The Celluloid Pantry: Teatime Treachery and Kind Hearts and Coronets (UK, 1949)

The Celluloid Pantry: Teatime Treachery and Kind Hearts and Coronets (UK, 1949)

"Revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold."

Confined to his cell on the eve of his execution, Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini, Tenth Duke of Chalfont (Dennis Price), pens his memoirs. With equal measures of serenity and poise, he charts his rise to dukedom, serving up murder and mayhem with all the ceremony and reserve of afternoon tea.

A dry, amiable black comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets (UK, 1949) satirizes the manners and morals of Edwardian England. Eighth in line to the dukedom, the impoverished Louis is unlikely to inherit the title through natural means. So, with a bitter sense of vengeance (his late mother was disowned by her aristocratic family after she eloped with an Italian opera singer), Louis sets about pruning the family tree.

Of the eight D'Ascoynes (all played by Alec Guinness) Louis eliminates, three are dispatched with food and drink. General Lord Rufus D'Ascoyne is served a pot of caviar with a lovingly-prepared homemade bomb; Reverend Lord Henry D'Ascoyne, fond of cigars and "a glass of wine or two" partakes of some poisoned port; and Henry D'Ascoyne, an avid photographer and secret tippler (his "Fixing Solution" is whiskey, and his "Developer" is sherry) is tipsily unaware of the explosives rigged in his darkroom. While Henry's teetotalling wife, Edith (Valerie Hobson, right) enjoys cakes and tea on the lawn with Louis, a faint boom can be heard in the background. As plumes of smoke rise over the developing shed, Louis sips his tea, scarcely batting an eye.

A close, although slightly less aristocratic cousin of the scone, rock cakes are named for their rough, craggy appearance (but are moist and sweet to eat). This recipe is adapted from The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea by Helen Simpson.

Rock Cakes
makes 12 small cakes

1/4 cu. (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour (or 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup currants or raisins
1 egg
1 Tbsp. milk

Preheat oven to 400° F and grease two baking sheets.

Rub or cut the butter and shortening into the flour and salt, until a crumb-like texture is achieved. Stir in the sugar and currants with a knife. Beat the egg with the milk, and add it, blending with a fork until the mixture is stiff.

Drop small spoonfuls onto the baking sheets, and bake 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with Gunpowder tea.

- Nora

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