Shirley Spear’s drop scones

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - By Shirley Spear

MANY Scots are in­tro­duced to bak­ing at home, when help­ing their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers to make drop scones. These dainty Scotch pan­cakes, as they’re also known, are easy to make and there is noth­ing quite like the taste ex­pe­ri­ence of bit­ing into one, freshly made and still warm, spread with a lit­tle but­ter and jam.

There are hun­dreds of recipes for drop (or dropped, or drap­pit) scones, each with its own se­cret twist, often passed down through fam­i­lies. I have a bat­tered and very tatty recipe book, in which I have writ­ten recipes since I was a child.

My orig­i­nal recipe for drop scones is there, logged un­der “sun­dries”, along with my recipe for pan­cakes – the large, thin va­ri­ety, which many of us as­so­ciate with Pan­cake Day, Shrove Tues­day.

Pan­cake Day is next Tues­day, Fe­bru­ary 29. By now the shops and su­per­mar­kets are sporting spe­cial dis­plays of pan­cake mix, maple syrup and crêpe pans. Buy­ing a packet of pan­cake mix is def­i­nitely not nec­es­sary and you only need an or­di­nary fry­ing pan to make wee Scotch pan­cakes. Once you have made a few suc­cess­fully, you will want to keep go­ing, flipping them over and toss­ing them on to a plate with gay aban­don.

One of my early mem­o­ries of help­ing Mum with home-bak­ing, was mak­ing drop scones for tea for her vis­it­ing friends. They were a mem­o­rable group of ladies, mostly post-war spin­sters, who had been at school with my mother dur­ing the era of Miss Jean Brodie, the hero­ine of Muriel Spark’s fa­mous novel. (Muriel Spark was at school with my mother and her friends in Ed­in­burgh dur­ing the late 1920s and early 1930s.) They had all be­come teach­ers, in their prime, and had a reunion once a year to main­tain their life­long friend­ship.

On af­ter­noons like these, the fam­ily tea trol­ley was called into ac­tion. This was an old, wooden af­fair, with two, thin, warped shelves and very squeaky, rust­ing wheels. Mum’s beau­ti­ful, em­broi­dered tray cloths – made by my grand­mother and great aunt – were brought from the linen cup­board to adorn the trol­ley. It was then my job to set it with the best teacups, side plates, neatly folded pa­per nap­kins and a care­ful ar­range­ment of drop scones, short­bread and Vic­to­ria sponge. The best teapot, match­ing milk jug and sugar bowl with cubes and tongs, com­pleted the pic­ture.

Af­ter the em­bar­rass­ment of wheel­ing the very squeaky trol­ley into the sit­ting room to serve the ladies their tea and cakes, the best part of the day was blush­ing with pride at their praise for my bak­ing. I would shuf­fle out of the room, not know­ing where to look, as they heaped me with com­pli­ments. Per­haps this is when my re­la­tion­ship with hos­pi­tal­ity be­gan.

In Skye, my chil­dren’s best friends’ granny was the post mis­tress, Mrs Fer­gu­son, who kept the lo­cal branch go­ing with im­mense ded­i­ca­tion and pro­fes­sion­al­ism. A trea­sure trove of sto­ries about croft­ing life in Skye, she was a won­der­ful per­son whom we all loved as our “Is­land Granny”.

Her Post Of­fice was tiny, con­tained within a small room an­nexed to her croft house and en­tered from a door in the warm kitchen, the heart of her home. We got to know her when we first moved into The Three Chim­neys and my daugh­ter and her grand­son were only a month apart in age. They at­tended school to­gether and were very close through­out their child­hood. Dur­ing those years, when we were con­stantly at work in the restau­rant, pre­par­ing for the next ser­vice the chil­dren spent many hours af­ter school, at week­ends and dur­ing the hol­i­days be­ing en­ter­tained by friends and rel­a­tives, and the Is­land Granny often had warm drop scones ready for them af­ter school. They have fond mem­o­ries of sit­ting by her Ray­burn, cosy and com­forted, with buttery scones and home­made jam.

Drop scones would have been made tra­di­tion­ally on a Scot­tish gir­dle: a flat round disc of cast iron with an arch­ing han­dle, which was hung over the open fire from a hook and chain sus­pended from above, or in later years, heated on a kitchen range.

A thick-bot­tomed, non-stick fry­ing pan works very well, how­ever, and there is no need to buy a spe­cial uten­sil for mak­ing drop scones.

Us­ing a pas­try brush, oil the base very lightly and heat it thor­oughly over a medium heat be­fore drop­ping your first pan­cake into the pan. Some­times the first one is a fail­ure, but once the tem­per­a­ture is just right, there will be no stop­ping you.

Drop scones can be used to build a savoury break­fast or sup­per dish. Lay­ered with crispy ba­con and driz­zled with warm honey is one way. Or stack with al­ter­nate lay­ers of black pud­ding and ba­con, or sliced mush­rooms tossed in hot but­ter with a dash dou­ble cream and cream sherry.

Al­ter­na­tively, try cream cheese and sliced smoked salmon, dill, lemon and ca­pers. You could layer with a mix­ture of creamed av­o­cado and fresh crab meat, a spoon­ful of crème fraiche, chopped chilli and fresh chives. These wee drops of scone heaven are ex­tremely ver­sa­tile. DROP SCONES (Makes at least 24) 250g self-rais­ing white flour ½ level tsp cream of tar­tar 1 large pinch of ta­ble salt 1 level dsstsp caster sugar Method 1. Sep­a­rate one egg. Set aside the white in a grease-free bowl and put the yolk in a mix­ing bowl to­gether with the whole of the sec­ond egg. 2. Us­ing a spoon warmed in a jug of hot water, add the golden syrup to the whole eggs and whisk to­gether well. 3. Sieve the flour, cream of tar­tar and salt into a mix­ing bowl. 4. Add the caster sugar and mix to­gether. 5. Add the egg and syrup mix­ture, to­gether with half the milk. Whisk to­gether very well by hand, us­ing a wooden spoon at first, fol­lowed by a bal­loon whisk. (Or use an elec­tric mixer.) You are aim­ing to achieve a bat­ter that re­sem­bles thick cream, with an easy drop­ping con­sis­tency. Add more of the milk as re­quired. 6. Lastly, whisk the sin­gle egg white un­til stiff and fold this into the bat­ter. 7. Have ready a hot, lightly oiled fry­ing pan or gir­dle. Us­ing a dessert spoon, al­low a spoon­ful to drop on to the hot pan in a roughly cir­cu­lar shape, ap­prox­i­mately 8cm in di­am­e­ter. The pan­cake should be in a thin layer, but it will rise when cook­ing. When small bub­bles ap­pear on the sur­face of the scone, flick it over us­ing a flat bladed knife or pal­ette knife and cook on the other side for no more than one minute. 8. Lift from the pan and place on a clean tea towel on a plate. Keep warm in the folds of the tea towel un­til ready to serve. Serve with but­ter and jam, prefer­ably home­made. Rasp­berry or black­cur­rant are great Scot­tish favourites. Drop scones can be stored in lay­ers of grease­proof pa­per in an air­tight tin and quickly warmed through be­fore serv­ing. They also freeze quite well. How­ever, I rec­om­mend cook­ing to or­der for the very best re­sults. Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chim­neys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www. three­chim­neys.co.uk

1 dsstsp golden syrup 2 eggs 200ml (ap­prox) fresh milk

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