Exercises in Scones

The French poet Raymond Queneau’s sensational literary experiment, Exercises in Style, recounts the same incident 99 ways. He repeats the story endlessly, but in different styles. The narrative goes like this: it’s midday and a man on a crowded No 84 bus accuses another passenger of deliberately trampling his feet. Later he is seen again, being told by a friend to add another button to his coat. Each of the 99 versions is no more than a page or so long and some are much shorter.

This is the start of the Gastronomical telling of the story:

‘After slowly roasting in the browned butter of the sun, I finally managed to get into a pistachio bus which was crawling with customers….’

The Interjections version of the incident is 3 lines long in its entirety:

‘Psst! H’m! Ah! Oh! Hem! Ah! Ha! Hey! Well! Oh!

Pooh! Poof! Ow! Oo! Ouch! Hey! Eh! H’m! Pffft!

Well! Hey! Pooh! Oh! H’m! Right!’

and the Mathematical story starts like this:

‘In a rectangular parallepiped moving along a line representing an integral solution of the second-order differential equation:

y” + PPTB(x)y’ + S = 84′

If you’re still with me, you’re going to have to take a leap of faith here. Because the very funny Exercises in Style, first published in 1947, got me thinking about scones. I always imagine that I’m going to like scones and jam more than I do. But the pale, chalky crumbs of the scone and the over-sweet, livid redness of the jam are so often a disappointment. So why not, like the great Queneau, tell the same story a different way? So here it is: Exercises in Scones, the Savoury chapter…..

Exercises in Scones – Mushroom, Smoked Ham and Cheese Scones with Crab Apple and Rosemary Jelly

For the Jelly – these quantities make approximately 6lbs

6lbs of crab apples or other tart-tasting apples

6 pints water

1 large orange

2 generous sprigs of rosemary about 20 cm long

1lb of granulated sugar to every 1 pint of juice

I shook my crab apples into a blanket from a friend’s tree. There’s no need to chop or peel them, although washing them is a good idea. Just put them in the preserving pan whole. If using larger apples, cut them in half, but don’t remove the skin or cores. Add the peel of the orange, the rosemary and the cold water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or until the apples have turned to pulp. Pour the whole mushy lot into a jelly bag and allow to drip through overnight – the usual rule applies of not forcing the pulp through to avoid clouding the jelly.

Measure the juice and for every 1 pint of liquid allow 1lb of sugar. Add the juice, sugar and strained juice of the orange to the pan and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir thoroughly until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn the heat up to a boil and allow to bubble for ten minutes without stirring it. Skim the surface, pour into sterilised jars, top with waxed paper circles and seal.

For the Scones – these quantities make around 12

1 medium onion, chopped finely

100g mushrooms, chopped small

Small handful fresh thyme leaves

360g plain flour

2.5 teaspoons baking powder

250 g grated Cheddar cheese, or other hard, salty cheese

220ml semi-skimmed milk

1 egg

60g smoked ham, chopped finely

Seasoning

Heat the oven to 170 degrees C.

I adjusted this recipe from a muffin recipe made by the Hummingbird Bakery in London – this is a muffin/scone crossover really.

Melt the butter and fry the onion and mushrooms until soft and starting to colour. Stir in the thyme leaves, season and put to one side.

Put the flour, cheese and baking powder in a large bowl. Mix the milk and egg and pour gradually onto the flour mixture. Combine, either by hand or with an electric mixer. Add the onions, mushrooms and chopped ham and make sure they’re mixed through well.

Put a generous splodge of mixture into paper cases, place on a baking sheet and cook for about half an hour or until gold on top and cooked through. Slice in two and serve with butter and a dollop of crab apple and rosemary jelly.

Eat while reading Raymond Queneau’s Haikai chapter of the story, which consists of no more than this:

‘Summer S

long neck trod on toes

cries and retreat

station button

meeting’

Perfect.