Grandma Skinner and her special scones
It's the kind of e-mail writers love to get: a reader responding to my words and recipes.
Its subject line was "years ago." It began, "Hello, Jan, my daughter is going to be 25 years old next month. She was born in Eugene, though we lived in Beaverton. I read the Oregonian's FoodDay religiously. I found your recipe for Grandma Skinner's Scones one day, and we are still savoring them.
"I live in Pennsylvania now, and said daughter lives in Seattle. She is coming here for a birthday visit next month, and I'm planning your scones — with everything we eat. They are wonderful!!!"
So like most mothers preparing for a child's visit, she was plotting her menus. That's when she discovered that the scone recipe was missing.
But unlike most e-mails of this sort that come through my mailbox, Anne wasn't asking for a duplicate copy of said recipe. I get a lot of that, and trust me, I don't mind. I love reconnecting folks with a treasured recipe. Anne had found Grandma Skinner's Scone recipe on the Internet and was simply sharing her story because she knew I would care.
She wrote, "My kitchen would fall apart if I couldn't make those scones. I hadn't missed them until now, as I've been a bit too ill to eat much but am well now and starving. Thank you so much for sharing and providing us with years of eating pleasure."
My brother and his wife happened to be visiting when Anne's e-mail arrived. We reminisced about those wonderful scones. When Grandma Skinner was alive, the scones — steaming-hot off the griddle — were a part of most Saturdays, either for breakfast or late-afternoon tea.
It's always amazed me how one little tea cake with such a short name can have so many variations — both in preparation and pronunciation. These are griddle scones, but there are also oven scones. Within those two categories, there are baking-soda scones and yeast scones, treacle scones and sweet-cream scones.
At Scottish banquets, I'd sample other people's scones. Some were extremely fluffy and contained moist raisins. There was even one that Bessie Scot always brought that didn't resemble a typical scone at all.
It reminded me of plain, old pancakes with one difference: It had a velvety, smooth surface, and inside, it was spongy, not doughy or cakey.
In college, long after Mrs. Scot's demise, I set out to duplicate her scone. I finally found a likely candidate in one of my Scottish cookbooks. It was called Mrs. Duncan's Drop Scones, and it came pretty close.
As far as pronunciation is concerned, our family says "scone" so it rhymes with "on." But it's just as often pronounced with a long "o," and in some parts of Scotland and Wales, the word has acquired an extra syllable, making it "scoo-en."
Two of Grandma's sisters thought they knew how to make scones (They all were born in Scotland, after all!) But everyone concurred that Grandma Skinner's were the best.
She had the touch. I know because I used to stand there — eyeballs at bowl level — watching her lightly mix the buttermilk into the flour with a knife. Only a knife would do, she'd explain, because forks and spoons worked the dough too thoroughly, making the scones heavy and dry.
She'd gently lift the lumpy dough from the bowl and lay the slightly sticky mass on a flour-dusted bread board. Working quickly, she'd quarter it, pat and roll each section into half-inch-thick rounds, then cut each round into four triangles. By the time the 16th triangle was formed, the griddle would be hot enough to make water droplets dance frenetically across its surface.
As the scones came off the griddle, they'd be tucked into a soft tea towel to cool. But they rarely lasted that long.
Knowing full and well that a scone is at its peak while butter can still melt upon its tender surface, we'd slice the scones horizontally with a serrated knife. Then we'd quickly slather on some butter and strawberry jam and press the halves back together, swirls of butter and jam oozing out the sides. To this day, each family member can recall that sensation.
Unfortunately, it's one never again to be duplicated because, like I said, Grandma Skinner had the touch. Of all the poor seconds, mine are considered the best, probably because I watched the master herself at work.
On the morning my brother and his wife left town, I made a batch of scones. Don got the first one off the griddle, split it open and slathered it with soft butter and my homemade apricot jam. One bite and his eyes closed. A smile spread across his face.
The drive home was going to be fueled with boyhood thoughts of a grandma we loved so very dearly.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at email@example.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.