Read a note from JP Wright about Scones:
Kitty Tickham, famous detective, talented artist, sculptor and collagiste, queen of the jumping beans, and my own inner 12-year old girl, has a lot to say. Some of what comes out with she does not get from me; her views on Scones, however, are mine.
It is of all the baked goods the blandest and the most surrounded by controversy. Before we even begin to taste them, we have to decide what to call them. Scone as in lonely, bone, stone; scone as in gone, on, John. You will not find a member of either party willing to give ground on this. Unlike other dichotomies in English, there is no clear north-south division, no clear-cut class divide. Even within families there can be disagreement. I have been earnestly told by Devonians that one or the other variant is authentic, the other only used by the loutish kerns. I have been advised by Cornishmen of the opposite. I have not risked renewing the scarce-healed wounds of the wars of the roses by canvassing opinion on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border.
I doubt whether anyone would dare to expose themselves to ridicule by ordering the thing, and so it would have died out, had not nature seen fit to provide us with an alternative that avoids the difficulty of actually naming out loud the pastry puck: the Cream Tea is the natural habitat of the scone, and the safest way to order it. In fact, I would go so far as to say the only worthwhile way (we will turn with a shudder away from the depravity of the cheese scone; and we will not countenance the odd quirk of the inhabitants of Louisiana who, I am told, build a sort of roof for a duck pie using tiles of scone, and then call it a biscuit).
So order a cream tea, and settle into your seat, happy that the only trials ahead will be crowding plate, tea-pot, milk jug, and little porcelain nests (too sadly small to be called bowls) of jam and cream of variable quality onto too small and tippy a table (happy is he whose table-mate has only ordered a toasted tea-cake); applying the jam and cream and then finding somewhere secure to lodge the dangerously jammy cutlery; and if – as in any decent establishment – two scones have been provided, managing to finish the dish. With this last, the tea will help, and having enough jam. With the all-important plastering of sugar and fat onto the pastry, Kitty’s advice is sound: a thin layer of jam for adhesion, good discs of cream then jam. A blob of cream, a final finial of jam. There is some risk of running out of one or the other ingredient. Perhaps someone nearby will have taken the perverse misstep of buttering their scone and so have some spare – stay alert for these opportunities.
This technique was developed over time and with some effort on my part (you are welcome). After several early trials, I first recollect the perfectly stacked scone passing my lips in the Singing Kettle, Cerne Abbas. A spring day, after a bracing walk around the giant carved into the chalk hillside. It is a stiff walk up the hill beside him, which is just what is needed to prick the appetite. There is a fine view from the top of the hill, but if you wish to see the giant himself, you may simply stay in your car and look up at him from below; if he is a little overgrown, you can appreciate him in miniature in the form of postcards, tea-towels and even clocks, all available in the village. I recommend investing in a clock, to send to whichever of your maiden aunts would best benefit from it.
On that occasion, the quenching of our thirst was delayed when the waitress, having perched a tray-load of tea pots, cups and milk jugs on the edge of the table, then unloaded the table-side half first. Fortunately no scones, jam or cream were yet on board, and so only tea and time was wasted. The wait was worthwhile. There was enough jam and cream to fully load both halves. Sadly only strawberry, but the technique is the same whichever jam (choose blackcurrant, of course) you use: I spread, scooped, spread again, topped out and then tucked in. And yes, I got jam on my nose – if you do not, you are not trying hard enough.