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  • David Mathews

In Praise of Scones

Off to Story Saturday at Clifton Library tomorrow with the excellent Claire Reddaway and Elaine Miles. I'm reading a story about a long, dark night and some bits of nonsense from my collection of stories about scones.


Most people like a scone, but how to eat them can be a touchy matter ...


How to eat a scone: a beginner’s guide

‘Do I look like the sort of girl who would like scones?’

‘I’m sorry?’ he said. He had been admiring an art deco vase, in the way you always appraise your host’s ornaments when you are one of a party invited to tea, and you find yourself sitting alone.

‘Do I look like the sort of girl who would like scones? Should I try one?’

‘Would you like to try one?’ he said, playing for time, trying to weigh up the interrogative style of the sturdy five-year old presently eying the tray of tea things that her mother had placed by the sofa. She had emphasised the word ‘look’. Was her question defensive? Had she been accused of liking scones by a parent anxious about childhood obesity, or teased by a passing adult of liking them too well, or even spun a yarn about the doubtful virtues of young women given to eating such indulgences?

On second thoughts, her ‘should I try one?’ fitted better the theory that this was an innocent enquiry, for all that it was an intriguing line from a child of her age. She might have said, ‘Are scones nice?’ or ‘Will I like them?’, but preferred to direct this stranger’s judgment to her choice of action.

‘So are you going to try one?’ he said, having determined his tactics.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘yes please. How do you eat them?’

She was earnest in this further question, and he decided her avowed inexperience merited a serious response.

‘There are several ways,’ he said.

‘Is one of them called dunking, that Mummy says Daddy mustn’t?’

‘Dunking, my young lady, is for biscuits, and one of the finest ways to eat them. I’m with your Daddy on this, and I think your Mummy, while a fine woman in most major respects, is being a touch risk averse. She is no doubt thinking of a dripping biscuit soiling her chair covers. However, dunking does not suit scones.’

‘Mummy’s not a risky verse, she’s a teacher.’

‘Of course she is, and she makes fine scones too.’

‘So how do you eat them?’ She frowned and pursed her lips. ‘What are …,’ she searched for the term he had used, ‘… the several ways?’

‘You can eat them with butter or cream, very special cream called clotted, and jam, strawberry or raspberry. Some scones have cheese in them, and you can put more cheese on them. There are people who use marmite, and others who do things with chocolate.’ He lowered his voice, ‘I have a friend in Canada who likes scones with peanut butter and marmalade.’

She looked gleeful at this revelation, but turned back to the tray.

‘Is that the clobbered cream? What do I do?’

He took a scone. In the cooking it had risen just enough to create a fracture half way up the scone, what a geologist might call an unconformity.

‘Watch,’ he said, and gently eased the extremes of the scone so that it parted evenly with no crumbs. ‘What do you think of that?’

She was not impressed by his deftness. ‘It’s broken.’

‘That’s so you can put the cream and jam on.’

‘Which goes on first?’

‘Well, young lady, there you have arrived at one of the all-time questions of western civilisation. Men have almost gone to war to prove the supremacy of cream on top or jam on top.’

She wrinkled her nose in puzzlement, whether at scones or western civilisation, he could not tell. ‘Can I do both?’ she said, eyeing the two halves of the scone.

An instinctive scientist, he thought. On a plate he prepared the two morsels, one cream on jam, the other jam on cream.

‘Which do you think tastes best?’ he said.

In a more rigorous trial, the girl would have been blindfolded so that she could not see which formation of jam, cream and scone she was eating, and a matching maiden would have eaten the same in reverse order. No twin being available, the junior experimenter pitched in solo, and the scones were gone in a trice.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘which is it, which is better?’

She looked him in the eye and, as he looked back, he watched the development deep in the girl’s brain of a twinkling, subtle intelligence, for which the only word was crafty.

‘I’m not sure,’ she said. ‘Do you think I should try again?’


Footnote

The scone of stone

Dear Sir,

I recently had the pleasure of reading “A Baker’s Dozen”, an excellent series of short stories by Mr D Mathews. The first in this series was a delightful essay on how to eat a scone. It even brought a moist corner to one’s eye. However I must protest about Mr Mathews’ knowledge of geology or perhaps the calibre of geologists he is acquainted with. A true geologist would never call the fracture in his scone an unconformity, for one would presume that a singular scone has the same age from top to bottom. An unconformity is a contact between two rocks of different ages indicating a gap in geological time. What I think Mr Mathews means is a discontinuity, a phenomena where there is a change of physical characteristics often resulting in a fracture, and one that would easily facilitate the parting of his scone.

Yours annoyingly,

A. Pedant


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