Saturday, January 7, 2012

Making Scones on a January Day

My treasured book on scones by Elizabeth Alston

January is one of my favorite months. The new year feels fresh and filled with all kinds of exciting possibilities.  Many of my favorite books are set in England or other places with cold winters and the characters live in houses whose warm kitchens are usually the heart of the home.  Lots of baking goes on in those kitchens and I treat my house the same way during the month of January. This is the time of the year that I want to be cozy and stay at home reading and cooking.  The cold weather and peaceful nature of January seem to call out for the simplicity of scones.

Maybe the reason I want to make scones is that I made them on Christmas morning for my family and they were so easy and delicious.  We used the adorable red Le Creuset jam pot I bought just for the occasion.

Maybe I want to make them because of the the tea I hosted in December with my friend Cathy to benefit St. Joseph Center which is located in Venice, California.  The tea was at my friend's beautiful home.  Each guest brought gently used clothing to donate to the St. Joseph Center Thrift Store and after dropping off their donations enjoyed a festive champagne tea.  Our guests were excited to be doing a service to others at Christmas time.  We celebrated the holiday with an English tea and, naturally, scones were an important part of our menu.

Maybe I am thinking about scones because the English television series "Downton Abbey" is returning for its second season this month and the characters are always having tea.  In fact The Countess of  Grantham (played by Elizabeth McGovern) and the Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith)  never seem to converse unless it is over tea.  The tradition of tea is one that is quintessentially English and you can't have tea without scones. 

Maybe it is because of a story that Henrietta Garnett tells in the book "Charleston: Past and Present" about her grandmother Vanessa Bell making scones, a story that I have always enjoyed:  

"Tea was at five o'clock, and at about half past four, Nessa would go downstairs into the kitchen and put on the kettle...Sometimes Nessa would make scones.  She would stand at the kitchen table, remove her rings and...sift flour through her long fingers and let it drift into the pudding basin.  She never spilled the ingredients; never made a mess.  The recipe she used was not extravagant.  It required a minimum of butter and lacked varnish of egg-yolk.  They were plain scones and they were very good."

I love this story about Vanessa Bell taking off her rings and making the scones amidst all the bohemian and artistic chaos at  Charleston Farmhouse.  It turns out that Charleston was a place for homey pleasures and rustic baking.

And really there is nothing easier than making scones.  You sift the dry ingredients, cut in the butter, add the liquid and any flavors you would like such as dried cranberries and orange peel.  Then you turn the dough out onto a board, roll it and cut out the scones and bake them.  Homey and unpretentious, they warm up the dreariest winter day.  And their buttery goodness really rounds out an English tea.

To paraphrase Henry James' famous quote about tea, sitting in front of the fireplace between the hours of 4:00 and 6:00 pm as the light wanes and the weather becomes chilly, with a cup of tea and a good book is a formula for soothing anyone's spirits.  The words "it is time for tea" simply exude happiness.

These memoirs by some of my favorite British authors are on my reading list for the winter season.  One of my New Year's resolutions is to read more.  Anyone for a cup of tea and some scones?


  1. What a lovely post! The scones look delicious and the descriptions from the books heavenly. I too love books set in England and I so enjoy the idea of tea in the afternoon!

    Have you been to the cafe/bakery Once Upon a Tart in NY City? They have a fabulous cookbook of all of their delicious food and the scones, and muffins are out of this world.

    Have a wonderful Sunday, baking and reading and enjoy Downtown Abby!

    Thank you for coming to visit, I am so happy to be feeling a bit better.

    Take care and happy New Year!

  2. I've got the David Cecil book on my shelf too. I'm reading Mansfield Park at the moment and loving it. Regarding tea - my friends laugh at me because I never finish a cup of tea, they say it's the ritual I enjoy rather than the actual drink. It's true, I feel that real communication can't begin until we're all holding mugs of hot tea!

  3. I finally got cozy yesterday and watched the first 3 episodes of Downton Abbey, and yes, was craving tea and scones. Loved it. Will watch the last 4 at some point today and be ready tonight.
    I have always loved scones, however, if I baked a batch today, I might eat the whole thing. How do you manage?

  4. Such a rich post, Sunday. I'm eagerly anticipating tonight's premier of Downton Abbey. Your pictures and words here make me even more so. Just lovely. Wait for Me was a Christmas gift last year. I devoured it in a few sittings!

    You might enjoy At Grandmother's Table, a compilation of stories by writers about their grandmothers, with recipes. It is a delightful book.

  5. A delicious post today. Homemade jam makes all the difference when serving scones.

    It's so nice to see what books you have on the shelf.

    I just finished The Distant Hours by Kate Morton and am staring in on J'adore New York.

  6. Yes, I am definitely up for some tea and scones! I usually have tea around 4 or 5 every evening anyway, considering I am such an Anglophile!

    I just adore your posts--they're comforting and encouraging. Love them. I need to go find a copy of Charleston: Past and Present and now I have discovered that I absolutely have to have a Le Creuset jam pot. I didn't even know they made them!

    Less than seven hours until season 2 of Downton Abbey! I can't wait!

  7. Ahh, scones...something I'd definitely take to a desert island.

  8. Yay! I am not sure which excites me more; your British month, or the return of Downton Abbey. Now, I think I will go make some scones and get ready for tonight :)

  9. Oh, yes--I'd love to join you!

    I haven't made scones in a long time--I should bake a batch very soon! Think I'm baking biscotti this afternoon.

    This was a delightful post, through and through!

  10. You make THE BEST cup of tea...throw in a scone and I'm a happy lady!

  11. Me too. Scones, English countryside, English tea time. Do you know that we have "afternoon snack time" every day? Inspired by the English's dedication to a marked tea time. We try to each fix a little plate of beautifully arranged "tea" snacks. It helps us not to "graze" all day inbetween meals. We are watching the latest "Sense and Sensibilities" and it is stunning.

  12. You certainly have a flair for making the cold dark dreary days of January sound inviting and cozy. I think I'll put the kettle on and make up the recipe of Gingerbread I've been wanting. I always make it in January. I love your Biscuits and Scones book and I'm sure everything you make is delicious. I want to thank you for doing the post on"Downton Abby". After reading it I added to my calendar so I wouldn't miss the first episode of this season. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Hope you are having a great week.

    The French Hutch

  13. Wonderful post!! Love how you pulled it all together - I'd like my scones while watching Downton Abbey please!! And love your pretty display with the tea sandwiches!

  14. Ooh, very pretty and oh so tempting!

    I bake scones when it's my turn to supply treats for our staff meetings. Everyone seems to marvel but they're not too tricky are they, Sunday?

  15. Great post. I have Elzabeth Alston's book on muffins which I've used to death. Will now order her book on scones. Thanks so much.

  16. As soon as I saw the picture of your scones recipe book, I wanted it! After all the baking I did for the holidays I was ready to take a break. But now I want to make scones! Thanks for sharing - I love this post. Happy New Year to you!