Simply delightful. A sweet, fluffy drop scone with home made jam. Perfection at tea time.
A recipe that doesn’t need weighing, can be made literally at the drop of a spoon, can be eaten for breakfast with syrup and bacon or for tea with butter and jam, can be taken on a picnic and eaten with bare hands – really, what a winner!
Apparently, the word “scone” might come from the Germanic “Schoone” meaning spoon, as the recipe was part of the “spoonbreads” family of edibles, or it might come from the town of Scone in Scotland, although it isn’t known if they originated there. Drop Scones are part of the family of griddle or girdle scones, which are cooked over the heat rather than in an oven, and therefore simpler. The original raising agents may have been cream of tartar and buttermilk rather than baking powder as we use today.
These were, and still are, made throughout Scotland in houses of all income levels and served for tea with home-made jam, straight from the kitchen; still warm, wrapped in a tea towel. They are best eaten on the day they are made although will keep for another day and any leftovers (unlikely) can go in a lunch box. In “The Family Way”, drop scones are the first dish that Jean was allowed to make to be eaten by her employer’s family and their guests. She’s nervous, but her efforts are praised – they are easy to make and you won’t have any problems producing your own batch of Drop Scones.
Remember, no weighing. You need a large mug to measure the flour.
Serves 8 Timings: about 20 minutes to mix and make a batch
Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar. Break the eggs in and beat in adding milk to the batter. You will probably need about a mug of milk per two mugs of flour but use your judgement. You want a fairly thick batter, not thin enough for pouring.
Heat up a heavy iron frying pan to a medium heat and grease very lightly indeed. You are not meaning to fry them but you need some light grease to stop them sticking. Drop soup ladles full of batter into the pan – in my large frying pan I get about three at once. Heat until you see the bubbles of gas rise through the scone and the top looks more set than liquid, then flip over and cook the other side. Just adjust the heat so that the scone cooks through without burning.
Take the scones out when done, golden brown on both sides and cooked through. You can keep them warm in a mild oven wrapped in a tea towel as you cook the rest of the batch.
Breakfast – serve them with crispy bacon, butter, and maple syrup for the American version. You can also drop blueberries onto the scones once you’ve put them in the pan, and they will cook into the scone and seep their juice through the dough. Turn the scones over as normal to cook the top side, the blueberries will just stay inside the dough.
Tea-time/dessert – serve them just as they are, or with butter and jam. Best warm and straight from the pan or oven, but you can also take them on a picnic, buttered and sandwiched with jam. Sophisticated people could also top them with fruit and whipped cream. The truly decadent could serve them warm with ice cream and a fruit syrup.
This turned out to be Marmalade Weekend. It's a two day job so when I was working I always dedicated a January weekend to the task and I still stick to that tradition. The scent of marmalade cooking takes me back to my childhood - my (Scots) Mum made industrial quantities and the sweet smell of bubbling oranges used to greet us when we came home from school. In my post from 14th January last year - have a look in the archive if you are interested - I give the full recipe and method inherited from her, so please let me know if you ever make it.
I was proud to be awarded a Bronze level certificate in the Dalemain World's Original Home Made Marmalade competition in 2021 and will be sending off my jar for this year's judging too. I was marked down last year for "not filling the jar properly" (I'd hastily re-jarred a set into a smaller jar as there is a size limit to the entry, and obviously had not filled it to the brim) so I might hope to correct that fault this year. Wish me luck!
Grilled Marinated Peppers (vegan, but serving suggestion includes meat)
This is so simple but so delicious. I ate it first at a small French bistro in Canterbury, which has probably long since disappeared but provided straightforward un-faffy cooking that was huge on flavour and love. I like a recipe that I can make ahead and bring out as a home-made treat when needed at this time of year, without having to attend to last minute preparations when you have guests in the house.
Have a jar of these grilled peppers ready, and a pack of good Spanish ham, and you have a starter fit for a houseful of princes.
They keep for at least a week in the fridge, in a jar with their oil. After you’ve finished the peppers, the oil makes a tasty base for a very tangy flavoured French dressing – use it on crunchy red radicchio or endive, some leaves with a strong flavour of their own, and maybe a few shavings of parmesan on top.
Of course, you can also serve these as part of a vegan or vegetarian selection of grilled vegetables, grilled courgette with a sprinkle of lemon juice and some mint in the oil is lovely, and so is grilled aubergine with crushed garlic.
Serves 6 Timings: about 30 minutes work, but cooling time needed after the grilling.
Grill the peppers under a hot grill, turning until all sides have been charred and the skin is blackened and blistered. Turn them on their tops to grill their little bottoms too, you want the whole skin area grilled.
Put the now burnt-looking peppers into a glass bowl and cover with a plate to let the steam get at them. Not a plastic box as you don’t want hot food touching plastic if you can help it. You can leave them to cool completely while you do something else.
Take the peppers out of the bowl, pull out the choke with the seeds and stalk on. Carefully pull off the skin or scrape it away from the soft flesh with a sharp knife. It will come away easily after the grilling and the steaming. Make sure you clean away all the little seeds from the flesh.
Cut the flesh into long strips with scissors and place it in a clean jar layering the peppers up with oil. You can add any seasonings you like at this stage – a fresh bay leaf is nice or some lightly bashed coriander seeds or black pepper corns, but you don’t have to add anything. Top up the jar with oil to cover the peppers and leave in the fridge for an hour or until you want to use them.
To serve, give everyone a small serving of your best Parma or Serrano ham, a spoonful of peppers and a few leaves of rocket. Done!
Christmas Baking for the Seniors Lunch Club
The first batch of mince pies, using home made Mincemeat (vegan) and a Swiss Roll for those who don't like dried fruits. This is what we ate as cake last week, when I also made the Gingerbread Houses as part of the table display for the Lunch Club.
Have a look at my recipe for home made mincemeat, November this year, and for mince pies, December last year, if you want to know how to make them. They really are so much nicer than shop bought ones.
I made a Chocolate Swiss Roll - sort of a Yule Log - in December last year and a plain Swiss Roll, like this one with home made jam, in April this year, so please have a look in the archive for the recipes if you're inspired. I will make this Swiss Roll again soon to serve as the cake basis for my Christmas Trifle - it seems to work better than making pieces of sponge and spreading them with jam, and does look lovely in a glass bowl.
When I made my German Oktoberfest hearts, I said I would use the construction grade, very hard gingerbread to make the Gingerbread House at Christmas. Have a look at my recipe from 18th September for the details. I used a half quantity of gingerbread dough and rolled it quite thin. I made a cardboard template for the houses first, to check the sizes, and then cut out the gingerbread round the templates. I did three houses, knowing that several pieces would break on the way, and in fact some did but were mendable so I was able to make all three cottages.
I let the gingerbread cool, and then made one-egg-white quantity of royal icing and started construction. I began with the chimneys as the smallest and fiddliest bits and let them dry firm. Then I decorated the fronts and backs of the houses as I knew they would be better done when I could lie them flat. As you can see I used candy cane sticks to outline the doorways and iced round the windows. I let it all harden slightly and then began the main construction. The royal icing hardened quite quickly and didn't need much help or holding pieces together. I then stuck the chimneys on the houses and started decorating in earnest.
I did another one-egg-white quantity of royal icing and coloured some green, some pink and left some white. I used jelly beans, sprinkles, smarties and coloured popped rice to decorate but you could choose anything you like. The only thing is that you have to get it onto the royal icing quite quickly or the sweets/sprinkles won't stick, so ice a little bit at a time, decorate that, and move on to the next part. You can have quite outrageous fun with the colours and shapes - just do what feels right!
The houses are quite sturdy and I wrapped them in clingfilm to take to my Seniors Lunch Club where they were much enjoyed, along with some candles and holly on the table to illustrate our theme of Advent this week. Our memories of advent were varied - some of the group are regular churchgoers and love the candle lit church at this time of year. Others remembered helping with the Christmas baking, and we all remembered the early style of advent calendars, which just had pictures behind the doors and no chocolate. We agreed that the chocolate ones are a big step forward!
I think the houses will last until Christmas and beyond as lovely table centrepiece decorations - not sure about eating them but you can always make some stars or little biscuits for eating with the off cuts of gingerbread. Or make some proper Christmas biscuits?
Allioli or Aioli? A whole yolk’s worth of fun!
Another Spanish tapas, that you don’t even have to order. As soon as you sit down, the waiter brings you the menu, a teensy bowl of this lovely rich oily paste and some pieces of bread. This being the Canary Islands, the bread is unfortunately white, thin and tasteless but the allioli makes up for it.
They seem to add herbs, whatever they have around, to make it green and therefore even more attractive. On my recent holiday in Tenerife (very nice thank you) we had allioli speckled with chives or parsley, something I’m pretty sure was dill, and maybe even oregano. But the basics are just egg, garlic, mustard, oil, vinegar and salt.
I used to be nervous of making my own mayonnaise. Don’t be. I was worried about all the admonitions to only add the oil one drop at a time, or else dreadful things (curdling? How horrible does that sound?) would happen. Yes, you have to add the oil slowly, but so far, I’ve never yet curdled, and now I’ve made it loads of times. Then some chefs have taken to making it in a food processor, as an “easy” solution to the difficulties of the hand made version. This made me even more nervous, how difficult must it be, if even top chefs recommend using a machine? But the machine needs washing up and also means you have to make quite a large quantity. Half the joy of making your own mayo is that you can make one-egg-yolk’s worth, which is just enough for lunch for 4 people, and nothing left over. You really don’t want to be storing fresh mayo for more than a few hours in the fridge, so what are you supposed to do with all that over-production from using 4 yolks, let along all the dreadful eggy washing up.
So, use a tiny tiny whisk, get your oil bottles out (such fun) and take ten minutes to produce the most glorious, glowing, garlicky home made allioli ever seen on this planet. Serve it simply with some good (French sourdough baguette is perfect) bread and some vegetable batons and you have a top class vegetarian lunch. Now we’re coming close to the dreaded school holidays, teach one child and set their task to make mayo every other day. One day as allioli dippers, one day in coleslaw with baked spuds, another day dolloped into a BLT – your lunches will be easy, nutritious and cost effective. As well as teaching your child a life skill and the practice of patience. Teach another child how to make soup and every other day have a different home made soup. Teach another child (if you have another going spare) how to make bread, and you'll have a real lunch time production line going.
I’m not giving strict quantities here. Every egg is a little bit different and also you might use other oils or herbs. The only quantity you start off with is one egg yolk.
Put one egg yolk in a small bowl.
Sprinkle onto it one half teaspoon of sugar.
Add one half teaspoon of Dijon mustard or a half teaspoon of English mustard powder.
If you are making garlic flavoured mayo (allioli), squash a garlic clove with some fine salt into a paste, and add that to the yolk. If you aren’t making a garlic version, just sprinkle half a teaspoon of salt into the yolk.
Beat the yolk up for a bit with your teeny tiny whisk. Now start adding the oil. You can use olive oil (not the very best heavy green oil for the whole thing as that can make it a little bitter) or rapeseed oil, nut oil, or just plain sunflower oil. I like to add a little of each in rotation just for fun and so that the final mayo doesn’t taste too much of any one of them. You add the oil a little at a time and beat each dribble in before adding the next. You will notice the mixture becoming thicker, almost like an oily custard. Keep going until you have about an espresso cup full of mixture, which should be thick and glossy. Taste it. Add a teaspoon of white vinegar, beat it in. Add a little more oil, whisk. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice. Taste it, add more salt or sugar if you need it. Add a dribble of cold water, whisk. Add some chopped herbs if you want or even some tabasco or chilli sauce for a spicy version. Mix well.
If you make it half an hour before you want to eat, the garlic and herb flavours will intensify.
You can buy so many versions of mincemeat in jars and most of them are quite good. But once you’ve made your own, you will make it again and again, and then you’ll start giving it to friends as a pre-Christmas present. When you make mince pies with this, people will ask – “are they homemade?” and then they will ask “and did you make the mincemeat too?” if they know what they are tasting. As with all home-made ingredients, one of the best things is to cater exactly to your own tastes. I like the subtle crunch of nuts in mincemeat, so I have more in my recipe than some others, and I also like the fruity appley taste. Too much fresh fruit means it doesn’t keep so well, but I prefer to use my fresh mincemeat up every year and not give it space in the pantry till next Christmas, so I don’t mind if my mincemeat doesn’t keep more than six months.
This is loosely based on Delia Smith’s Christmas recipe. I look forward to taking her book from the shelf every year and delving into it. Her tip is that melting the suet through the fruit adds to the keeping quality and is better than just adding it dry to the mixture as you will find in bought jars and some recipes. The melted fat looks quite a lot when you take the dish out of the oven but it coats all the fruit and disappears as the mixture cools. I always use the vegetarian suet you can get at the supermarket.
Make your own, try variations of ingredients and flavours, and you’ll end up with something unique to you. You might prefer whisky instead of brandy? You might like more orange flavour or want to add some spoonfuls of marmalade – give it a go! Leave out the peel if you don’t like it and use dried cranberries. Really go wild and add some preserved pineapple and slosh in some rum.
Makes about 2kg, 4 medium jars Timings: 1 hour on the first day, overnight soaking then 3 hours slow cook
Chop the apples into small dice and add to a large bowl with all the other ingredients except the brandy. Stir well and leave covered in a cool place overnight for the flavours to mingle and the fruits to absorb the juices.
Next day, pre-heat the oven to 120°C and cook the bowl - covered with foil – for about 3 hours until all the suet is melted. Bring it out and let it cool in the kitchen, while you stir it from time to time to keep the fat mixed in. Add the brandy when the mixture is cold.
Store in clean jars, tightly sealed. It does keep for a year or more depending on the mixture, but you can surely use it up over this Christmas? Make an extra batch of mince pies and take them round to an elderly neighbour?
Ensaladilla (vegetarian options)
Returning to a much-loved place is a joy. Eating the food you first ate there takes you back. I’ve said in this blog before how much I learned from eating in the Canary Islands. “Gourmet” is not the first thing you think about the Canaries, but these days it should be near the top of the list, along with sun, sand and holiday fun.
We all adore sharing a table of tapas with friends or family. Everyone chooses a favourite, but you also get the chance to try new things. In Spain, when you sit down with a drink, the bar will also often serve you a little portion of their chosen “tapas de dias” without extra charge. It’s good marketing, encourages you to sit and drink another round, and lets you try home made small portions of local food. Just what I like to do best.
You find “Ensaladilla” on the menu at most tapas bars in the Canaries. The proper name is Ensaladilla Russa, or Russian Salad, but who cares? And is it anyway? A Russian chef, Lucien Olivier, is said to have made the first salad of this type in Moscow in the 1860s, but the same recipe exists all over Europe in various forms and they can be quite different, so I don’t see how anyone can lay claim to the “best”, or the “original” or the “genuine” recipe. I’ve eaten a similar dish in the Balkans with chopped ham in it, they sell pots of it in German supermarkets with sausage pieces, I’ve had a very eggy version somewhere on my travels. The main variation in Spain has tuna, so that’s what I’ve gone with here.
The basic recipe is cooked potatoes, carrots and other vegetables, bound together with a mayonnaise dressing, and some herbs. For protein you can add chopped ham or other softish processed meat, or eggs or fish. You can add or leave out: chopped pickled cucumber/gherkins, capers, anchovies, red peppers. Some like chopped dill, others prefer parsley. You can layer it attractively or just mix it up and serve it as a scoop.
The dressing is usually freshly home-made mayonnaise, but you can use mayo from a jar and you can lighten it a bit with sour cream or plain yoghurt if full-on mayo isn’t for you.
Two big no-no rules: no garlic in the mayo and no tomatoes in the mixture.
I tried to re-create our favourite versions from Tenerife, but please let me know if you have any favourite family recipes, or other versions you love and I’ll try those too.
8-10 starter portions 30 minutes preparation
Boil the potatoes with their skins on, leave to cool and then peel and dice quite small. This avoids you cooking small peeled cubes of potato which tend to dissolve into mush. However, best to cook the carrots when already diced up, as they don’t peel well once cooked.
Grill the peppers until blackened on all sides, then put them in a glass bowl with a plate on top to steam while they are hot, wait until they are slightly cooled and the skin will come off easily. Remove the seeds, stalks and membranes. Cut the flesh into long thin strips with scissors.
Cook the peas. If frozen just pour boiling water over them, leave 2 minutes and drain, which keeps them nice and crunchy. If fresh, boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain under cold water.
When all the vegetables are cool, add the potato cubes, carrots, peas and chopped gherkins to a bowl. Chop the fresh parsley and add in, and chop half the red pepper and add in. Break up the tuna, add it to the bowl along with the mayonnaise.
Mix well, taste and adjust the seasoning. You might need a little salt, maybe a squeeze of lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper.
Chill the mixture in the fridge before serving. You can make a nice shape by spooning the ensaladilla into a ramekin and turning out onto a plate; decorate with a couple of the reserved strips of red pepper and a leaf of parsley.
Something this easy doesn’t really deserve the name of a recipe, it’s more of a doze while the alcohol and natural fruit does the work for you. But it ends up as something delicious for which you will gain praise, deservedly, because it also needs patience; a virtue in rather short supply.
You can make a flavoured vodka out of pretty much any fruit, but the stronger tastes and firmer fruits work best, and can be played with, as they can take extra notes such as cinnamon if you desire. Damson trees have a habit of over producing in some years and making a sweet spirit can be a great way of dealing with the excess, while you use up the very best fruit in crumbles, pies, jams and other preserves.
Because damsons have a thick skin and are small, so have little fruit compared to the big fat plums, they do need a good two months marinating with the vodka to get the flavour out. You can assist the flavour migration by spearing the damsons as you throw them into the bottle or by freezing them beforehand which splits the skins and allows the alcohol to penetrate. I never have enough room in my freezer for random bags of fruit, so I just pinch the fruit a bit as I clean it and leave it two months in the vodka. It seems to do the trick. As I said, more of a doze than a recipe.
Play with the flavours if you like – add a stick of cinnamon or a couple of star anise to the mixture if you feel you would like a Christmas tinge to your vodka. Having tried one or two variations, I prefer the plainer fruiter version but that’s just me.
Makes nearly 3 x 300ml bottles 20 minutes preparation, 2 months in the dark
Place the clean damsons in a container you can seal up – an old coffee jar or kilner jar is ideal. You’ll need 2 x large coffee jars for this quantity. As you put them in, prick them with a skewer or pinch them with your fingernails just to split the skin a little bit.
Add the sugar. Pour the vodka over.
Seal up your jars and leave them in a cool dark place. For the first 2 weeks try to shake them every day to distribute the sugar and keep the alcohol moving into the fruit. After that, shake them every week or so. You will notice it takes about a month for the sugar to disappear. The vodka will start off clear and gradually take a ruby tinge. It will also evaporate a little if your jars are not quite tight, doesn’t matter. But alcohol does tend to creep a bit so put the jars on a piece of kitchen paper to mop up any sticky spills.
After about 2 months, you can strain off the vodka and bottle it. If you bashed your damsons or froze them, you might have to strain the liquid through a muslin cloth to get the fine bits out if you want a crystal clear final result. I just sieved through a normal kitchen sieve because my damsons were still quite intact. The fruit can be de-stoned and eaten over ice-cream, added to a crumble or used in boozy chocolates – recipe for that one to come nearer to Christmas.
You are supposed to leave the Damson Vodka for a year to mature. I have never had the willpower to do this so I cannot vouch for how much better it tastes after a year. I really can’t imagine it can be much better than it already is. I stand ready to be corrected however, so all you experienced fruit vodka makers out there can put me right.
The Damson Vodka can be drunk by itself over ice as a seasonal aperitif, mixed with prosecco, used in all sort of cocktails, or as a post prandial tipple on its own.
Jamaican Rum & Ginger Cake
When I was young, my Mum would always welcome us home from school with a cup of tea and a piece of cake as a way of fortifying us to do our homework. She was a big believer in the power of cake, although the slices were small. I’ve got one of her old cake tins in my cupboard – it’s tiny and flat compared to the ones I buy now. She used to make two slim vanilla Genoese sponges and sandwich them together with homemade jam, dust the top with icing sugar and serve us a small slice per day. It was certainly sugary and nutritionally empty but it was hardly over-indulgence, coming at the end of an active school day, before playing outside for an hour and in a household where our usual pudding was stewed rhubarb. Sometimes she varied the cake routine and made a ginger loaf, quite like this one although without the rum.
I find this cake so very evocative of autumn, cool afternoons, leaves falling and the anticipation of bonfires. I’ve used inspiration from my Mum and also from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe in River Cottage Everyday which I do indeed, use pretty much everyday. Thanks Hugh, thanks, Mum.
Makes 1 loaf, about 12-14 portions
Grease and line a 1lb loaf tin, and pre heat the oven to 180°C.
In a pan melt the butter, treacle, syrup and sugar together, stir well and let it cool a little.
Chop the ginger into little dice.
Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.
When the butter mixture is OK to dip a finger into, beat in the eggs and add the rum. Pour the whole liquid mixture into the flour, mix well and add the preserved ginger. Scoop the rather runny mixture into the baking tin and bake for about 50 minutes until sticky and brown and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin and brush the top with some of the ginger syrup. Wrap well in kitchen foil when cold and it will keep for several days, if you can resist eating it all at once.
It’s easy to make double quantities and give some to a friend who needs cheering up.
Some Changes - April 2022
Thanks to my friends and followers for your patience, and for your encouragement to start blogging again.