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Making Scones on a January Day

My treasured book on scones by Elizabeth Alston

January is one of my favorite months. The new year feels fresh and filled with all kinds of exciting possibilities.  Many of my favorite books are set in England or other places with cold winters and the characters live in houses whose warm kitchens are usually the heart of the home.  Lots of baking goes on in those kitchens and I treat my house the same way during the month of January. This is the time of the year that I want to be cozy and stay at home reading and cooking.  The cold weather and peaceful nature of January seem to call out for the simplicity of scones.

Maybe the reason I want to make scones is that I made them on Christmas morning for my family and they were so easy and delicious.  We used the adorable red Le Creuset jam pot I bought just for the occasion.

Maybe I want to make them because of the the tea I hosted in December with my friend Cathy to benefit St. Joseph Center which is located in Venice, California.  The tea was at my friend's beautiful home.  Each guest brought gently used clothing to donate to the St. Joseph Center Thrift Store and after dropping off their donations enjoyed a festive champagne tea.  Our guests were excited to be doing a service to others at Christmas time.  We celebrated the holiday with an English tea and, naturally, scones were an important part of our menu.

Maybe I am thinking about scones because the English television series "Downton Abbey" is returning for its second season this month and the characters are always having tea.  In fact The Countess of  Grantham (played by Elizabeth McGovern) and the Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith)  never seem to converse unless it is over tea.  The tradition of tea is one that is quintessentially English and you can't have tea without scones. 

Maybe it is because of a story that Henrietta Garnett tells in the book "Charleston: Past and Present" about her grandmother Vanessa Bell making scones, a story that I have always enjoyed:  

"Tea was at five o'clock, and at about half past four, Nessa would go downstairs into the kitchen and put on the kettle...Sometimes Nessa would make scones.  She would stand at the kitchen table, remove her rings and...sift flour through her long fingers and let it drift into the pudding basin.  She never spilled the ingredients; never made a mess.  The recipe she used was not extravagant.  It required a minimum of butter and lacked varnish of egg-yolk.  They were plain scones and they were very good."

I love this story about Vanessa Bell taking off her rings and making the scones amidst all the bohemian and artistic chaos at  Charleston Farmhouse.  It turns out that Charleston was a place for homey pleasures and rustic baking.

And really there is nothing easier than making scones.  You sift the dry ingredients, cut in the butter, add the liquid and any flavors you would like such as dried cranberries and orange peel.  Then you turn the dough out onto a board, roll it and cut out the scones and bake them.  Homey and unpretentious, they warm up the dreariest winter day.  And their buttery goodness really rounds out an English tea.

To paraphrase Henry James' famous quote about tea, sitting in front of the fireplace between the hours of 4:00 and 6:00 pm as the light wanes and the weather becomes chilly, with a cup of tea and a good book is a formula for soothing anyone's spirits.  The words "it is time for tea" simply exude happiness.

These memoirs by some of my favorite British authors are on my reading list for the winter season.  One of my New Year's resolutions is to read more.  Anyone for a cup of tea and some scones?

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