Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Bettys (no apostrophe, please) - the taste of Yorkshire

We're pleased to publish our second guest blog post from Alison Barrow, a former student of the University of York and now Director of Media Relations at Transworld Publishers.

A writer once gave me an exercise. "Close your eyes," she said. "If you concentrate really hard, the noises around you will sing out and you will pick up the most resonating sounds. Commit them to memory, and you will be able to transport yourself back anywhere, anytime."

The sounds emerging from Bettys wouldn't be the first to leap to mind when conjuring up the place. Smells, yes. Tastes, most certainly. But listen... close your eyes and you can hear it. The clink of silver on china, the swish of a crisp ironed pinny, the languorous pouring of tearoom blend, the scrape of butter on a Fat Rascal. And the sighs - the murmur of cafe chat and contented munching. The sipping of coffee. The "oh, go on then," reception of the cake trolley.

Little Bettys by Tania Ho
Used under a Creative Commons license.
Bettys was a rare treat in my student days. Somewhere to take a visiting relative (in the hope that they would cover the bill), a weekend indulgence with a friend - sharing a pot of tea for one and a fondant fancy. We would persuade ourselves we deserved it after a full week of lectures/exams/seminars/partying. Reassuringly comforting, Bettys on the corner of St Helens Square always had a queue. It was (and is) part of the ritual. Baby sister Little Bettys on Stonegate offered the shelter of a spiraling waiting line up the stairs - under cover from the rain. Sloping floors and well-trodden carpets emanated a sense of history. We would sit there for hours - or until the gentle hovering of a waitress would hurry us along.

I first went to Bettys as a young child in Harrogate, where I was born. The cafe then was on Cambridge Crescent, not the current domineering location on Montpelier Square, and my grandmother would slavishly order the same each visit. A pot of tearoom blend and a vanilla slice (for her) and a glass of chilled milk (full fat - for me). I have never understood the appeal of the vanilla slice, nor the curious method of tackling the mountain of it with a tiny dessert fork. When she had nearly finished - and this happened every time - she would offer a forkful over the table to me. It would have been rude to refuse.

When my family moved south, my parents would drive back to Harrogate, stopping in to see the relatives and dropping in to Bettys for curd tart (for my mother), Fat Rascals (for my father and brother) and pineapple fondant tarts - which made a fleeting appearance on the menu in the later years of the 20th century, but sadly are but a sticky memory - (for me). Does everyone have a favourite? A beloved colleague of mine introduced me to cinnamon toast many years ago. I associate it with him every time, that subtle blend of spice, buttery liquid and sugar, delicious. Thank you, Martin.

Bettys Tea Rooms by Steve Harris
Used under a Creative Commons license
From those sugar-encrusted memories to the present day - now we order Bettys tea, coffee and bakery online. I have a running account and have mailed many goods across the world, sharing a taste of Yorkshire. Now there is a coffee shop on many corners in York, in Harrogate, across the whole of Yorkshire, the country. Now there are a myriad of choices, of blends, of options. And yet. One constant remains. Thank you, Bettys, for standing firm and proud within the confines of Yorkshire, thank you for warming us with your enriching food and drink, polite service and company and for changing so very little over the years.

This week I will return to Bettys York once more. Along with a group of university friends from the 1980s, a day trip for a momentous birthday. Bettys for tea. What shall I have? I'm not really that sure yet (definitely not a vanilla slice). But one thing I know. For a moment, a fleeting moment so short nobody will ever notice it, I will close my eyes and hear the sound of Bettys. And once again, I'll be home.

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