I’ve been thinking about scones this week. This is for two reasons. Possibly three. The first is that I am re-reading ‘The Fifth Elephant’ which involves, of course, the Scone of Stone. The second reason is I am generally thinking about scones, especially the ones with jam and cream that are served at The Lizard at the Polpeor Café. Then the third reason is because a fellow Twit, @alysdragon, tweeted a pic of some ‘failed’ scones that looked, to my greedy eye, perfectly edible.
Perfectly is the problem. In a world of cookery shows we are all being forced to think that our bakings and makings need to be ‘Instagrammable’. They also have to pass the Mary Berry muster and not have a soggy bottom or be of odd sizes.
Except that this is just propaganda and brainwashing folks! This is like Strictly Come Dancing taking all the dance out of the samba and, as Alexei Sayle puts it, making something that is your heart and soul become a tactical manoeuvre. We need to get a grip! What we need to grip is a wooden spoon and when someone tries to tell us that the perfect scone is 6.5cm high with a girth of around 15cm and crumb of precisely 3.14 recurring microns, we need to take that wooden spoon and SLAP THEM ON THE FOREHEAD.
Some of the greatest confections and cakery that have ever been made have been made by mistake. Take Ganache for instance, the unctious, lushly creamy concoction from la belle France. I recall a Nigella notation which suggested that this came about because a minion in a french kitchen put the cream into the melted chocolate by accident and was soundly shouted at until someone tasted it and thought, ‘The lad has a point, we should slather this over some kind of cake. All kinds of cake. Here, lick this spoon.’
Bakewell pudding. Another apprentice error. This was not what they had planned, the kitchen maid mixed up the wrong bits of this almond paste and eggs with the right bits of that flour and butter and sugar and hey presto an entire Derbyshire town has spent two centuries being inundated with tourists on a pudding prowl. That mistake is an entire industry.
Sally Lunn is more local to me these days. Solange Luyon, a Huguenot refugee, made up a bun the way they did back home instead of the way she’d been shown in Lilliput Lane. Once again there were cross words in the kitchen but, in the end, the public scoffed them in great quantities and scoff them still some four hundred years later.
Some of my mum’s most delicious custard tarts had the soggiest bottoms. They were the ones that were ‘upside down’, that is the pastry case had still got a small puff of air under it and, in the heat of the oven the air expanded taking the pastry up through the custard filling like a pop up pastry tent. Some people, many in fact, will have taken such a tart from the oven and discarded it. It’s soggy. It isn’t perfect. It’s a trifle fugly looking. What fools they are. An upside down custard tart has much to offer in the vanilla and nutmeg stakes. Get your chops around the squidgy, custardy fluff at once. Call it Pop-Up Pudding if you like, just don’t throw it away.
For me, food is about love and nourishment, its about me slapping on my pinny and catering for my family. In my wildest cooking fantasy I’m in a castle kitchen and everyone just got home from a really big battle and I have a hog roasted and all manner of potatoes, roasted, mashed and scattered with butter and herbs, glistening lemony carrots. The brussels sprouts are stacked into a Ferrero Rocher pyramid worthy of any despot. There are platters and trenchers and roast fowl. And somewhere, in the belly of the biggest oven is a cake. Some days it is fruit, explosive with golden sultanas and all spice. Other days it is a towering, erm, tower of Eleanor Sponge, the kind we had before Victoria. There is honey and cinnamon. Wine is by the vat, rich and ruby red.
With the current series of ‘Big Family Cooking Showdown’ and the imminent arrival of the new ‘GBBO’ I can feel the tension in the kitchens of Britain rising like a pressure cooker with a dodgy valve. No, people of Britain, no. It doesn’t matter if Giorgio Locatelli thinks your salmon is ‘overcooked’, can the leftovers be slapped on a sandwich next day? Did the cat lick it? Who wants more rosemary potatoes with the crispy edges? Put down that slide rule, that is not how you approach a flapjack!
Trust me, next time you’re in the kitchen just remember one simple cooking maxim; There is nothing that cannot be disguised or improved by the addition of either gravy or jam. Delete as applicable.