About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, July 24, 2006
Mum's Scones
Had my mum over for supper a couple of nights ago.

That doesn't sound too strange at all, unless you knew that mum has been dead for a few years. No, Whoopi Goldberg's Oda Mae Brown from the 1990 movie Ghost wasn't there either, channeling her heart out. But mum was in the kitchen with me, helping to make supper.

Mum wasn't the greatest cook going around, she was a meat and potatoes kinda' gal, who was in the habit of overcooking meat of all descriptions. It was from her that I devolped a taste for the fatty end of a loin lamb chop, for whilst the meaty part was dry and chewy, the fat end having had a good part of the fat rendered out, was left crisp on the outside, with wonderful juicy meat inside. She was into molecular gastronomy when Ferran Adria was still in shorts. Not for her something as heavy as a foam, mum preferred the ethereal lightness of smoke, for on more than one occasion, turned a family sized piece of corned beef into nothing more than smoke and a tiny piece of charcoal through her theory of long slow cooking. There was nothing wrong with the theory, but if you forget about the long, slow cooking part before you go to bed....

It was the smoke that did mum in. She loved her fags and had a two pack a day habit. The scent of cigarettes always hung around the house. In winter you could always tell when mum lit up, where ever you were in the house, for we had central heating and the smoke was sucked in to all the ducts. Eventually mum became very sick and lung cancer was diagnosed. She went onto chemo and radiation therapy, lost all her hair but beat the cancer, whilst still smoking. Cancer doesn't always give up so easily and a year or so later, mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Despite an operation and further treatment, plus giving up the fags, cancer took her in its final deadly embrace.

On this particular day we had had a late lunch/early dinner and by seven o'clock we were feeling peckish. Obviously a cooked meal was out of the question, but something warm and comforting would be nice. All of a sudden I had a flashback. On Sunday nights when I was a kid, we would have a soup, followed by scones with jam and cream. Despite what I have told you about mum's cooking, she was a really excellent baker, with her sponges as light as a cloud and her scones as tall as skyscrapers. My brother and I plus our two sisters eagerly anticipated the scones, which we slathered over with jam and placed scoops of chantilly cream on top, heavenly.

One thing that I have never been able to do, is to cook someone else's signature dish and serve it back to them. When I shared a house with a married couple, the wife prided herself on spag bol. I felt that my version was pretty good too, but in the whole time I lived there, never did I cook it. It feels like you are saying that mine is better than yours, even if you don't mean to. So it was with scones. Perhaps I was intimidated by mum's perfection, for I have never tried to cook them before and I'm ashamed to say I didn't even have her recipe. The only part I played in their construction was to whip the cream and flavour it.

But on this night, I felt like homemade scones, so searched out a recipe, went to the kitchen and started getting everything needed. It was about this moment that I sort of felt mum in my fingers as I rubbed the fat into the flour. It was like that I knew exactly what the texture should be and it was the same when I added the milk, preternaturally I knew exactly how much was enough and when the dough felt exactly right. However mum hadn't taken over my body completely, for when it came to patting out the dough and cutting the scones, I simply cut them out with a knife, rather than using a special round glass just for the job as mum did. The reason I did this was that mum would have leftover dough that she reshaped and cut again. These scones would always be the runts of the litter, never destined to rise as high as their brothers and sisters because of the extra handling.

I popped my little batch of scones in the oven and fifteen minutes later, mini skyscrapers emerged. Took them out, placed them in a basket wrapped in a tea towel just as mum did and served them with some jam and cream, and we all tucked in. Were they as good as mums? Well it has been some years since those childhood days, I felt that I could taste the baking powder, maybe I could back then too, but what I can say is that I felt mum smiling down on us.

Mum, scones, jam and cream, yeah, it was pretty good.
  posted at 8:08 am

At 10:08 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice food memory. I'm sure she was smiling down as you made your scones.


At 4:14 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely story.

Mum discovered Health in the late seventies and ever since then has made wholemeal scones, which are disgusting.

At 7:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've those times with my mom being right there with me. It's really lovely.
Mini skyscrapers - now that sounds really good!!

At 9:01 pm, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

Sweet post on so many levels. Thanks for sharing.

At 5:46 am, Blogger Shell said...

This was a delight of a reminisce. It reminded me of how much baking i used to do as well. Scones were a regular! I like them with sultanas in, son does not. Since i only ever measured ingredients by guess, it was always a Mystery quite how they would turn out, as well. You write beautifully, Neil.

At 8:08 am, Blogger Gigi said...

How nice ~ a Mum and scone delight!

One of my favorite 'Mum' recipes is for bread pudding, which she made with raisins and apples. I made it for her last time she was here and forgot something; tartar? Baking soda? Anyway, it didn't rise and just lay there, flat and dense. She was gracious enought to say it was perfect.

Mums ~ there's just no not-pleasing them. :)

At 9:08 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi paz, I think the food memories that are formed in your childhood are the strongest ones.

Hi kitchenhand, mum must have listened to the same people, though her beloved scones stayed the same, we had to eat wholemeal bread from that point on. Even though today I like the taste of wholemeal, it always brings back the memory of being forced to eat it.

Hi tanna, don't you just love a good oxymoron?!!!

Hi ruth, I sort of didn't know where it was heading when I started, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks.

Hi shell, I'm with your son on this one. Sultanas are nice, but for me jam & cream are the bee's knees. Thanks.

Hi gigi, I'm so glad you didn't say Afternoon Delight!!! The tune would never get out of my head. I had a moment like that with my mum. We invited her over for a chicken dinner and somehow had ended up with tough old boilers that I unknowingly roasted. They were completely inedible (needing a good three hours cooking), but mum insisted on eating them.

At 12:01 am, Blogger pentacular said...

Glad to see you've made friends with your mum at last Neil.

At 6:42 am, Blogger mary grimm said...

Great post. I have this same feeling of my mom being in the kitchen with me when I make her recipes (often telling me I'm not doing it quite right! I miss that now).

At 7:33 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi pentacular, your mum is always your mum.

Hi lucette, I've always felt that our parents live on through us, that they're never really gone.

At 8:00 pm, Blogger Jeanne said...

Hi Neil

Great post. It's funny - my most vivid memories of my mom come back in two ways - through travel; and through food. And scones were the first thing that my mom taught me to make, so the post is particularly poignant for me. My mom also visits when I roast a gammon or when I make mince pies, or fry apple rings in a little butter to serve with pork sausages. I wish she could read my blog.

At 8:54 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi jeanne, I can just imagine your mum and mine sharing a cuppa and saying to each other, 'didn't we raise a couple of fine cooks and people.'


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