I didn’t grow up eating scones. We had toast, biscuits, doughnuts, the occasional muffin, but no scones. The only scones I knew were Emilie’s. Flaky and toothsome, oozing jam and butter, I could almost smell and taste them. That’s why, when I read Emilie’s first book, For the Comfort of the Family: A Vacation Experiment, I had to try her recipe.
“Take two cups of pastry flour which has been sifted three times, four level teaspoons of baking-powder and one teaspoon of salt With the tips of the fingers work into this three tablespoons of butter. Add slowly two-thirds cup milk, mixing the dough with a knife. Turn on to floured board and knead with tips of fingers till smooth. Roll into a sheet about three-quarters inch thick. Cut with diamond-shaped cutter and bake in buttered pan. When baked, cut from the top of scone a diamond-shaped piece and fill cavity with strawberry jam.”
Yay! They weren’t exquisite, flaky morsels of toothsomeness, but they were cute, and they tasted good enough to share. It could have been much worse.
She sniffed as they entered the house. “Do I smell something burning?” “Burning? Oh boy! Oh boy, the scones!” . . . She couldn’t see much through her smarting, watering eyes, but made out the two large pans full of crisp, black objects edged with sparks which once had been scones. As Long As I Live
Now, I only needed tea to go with my lovely scones.
So here’s a confession: I also didn’t grow up drinking tea. If there was tea in our house, it was instant, purchased for a visiting relative, and nobody drank it. Again, the only tea I knew was in Emilie’s books, served in dainty cups from elegant silver service and accompanied by a time-honored, gracious ritual. I wish I had practiced.
Instead, I waited until Emilie’s granddaughter Linda and her husband, Bob, came for an overnight visit. More relaxed and pleasant houseguests you couldn’t have asked for, and we had much to visit about. Bob and I were both professors, and of course, there was much conversation about Emilie. Came the afternoon, and I offered, “Can I get you something? A cup of coffee? A glass of wine?” “How about a cup of tea?” they asked. “Certainly!” I replied and went to the kitchen to figure it out.
I had no teapot, but I’m a cook and a scientist; I know how to boil water. I turned on the tap and set the stove to heating. Tea, thankfully, I had—not loose tea to be measured and steeped, but I had tea bags, and they were even fairly fresh. I had purchased them after a recent trip to Boston when I had been feeling very Emilie-esque. And now for cups. Aching inside at the mental image of Emilie’s dainty china at her grandson Selden’s, I searched among my college and souvenir mugs for something that might be called a “cup.” Relieved, I found two.
Prue bit her lips to discipline a smile… Where had he found such a battered collection? She hadn’t known the things were in the house. The spout of the teapot was chipped to a saw-edge; the cover could never have been even a collateral of the sugar bowl; the cream was in a handleless pitcher; a small teakettle of hot water, and a cup and saucer of a thickness warranted to withstand the wear and tear of time, on a battered tin tray completed the equipment. He had found a silver teaspoon. Hilltops Clear
I had left Linda and Bob outside on the deck, enjoying the breezy sunshine and talking about birds, but Linda popped in to see if she could help just about the time I was pouring boiling water from the shallow saucepan into the even shallower cups. A quick wipe of the spill, and plop, in went the tea bags. Linda is definitely her gracious grandmother’s descendant. Declining sugar (which would have to be scooped from the canister) and lemon (which I didn’t have), she accepted the tea with as much polite care as if it had been made well and declared it a success.
Good company and sincerely-offered hospitality will always trump errors of form. I now have a thermostatically-controlled teapot, stainless-steel tea infusers, a selection of loose teas, and my grandmother’s china. I will feel more confident when next I make tea for the Lorings, but I need never have fretted; a sense of humor rescues many an occasion.
The Lorings tell a story about Emilie’s good friends the Hallett sisters. Louise and Lizzy were born to wealth and lived much of their lives in the grand hotels of Europe, so you know they were accustomed to excellent tea served properly. When first they were given a cup of hot water with a tea bag in it, Louise observed, “Lizzy, I believe there is a mouse in my tea.”
If you’d like to try Emilie’s recipes, For the Comfort of the Family is available online. Do you have a favorite food or meal scene from Emilie’s books?