How do I top off a morning after viewing the world-class gardens at Kew? I like to stop for tea at the Original Maids of Honour, located outside the garden wall on Kew Road. It’s my favorite refreshment stop along the short walk back to Kew station for the 30-minute tube ride to Central London.
Those who are knowledgeable of tea fare are immediately intrigued by the name. The Maids of Honour tart has been part of tea lore for nearly 300 years. Although there are numerous legends about their origin, it is generally believed that Henry VIII was the first to use the name after he saw Ann Boleyn and other “maids of honour” eating these tarts from silver dishes.
|Maids of Honour is located on Kew Road near Kew Gardens’ Victoria Gate.|
The oft-told story recounts that King Henry VIII was so delighted with the delicious desserts that he kept the recipe secret and locked in an iron box in nearby Richmond Palace. By the early 18th century the recipe had been disclosed to a bakery in Richmond and the royal delicacies became one of the features of fashionable Richmondsociety.
The first Maids of Honour shop was opened in the early 18th century on the corner of Hill Streetin Richmond, just down the road from the present site.
What attracts modern patrons – other than the vintage Austin delivery parked out front – is the large bow front window which overflows with freshly baked cakes, cream horns, and tarts.
|Maids of Honour Tarts, cream horns, eclairs, and scones.|
I stopped in a few weeks ago after a photo shoot at Kew Palace and was glad to see the only thing that has changed since my last visit was the name of the owner. The aroma of a busy bakery greets you because bakers have been busy in the kitchen long before sunrise preparing their delicious goods for the day’s eager customers.
|British teatime comfort food, steak pie, sausage rolls, chicken & ham pie, and quiche.|
Afternoon tea or a simple tea break may be taken in the dining room set with antique wooden. This is not the Ritz or Claridge’s. Maids of Honour is a setting reminiscent of a tearoom in the Cotswolds or Cornwall, where locals mix with tourists in a relaxed atmosphere. Best of all, it won’t cost you a week’s wage!
The menu includes traditional country tearoom favorites as steak pie, pastys, sausage rolls, and tall dusty scones served with lashings of real clotted cream and jam. This is British comfort food accompanied by a scalding hot pot of over-steeped black tea meant to be tempered with milk from the pitcher set before you.
The staff is happy to tell you more about the history of the shop and the neighborhood but don’t ask them for the original recipe because they still are very tight-lipped about their namesake delicacy.
I did publish a recipe in my book The Great Tea Rooms of Britain and I am happy to share it with my readers.
Maids of Honour Recipe
1/2 pound rich shortcrust pastry
4 ounces cottage cheese
3 ounces butter, room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
2-1/2 ounces brandy
1/2 cup sugar
3 ounces cold baked potato, peeled
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
rind of two lemons, grated
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease 16 patty tins. Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured board. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter to cut out the rounds of thin pastry. Line the tins with pastry.
Beat together cottage cheese and butter. Add the beaten eggs, brandy and sugar. Beat once again. In a separate bowl, beat together potato, almonds, nutmeg, lemon rind and juice. Gradually blend in the cheese mixture. Beat thoroughly. Spoon the filling into the pastry shells and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before carefully lifting on to a wire rack to finish cooling.