On Mother’s Day…

For those of us whose moth­ers are no longer here, Mother’s Day is slightly mourn­ful. The old rituals of mak­ing homemade cards, tying bunches of mis­matched wild flowers and car­ry­ing break­fast upstairs on wobbly trays have gone. It becomes a day of absence, rather than joy­ful presence.

But let’s make today a cel­eb­ra­tion any­way. Relive the won­der­ful memor­ies — the moments when you and your mum laughed uncon­trol­lably at some­thing that wasn’t even funny, the day she watched you win at sports day, the day she con­soled you when you came last. Because Mother’s Day is Mother’s Day whether your mum is here or not.

It seems to me that the per­fect thing to eat on Mother’s Day is after­noon tea — the meal that moth­ers never make for themselves.

So this after­noon I’m going to eat homemade scones with clot­ted cream and black­cur­rant jam and raise a cup of tea to my mum and to all moth­ers everywhere.

But­ter­milk Scones

This recipe is based on one in Brit­ish Bak­ing by Peyton and Byrne

Makes 8 scones

240g self rais­ing flour

50g caster sugar

2 tea­spoons bak­ing powder

Pinch of salt

60g cold butter

175ml but­ter­milk

Beaten egg for brushing

Pre­heat the oven to 170 degrees C and line a tin with bak­ing paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, bak­ing powder and salt into a mix­ing bowl. Add the cold but­ter, cut into small cubes. I use an elec­tric stand mixer to rub it in, but you can use your fin­gers if you prefer. Add the but­ter­milk and mix until it just forms a dough. Form into a ball and rest in the fridge for ten minutes or so. Roll out until 2.5 to 3 cm thick and with a 5cm cut­ter make 8 scones. Brush them with a little beaten egg. Cook for 25 minutes and then allow them to cool com­pletely in the tin before you remove them.

And as a little post­script.… my chil­dren have just brought me break­fast in bed, homemade cards and a bunch of mis­matched wild flowers. So it turns out that life really does go on…

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


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