Shirley Spear’s drop scones
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