Food: Cream crackers

Why Annie Bell is mad for clotted cream

The milk of my childhood sat in a line of five bottles on the doorstep, with foil tops. At this time of year, a bluetit would have pecked its way through the foil to get at the cone of thin cream. And when it wasn't a bluetit, it was my brothers and I. It would drive my father mad to open the fridge door and find that all five bottles had been raided for the top of the milk - cornflakes and banana, with a sprinkling of soft brown sugar, have never tasted quite as good since.

We were a silver-top household, as opposed to the more creamy red-top or yellow milk of the gold-top - the serious Channel Isles stuff that I think my mother thought was too rich for breakfast cereal. Then there was green-top - pure, raw unpasteurised milk, scented with pasture, which sadly looks as though it's about to become a thing of the past unless Jeff Rooker MP, the Minister for Food, becomes more enlightened before 3 February.

For Sir Julian Rose of Hardwick Estate near Reading, November's Organic Food Award for his raw unpasteurised cream was a bittersweet victory. Here was cream at its very finest, thick and ivory-coloured, and that actually tasted like real cream, but the eve of its recognition brought a proposed ban that will render it illegal.

Clearly, Mr Rooker doesn't appreciate a good cream tea. And he has probably never met Sir Julian Rose, or visited his 330 acres, where 35 Guernsey cows live in comparative bliss, grazing on traditional pastureland filled with herbs, clovers and grasses, to produce their sweet, rich milk.

My own memory of unpasteurised milk and cream goes back to holidays spent in rural Devon, where we bought milk straight out of the churn from the farm across the valley. The smell of raw milk will always be associated in my mind with the trek across the cobbled farmyard streaked with hay and mud that reeked of cow byres. But I'm sure my brothers and I were all the healthier for it.

And then, of course, there were Devonshire cream teas - small traditional producers, some milking just half-a-dozen cows and producing divine clotted cream. It's just as well Mr Rooker wasn't around in the 17th century, when pans of raw new milk were left over a fire for several hours. Having been scalded, the milk took on a curdy buttercrust that concealed a layer of thick and sticky cream and something flimsier below.

Is it jam first or cream first? I can't remember, except how a composed spoonful would gradually settle out to the edge of the scone if you talked too much between mouthfuls.

I am of the same persuasion as Michael Raffael, who says in a small book he's just produced called West Country Cooking - Cream (Halsgrove, pounds 4.95), "I use a little fresh cream a lot and a lot of cream once in a while." Cream seems to exist between the two extremes of the strategic drop and total excess. Again as a child, I loved the stolen pleasure of squares of crisp, dark chocolate dipped into the carton of double cream when mother wasn't looking.

I hate to think what kind of memories my own sons are likely to have. "Well, our milk and cream came in a carton and it all tasted the same, whether mum bought it from Tesco, Waitrose or Safeway." And yet it looks as though there isn't going to be much alternative, which is profoundly sad. Surely Mr Rooker can find a better target.

Black Treacle and Clotted Cream Trifle, serves 4-6

A celebration of the richest and most voluptuous clotted cream, sticky and clinging, with its fine layer of buttery curd. Black treacle seems like a suitable dancing partner, and this goes hand-in-hand with dark rum, spices and chocolate, good wintry stuff. You could add some poached pears in the pretence of lightening it up.

1 x golden syrup cake

75g caster sugar

75ml boiling water

50ml dark rum or Tia Maria

220g clotted cream

2 tsp black treacle

2 large eggs, separated

12 tsp ground cinnamon

1 heaped tbsp grated chocolate

Slice the cake and arrange it in a deep 20cm bowl. Stir half the sugar into the boiling water and once it dissolves add the rum or Tia Maria. Sprinkle this over the cake and allow it to soak in while you make the treacle mousse.

Blend the clotted cream and the treacle together in a largish bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks and the cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, then sprinkle over the remaining sugar and keep whisking until they are glossy. Fold these a third at a time into the treacle cream base. Pour this on top of the cake, scatter over the chocolate, cover with cling-film and chill overnight

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