tea. Or choose a decadent experience at the Queen of Afternoon Tea at Hotel Café Royal. As always, The Ritz London does not disappoint with their afternoon tea in the decked-out Palm Court, or enjoy a Festive Afternoon Tea at The Savoy. For a completely different experience, have your afternoon tea on the go while taking in the sights! Brigit’s Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour allows you to take your afternoon tea while riding in a vintage London 1960 Routemaster bus. Sit in a beautifully decorated area with teas, cakes and pastries while enjoying the sights. Two more wonderful places to try are the Corinthia Hotel by 10 Downing Street (maybe you’ll see the Prime Minister, who knows!) and the Connaught Hotel on beautiful Mount Street -- both of these establishments proudly serve Harney tea. So many afternoon tea choices! We love London!!
In British homes, Christmas again looks very familiar to what we know. Santa, or Father Christmas, comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve. In some homes, children write a letter to Father Christmas but instead of putting it in the mail (or the post, as they would say), they let it burn in the fireplace so their wishes go up the chimney, which would be an easy place for Santa to find them! One very British Christmas tradition is that of the Christmas cracker or popper, a wrapped paper tube tied at both ends. When the ends are given a tug, there’s a somewhat loud “pop!” as the paper breaks, revealing small trinkets inside the tube, along with a hat to wear for Christmas dinner. Speaking of dinner...here are three dishes you’ll typically find at a British Christmas meal. While mince pies are still a thing, too, we went with one dish that may surprise you.
If you don’t already know what Yorkshire Pudding is, then know this: it’s not pudding like you think of pudding. More like what we call a popover, Yorkshire Pudding is traditionally served with roast and gravy, but can be filled with almost anything you wish.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 C milk
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 C all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp lard, beef dripping or vegetable oil*
- 2 tbsp cold water
- Crack the eggs into a 2-cup measuring glass. Note the measurement -- it should be around 1 cup. Measure out the same amount of flour as the eggs and set aside. Measure out an amount of milk equal to the eggs and add to the cup with the eggs.
- Pour the eggs and milk into a large mixing bowl and add a pinch of salt. Whisk thoroughly with an electric hand beater or hand whisk. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Gradually sift the measured flour into the milk and egg mixture, again using an electric hand beater or whisk to create a lump-free batter resembling thick cream. If there are any lumps, push the batter through a fine sieve. Let the batter rest in the kitchen for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer if possible, up to several hours.
- Place a pea-sized piece of lard, dripping or ½ teaspoon vegetable oil into each opening in a 12-hole muffin tin.** Place in the hot oven until the fat is smoking.
- Add 2 tablespoons of cold water to the batter and give it another good whisk. Fill the openings in the tin one-third full with batter and return quickly to the oven.
- Bake approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown, puffed and crisp. Repeat until all the batter is gone.
*Note: Using lard, beef drippings or bacon fat is preferred over vegetable oil, as the oil does not add flavor and can make the pudding greasy if not used sparingly.
**Note: Much like making muffins, you can make your Yorkshire Pudding large or small. Choose a tin that works for whatever size pudding you’d like to create.
British Pigs in a Blanket
Sorry vegetarians, but a traditional UK Christmas lunch or dinner is pretty much a meat-fest, and one that wouldn’t be complete without these little delights. They’re a little different than the ones we have in the U.S. because they’re wrapped in bacon!
- 8-12 slices of streaky bacon
- 24 cocktail sausages
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Lightly grease a baking tray and cover with parchment paper. Set aside.
- On a chopping board, lay the slices of bacon side by side. Using the back of a dinner knife, stretch the bacon as far as it will go without tearing it. Cut each slice into thirds.
- Take each cocktail sausage and wrap it tightly with the bacon.
- Lay the wrapped sausage on the prepared baking tray with the seam underneath. Continue until you have used all the bacon and sausages.
- If you’re not quite ready to cook them, cover the tray and place in the refrigerator. When you are ready, place them in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes or until the bacon is crisp and golden and the sausage is cooked through.
If you want to wrap these ahead of time and freeze them, you can do so. Just make sure to defrost them thoroughly before putting them in the oven.
British Christmas Pudding
Again, the word “pudding” does not mean what you think it means in this very classic British holiday dessert. This is more like what we know as a fruitcake, and while it’s simple to put together does require some time to marinate and come together.
- 1 lb. dried fruit
- 1 oz. (scant ½ C) mixed candied fruit peel, finely chopped
- 1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- ¼ C brandy or more as needed
- ½ C self-rising flour, sifted
- 1 tsp ground mixed spice*
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 oz. beef or vegetarian suet, shredded**
- ⅔ C dark brown sugar, loosely packed
- ½ tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 1 C fresh breadcrumbs
- ¼ C raw almonds, coarsely chopped
- 2 large eggs
- Lightly butter a 2 ½ pint pudding basin bowl.
- Place the dried fruit, candied peel, apple and orange and lemon juices into a large mixing bowl. Add the brandy and stir well. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to marinate for a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
- In a very large mixing bowl, stir the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon together. Add the suet, sugar, lemon and orange zests, breadcrumbs and nuts and stir again until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add the marinated dried fruits and stir again.
- In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly, then stir quickly into the dry ingredients. The mixture should have a fairly soft consistency.
- Spoon the mixture into the greased pudding basin bowl, gently pressing the mixture down with the back of a spoon. Cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, then a layer of aluminum foil. Tie securely with string, wrapping the string around the bowl, then loop over the top and then around the bowl again. This will form a handle, which will be useful when removing the pudding from the steamer.
- Set a steamer over a saucepan of simmering water, place the pudding in the steamer and steam the pudding for 7 hours. Make sure you check the water level frequently, so it never boils dry. The pudding should be a dark brown color when cooked.
- Remove the pudding from the steamer and cool completely. Remove the paper, prick the pudding with a skewer in a few places and pour in a little extra brandy.
- Cover with fresh greaseproof paper and re-tie with string.
- Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas Day. To serve warm, reheat the pudding by steaming again for about an hour.
- Add some festive decorations, if you wish, and serve with brandy sauce, brandy butter or custard.
*Note: Mixed spice is a special British spice. You can purchase mixed spice, or substitute it with a mixture of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, coriander, ginger and cardamom.
**Note: If you wish, you can substitute suet with shortening. Freeze the shortening, then grate it in a large-hole grater to create clumps. Freeze again before using.