Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested - Part Two

I'm like a woman possessed these days - a woman possessed by scones. For four years I have been trotting around the country eating them for this blog, which does require a certain devotion to the cause. 

But once the Book of Scones was published, I decided I had to bake all 50 recipes. I am not an expert baker. If I can do it, anyone can.

I've already reported on the results of my first five scone bakes, including the astoundingly delicious Earl Grey scone.

So eyes down for recipes 6-10:

The Chocolate Orange
Where would the world be without the Terry's Chocolate Orange? Sad and diminished, that's where we'd be. And the very excellent NT property, Goddard's up near York, probably wouldn't exist, as it was built by Noel Goddard Terry. You possibly need to chop the Chocolate Orange into smaller pieces than I did before adding them to the scone mixture - I was eating the Chocolate Orange faster than I was chopping it, so I had to speed things up - but they taste divine.

The Wet Nelly
If you're in a hurry, then the Wet Nelly scone from Speke Hall is probably not for you. This is because you have to make the Wet Nelly (a type of bread pudding) before you put it in the scone mixture - unless you have loads of Wet Nelly lying around, in which case work away. My friend Kathy came to my house as I took these out of the oven and once she got over the shock of seeing me baking, she was genuinely shocked again by how absolutely delicious these scones were. Well worth the effort.

Wet Nelly scone

The Rhubarb & Ginger
I'm not the world's biggest fan of rhubarb - as you know if you read about my trip to Clumber Park - but the rhubarb and ginger scones were fantastic.

Rhubarb Ginger Scone

The Ulster scones
These were amazing - they taste like Irish soda bread in a scone. The cherries were optional; I would probably leave them out next time as I think the scones taste good enough without them.

Ulster scone

The Raspberry & White Chocolate
It was very late when I baked these scones, it was hot and the raspberries were turning to mush, and I'd eaten most of the Milky Bar Buttons. But somehow these still turned out to be absolutely delicious. It's the magic of the scone.

So there you have it - 10 scones done, 40 to go. Remember to send me your pictures of your scone bakes - I've seen some absolute corkers that put my efforts to shame.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Peckover House and Garden

Peckover House in Wisbech was built in 1722. Sometime after 1794, it was purchased by Jonathan Peckover. How amazingly lucky he was, I thought to myself, to find a house with the same name as him. But don't worry, folks; the penny dropped before I said that out loud - I'm sharing it here as we're all friends and you won't tell anyone. 

In fact, Peckover House only became Peckover House when the National Trust took it over in 1948. Before that it was known as Bank House, for reasons that will become apparent.

Peckover House rear view

Here's what I learnt today at Peckover:

1. The Peckovers were Quakers
Jonathan Peckover was descended from Edmund Peckover, a soldier in Oliver Cromwell's army. Edmund became a follower of George Fox in 1655; Fox had established a Nonconformist religion, the Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers.

Quakers believe that religious faith is a personal matter between the individual and God, rejecting the need for clergy or rituals. Known for their commitment to social justice, their teetotalism, and for fighting the fight against slavery and war, many well-known businesses were set up by Quakers, including Cadbury, Rowntree, Barclays, Lloyds, and Clarks shoes.

2. The Peckovers were bankers
Jonathan started out as a grocer but soon began holding onto his customers' cash for safe-keeping (at their request, I hasten to add). His bank had just seven accounts in its ledger in 1782 but it grew and survived many financial booms and busts until it was subsumed into Barclays Bank in 1896.

Peckover House was home to the bank until 1879, when it moved to new premises nearby - and that building is still the Wisbech branch of Barclays Bank today.

3. Banking was a heavy old game
This is one of the ledgers from the bank. I'll never complain about Microsoft Excel again.

Peckover bank ledger
A rare sighting of my sister, aka Dr Watscone,
marvelling at the office admin tools of yesteryear.
4. Banking was also a bit of a dangerous old game
The man-trap shown below is also on display at Peckover. It would have been positioned in the gardens outside the house during its days as a bank. If a would-be robber tried to gain access, the trap would have grabbed them. There was also a blunderbuss that would have been used to fend off highwaymen who attacked the bank's staff and funds. Banking was not for the faint-hearted.

Believe it or not, this is a humane man-trap - as Quakers, the Peckovers would not have condoned the use of a device that maimed or even killed a burglar that walked into it. Not sure if/how they got around using the blunderbuss.

Peckover Mantrap

5. I want to live in Peckover House 
Like Rob in the book Hi-Fidelity by Nick Hornby, I spend a lot of my time making lists of my top-fives. Naturally my top-fives all relate to the National Trust and not to music. But one of my top-fives is "Top Five National Trust Houses I Would Move Into Tomorrow If the National Trust Would Let Me". 

Peckover House goes straight into that Top Five. It feels so homely and comfortable with a huge amount of light. I'll start packing.

Peckover Morning Room
The Morning Room at Peckover
(If you'd like to know the other four properties in the Top Five National Trust Houses I Would Move Into Tomorrow If the National Trust Would Let Me: Hughenden, Sunnycroft, and at joint number one: Goddards and Bateman's. Let me know yours - when I finally get round to setting up a Sconepal AGM, this will be the subject of the first debate.)

6. Peckover scones are bloomin' excellent
My sister has now done several scone expeditions with me and so she has picked up my dread that the scones will have run out by the time we get there. And it was a very really fear today; we didn't get to the tea-room until 4pm. 

But we needn't have worried; there were plenty of scones AND THEY WERE WARM. They were light and fluffy inside and slightly crisp on the outside - a complete triumph and worthy of a unanimous 5 stars.

I'll end by praising the surprising loveliness of the town of Wisbech. I grew up in the Midlands, but for some reason we had to watch Look East and other East Anglian news programmes. Wisbech was always getting a mention, along with Felixstowe and other places that might as well have been on the moon for all I knew of them, so I took against them a bit and have harboured that irrational dislike for about 40 years. And now I go and visit them and think "THIS IS A LOVELY PLACE! Why was I not told about this? Pah!"

ALSO, for all you National Trust fact-fans, Wisbech was the birthplace of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust! So there you have it. 

Peckover House: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Surprising loveliness of Wisbech: 5 out of 5

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested

I'd like to say a massive, massive, heartfelt THANK YOU to all of you that have bought a copy of the Book of Scones. I am so very grateful to you. 

I can honestly say, though, that you have made a canny investment. 

The Book of Scones is more than just a book containing 50 scone recipes and some crumbs of history. It's like that scene towards the end of Harry Potter where his mum and dad and Sirius and Remus all appear to him in a wood and say "WE ARE WITH YOU - TO THE END". That's how I see the Book of Scones - whenever you pick it up, 20-odd National Trust scone bakers appear in your kitchen speaking words of wisdom, such as "work quickly - scones prefer it that way" and "don't twist as you cut - it stops them rising". Unfortunately the bakers do not hang around to clean up your kitchen.

I decided to put my money where my mouth is and bake all of the scones in the book. Here are my first five bakes. They were all, without exception, absolutely delicious. 

Ginger & Treacle:

Ginger and Treacle scones

There was an extra ingredient in the G&T scone: beginner's luck. The scones rose beautifully and I've yet to see it happen again. They tasted like a warm and cosy armchair on a cold night. Even though it was June.

Earl Grey:

The surprise package of the Book of Scones. They were absolutely stunning. I think my dough was a bit too soggy, hence they look like buns, but the fruit and the tea are an incredible combination. I urge you to try this one.

Singing Hinnies

THESE ARE MEANT TO BE FLAT! Stop sniggering! Trying to find some lard in West London was harder than I expected, but I'm glad I persevered - these were a revelation. 

Walnut & Maple

Look, it was very late and I was tired. I had diligently chopped up loads of walnuts, sending walnut knobbles all over the kitchen, but then I absent-mindedly plomped the lot into the mixture and didn't save any for the tops. I couldn't face more chopping. So big chunk o' walnut for decoration it was. They were absolutely lovely.

Apple & Salted Caramel

I recommend that you make double the amount of caramel sauce for the topping, because if you're anything like me then you'll need to test the caramel fifty several times before you deploy it. They tasted incredibly appley. Delicious.

So there you have it - the first five bakes to prove to you all that anyone can bake a scone. Look out for the next five attempts and remember to send me your scone bake pictures!