2011 has been a year to remember in so many different ways: the Arab Uprising, the summer riots, Greece and the ongoing Euro crisis. It has been a year of shocking deaths (Steve Jobs) and delightful ends (Westlife). Yet for all its many major events, the year has left its most seismic surprise until the very end. For all the tectonic shifting of the political plates, it is the empty porcelain one on my kitchen table that will cast the longest shadow. If you haven’t heard the news, prepare yourself for a cup of tea and less than nice sit down. Yorkshire Tea has decided to discontinue their famed Yorkshire Tea Loaf.
I first heard about it in my local supermarket yesterday afternoon. ‘Sorry,’ the assistant shook her head sadly, ‘they’ve stopped making it.’ At first I couldn’t believe it, and tweeted the usually cheerful @YorkshireTea to tell me the supermarket were mistaken. But when someone tweets you back with ‘please DM your email so our Customer Services team can contact you with more information’, you know the news is not going to be good. Sure enough, said Customer Services confirmed the demise of many people’s regular tea time treat: ‘the ever rising cost of raw materials’ meant they could no longer compete with ‘all the other cake ranges available’.
Raw Materials? This is a cake we’re taking about for heaven’s sake, not a fighter plane. The rare and expensive ‘materials’ we are talking about are raisins, currants, cherries, eggs, flour, sugar and a cup of Yorkshire Tea. I don’t want to cast aspersions, but it’s difficult to overlook the fact that Yorkshire Tea have recently been running a promotional campaign featuring Wallace and Gromit. I don’t know how much Wensleydale they demanded to appear, but my guess is that cuts had to be made elsewhere to fund their crumbly cheese addiction. The plasticine shits.
Raw Materials? This is a cake we’re taking about for heaven’s sake, not a fighter plane.
What is it that made the Yorkshire Tea Loaf such a great and much loved British institution? It helps, I guess, if you are a Yorkshire Tea addict. Having grown up in God’s own county, I have drunk the stuff from birth, and need several gallons of the stuff a day just to function. There’s no other tea like it, something that no lesser authority than Noel Gallagher attests to: ‘It was always on the Oasis rider,’ he told the Guardian earlier this year: “Tea – must be Yorkshire”’. What better to accompany this classic afternoon brew than a slice of tea flavoured cake: one whose recipe’s main feature is that the assorted fruit is soaked in a steaming mug of Yorkshire overnight.
What is surprising about Yorkshire Tea’s decision is that it runs counter to conventional wisdom about economic hard times. The general rule about recessions is that this is the time when sales of comfort food go up: essentially, we all feel a bit sorry for ourselves and have a nibble on something nice to make ourselves feel better. When the credit crunch first hit back in 2008, a whole range of such companies saw a rise in sales, everyone from Hershey’s chocolate in the United States to Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls in Wigan. In 2009, Gregg’s reported a 15% rise in the sale of sausage rolls, and the chain continues to grow as much as the resulting British waistlines.
It’s not like they ever went away, but on top of all this cakes are currently very much in vogue. One of the biggest TV successes of the year has been The Great British Bake Off, in which Mel and Sue got to enjoy stuffing themselves with creamy concoctions up and down the country. This year’s in Christmas gift is apparently for a different kind of consumable good: one cooked and baked at home. These are presumably to be served on a Kirstie Allsopp branded cake stand, now available in all its chintz glory at Marks and Spencer.
The Yorkshire Tea Loaf is my Abbey Crunch. Since its launch in 2001, it single-handedly brought taste and moistness to the otherwise bland chill of the Coldplay noughties.
What Yorkshire Tea appears to have overlooked is the affection that we British have for our favourite confectionary. As refreshing as a good cup of tea is, we all know it really needs a decent biscuit or slice of cake to go with it. I don’t know if ‘what’s your favourite biscuit?’ is one of the questions on the government’s citizenship test, but it really should be, with anyone saying ‘Oreo is the cookie for me’ being deposited on the first plane out of Heathrow. The bonds we have with our favourite cakes and biscuits run deep: in his epochal book ‘Nice Cup and Tea and a Sit Down’, the esteemed biscuitologist Nicey offers a heartfelt paean to the late Abbey Crunch that is difficult to read without a tear in the eye.
The Yorkshire Tea Loaf is my Abbey Crunch. Since its launch in 2001, it single-handedly brought taste and moistness to the otherwise bland chill of the Coldplay noughties. Yet as Robert Peston prepares to get overexcited at the thought of the economy tanking again, I must face the imminent recession – not to mention my forthcoming tea break at four o’clock – without a slice to double dip into my tea.
I don’t even know what the etiquette is when a cake is no more. Should I be lowering a doily to half mast? Should I get a priest round to mumble ‘Ashes to ashes, crumbs to crumbs’? And what, once a suitable period of cake mourning has elapsed, should I be reaching for instead as my Tea Loaf replacement? All suggestions hungrily received.
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