Give me the making of the scones of a nation *

* with apologies to Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun

The scone – rhymes with gone – according to David Murison, my old Scots Language lecturer, probably derived from the Middle Dutch word schoonbrot, meaning fine bread. F. Marian McNeill says that the word first appeared in written Scots in the 16th century, in Gavin Douglas’s translation of the Aeneid, where at a feast: “The flour sconnis weir set in by and by / With other messes”.  Not only are they fine things to eat but they’ve given us some memorable sayings:  “a face like a torn scone” for someone who’s angry and scowling and “Who stole your scone?” for someone who’s desolate-looking but not garnering sympathy.

I’ve written before of my very fond memories of Aunt Jeanie making girdle scones and us guzzling them still warm, clarted with butter and jam.  Uncle Ken remembered the baker’s van in his boyhood from where for 2d (two old pennies in old money), he could buy a scone the size of a dinner plate which had a hard crust; for 1d (one old penny), he could get a smaller one with a shiny top.  Of course, he’d have had plenty home made ones but these ones from the baker were more exciting.

I’ve eaten several savoury scones this year, especially cheese and thyme ones.  The first was at The Dairy at Daviot and I had it with coffee; I’m not necessarily recommending that combination but it was a very good scone.  I had the same flavour one at Singl End in John Street, Glasgow but this time it was with tomato and red pepper soup and that made an excellent lunch.  My scone came with butter in a wee  tub but when I asked the waitress why they were using these plastic containers, she told me they were made of cornstarch and were biodegradable; that put them even further up in my estimation.  I wish more places would get the basics right, offering locals and visitors alike a homemade, tasty, inexpensive, quick and relatively healthy meal.

Here’s a cheese scone recipe: 3.5 oz butter, 1 lb self raising flour, pinch salt, 2 tsp baking powder, level tsp paprika, lots of grated mature cheddar, 200ml milk.  Bake for 15 minutes at 160C.  You could exchange the paprika for some fresh thyme – or dried?

I saw Liam on Liam Bakes (Channel 4) making scones based on falafels.  He had them stuffed with goat’s cheese and sundried tomatoes too, as well as the crunchy spicy topping.  Each one looked like a meal in itself, if maybe a wee bit soggy on the inside.  He’s a good lad and passionate about his baking but they could fit another recipe into the programme if the director cut out all the fancy camera angles, outside street shots and extraneous music.  (I pine for the days of Delia Smith just standing in her kitchen showing us what to do, with a quick shot of her cat in the garden for a bit of excitement.)

Grace of Dornoch has taken over the space in the back street previously occupied by Gordon House.  It looks like it’s a completely new enterprise and the gifts, cards and prints for sale have all gone.  The space is light and bright and fresh with some landscapes on the walls in blues and greens and golds.  There’s a wee garden at the back with a few tables where you can eat outside, and when I was there last month, someone had done an Alice in Wonderland-themed window display.  They do teas and coffees, cakes and scones, lunches of soup and sandwiches which maybe sounds quite a limited menu but if done well, that’s all most folk need through the day and is much better than places that just microwave a lot of bought-in, frozen stuff.  They’ve got a chilled cabinet for take away snacks; there’s a small range of foods from Orkney, Summer House drinks and Neal’s Yard cosmetics for sale.  I hope they thrive.

I hesitate to make Storehouse of Foulis any more popular as it’s already hoaching; it sits to the north of the Cromarty Bridge with a view to the Black Isle across the firth to be enjoyed from their outside seating on a fine day. Last time I came by, there was a wifie preparing fresh flowers for the tables; when I praised the absence of  plastic, she said that was a dirty word on the premises.  I could have hugged her. They’ve got a wide range of scones, freshly made, if a wee bit on the big side but fine if you’ve missed your breakfast.

Outside the Storehouse at end of June

Last week I was in Mackintosh at the Willow in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow for a belated birthday lunch with Rama.  I could weep at the state of the street but the refurbished tearooms are a gem and I hope I live to see a renaissance of the Art School and the whole area around it.

The fireplace in the gallery of the tearoom

We were eating a meal – a very good one – but many folk were there for the afternoon tea – at 12.30!  They each had a 3-tiered stand with four sandwiches, two scones in the middle and small fancy cakes on the top tier.  Now, the scones looked a bit on the big side to me, especially after sandwiches and with cakes to follow; some men were managing to eat all this but the staff were handing out a lot of cardboard boxes for taking the excess home.

I think Mary Berry is right about having small scones for afternoon tea so that you can enjoy some of the rest of what’s on offer.  She cuts out 16 scones from 250 grams of self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 40 grams butter, 25 grams of caster sugar and 100ml milk.

My cousin Mairi swears by a Mollie Weir recipe so here’s one of hers: 2.5 teacups of self raising flour, pinch of salt, 2 oz margarine and a little milk.  20 minutes in a moderate oven.  There’s several more scone recipes in her book New Ideas and Old Favourites.

Drop scones and girdle scones and potato scones are fields in themselves so I’ll save them for later.  And before the carbs police come calling, let me just say that there’s precious little fat in scone recipes and you can cut down or even cut out the sugar; you can use wheaten flour or do half flour / half oatmeal.  When you’ve made them yourself, you know what’s gone into them and a good fresh scone is one of the simple joys of Scottish baking.

I hope your scones never turn out like these ones, served to Lucy Bethia Walford (1845 – 1915) in a Scottish country inn: “Then the scones.  They were damp, flabby, and tough beyond power of thought to conceive; teeth could not rend them.”




3 thoughts on “Give me the making of the scones of a nation *

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Cafes – Splendid, Bella!

  2. Pingback: “Brother, let us breakfast in Scotland …” – Splendid, Bella!

  3. Pingback: A Perverse Pleasure or ” … the horrid islands of Harris” – Splendid, Bella!

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