Keeping a business alive during a pandemic? Difficult. Writing a book during a pandemic while keeping your food business alive during that same pandemic? Difficult by a factor of 10.
Yet Karen Anne Murray seems to have handled both in stride.
Murray, whose Jamaica-born parents raised her outside Birmingham, England, left the United Kingdom 35 years ago as a newly trained cook. For the past two decades, she has run the show as chef-proprietor at her tearoom, Eddison & Melrose, now located in Pacific Grove. Her path to California was not a direct one – the first part of her career in the food industry took her all over the world before she arrived on the Central Coast, where she had gigs locally at Cafe Sparrow in Aptos and Avanti in Santa Cruz. Now, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of her tearoom, Murray has released her first cookbook, Tea Table: Inspiring Teatime Creations from California’s Central Coast.
Murray started writing the book in April 2020, but says it evolved from her initial vision of a cookbook with a tea theme. “Gradually the focus shifted to sharing recipes, anecdotes and additional helpful information for the home chef,” she says, and adds the book’s focus is on simplicity with the goal of helping someone who wants to host a “California-casual style tea.”
The book is intended for people who may say, “I don’t know how to do it,” to which Murray says: “Take that courageous step and the reward awaits.”
She is stripping any idea of pretension from tea, and also encourages people who are delving into cooking or baking for the first time to “have fun and play. Although baking is a science, cooking is a playing field. You can follow the recipe and each ingredient as directed,” she says. “As you repeat and experience each method, gradually you develop the confidence to experiment and alter to suit your personal taste.”
Living on the West Coast has influenced her own cooking journey, because it’s less regimented than the kitchens she previously worked in. There’s a notable difference in attitudes: The strict hierarchy of the hard-nosed, male-dominated kitchens she saw in London, Germany and the East Coast seemed to soften here in California, like butter sitting in the sun, and Murray wanted that softer attitude reflected in her book.
The recipes in Tea Table were developed with the home cook in mind. All the ingredients you need are available at your local grocery store. Laid out logically and with easy instructions, recipes range from a simple and fresh lemon curd you can make with only four ingredients to more complicated dishes, such as a baked quiche that has a dozen ingredients.
Several dishes she features were directly inspired by the Central Coast. The celery leaf soup reflects the produce available from the Salinas Valley, and local berries make appearances several times.
The main focus of the cookbook are dishes that, of course, accompany a proper cup of tea (which the book also teaches you how to make) such as miniature sandwiches, scones or butter cookies.
In America, teatime is the time when you run out of coffee, but in the U.K. and many places around the globe imprinted with its post-colonial traditions, tea and teatime is more beloved and more defined. Regardless, maybe the waves crash against the shore differently here than they do in England because the vibes in California are as chill as a strawberry lemonade (another recipe in the book). Murray’s cookbook is about bringing people together rather than worrying about rules and hierarchies of the Old World.
A tea philosophy of sorts is found in the foreword: “Tea on its own is restorative, of course, but the true power of tea is its ability to brew connection to place, to people and perhaps most importantly to ourselves.”
So now’s the time: Snag her book, make a recipe, invite some vaccinated friends over and nibble on a biscuit, quaff a cuppa, and cheers!
CHEF KAREN ANNE MURRAY signs her cookbook during an event from 5-9pm on Thursday, April 29 at the Pacific Grove Tourist Information Center, 100 Central Ave., Pacific Grove.