What do you do when you miss somebody that you’ll never see again? When your head is full of questions that you still want to ask them, questions that hadn’t even been formulated when you said goodbye? When your arms ache to be around them? When your ears strain to catch the memory of their voice; your nose, the memory of their scent?
I’m afraid I’m not the burning bush and I don’t have the answers. All I can tell you is what I do, and that’s to haul out my mom’s index book of recipes. It bears an alarming resemblance to my own, with some recipes written in her confident hand, some pasted in and others stuffed in higgeldy-piggeldy – torn from magazines, snipped from the back of cartons or scribbled on the back of meeting minutes. As I page through the recipes, each one brings back a memory – the person who gave her the recipe (like Evelyn’s nutty wheat bread), the occasion when it was made (like Black Forest trifle for a party) or how we used to make it together (mmmmm, chocolate fudge). And at the back are her weekly budgets, complete with copies of the invoices sent by the Chinese-owned grocery store Harris who, in those days, delivered to your door after you’d phoned in your order. I remember visiting the store sometimes too, where I referred to the owner as die tannie met die laggesig – the lady with the laughing face. What a wonderful world view a child has!
But one of the recipes that we made the most and the first recipe I successfully replicated outside our house won’t be found in that book. I fact, I don’t think it’s written down anywhere. It lived in Mamma’s head and, like her ample hips and slim wrists, she seems to have passed it on to me like a genetic imprint.
One way or another, scones had been a part of our family weekend routine for as long as I can remember. Some Sundays when the sun was shining, my dad would announce that we were going out for breakfast. This was always a source of great excitement to me, even though we always went to the same place. In those days, there was a little tearoom and a big open patio attached to Port Elizabeth’s premier tourist attraction, the Oceanarium. It was nothing fancy – just wooden picnic tables and chairs and a collection of middle-aged ladies serving teas (were they from a charity??). But on your right, if you were lucky, you could catch a glimpse of the dolphins leaping high out of their pool during a show, and on your left you had an uninterrupted view out over the shimmering ocean in Algoa Bay. Invariably, our family would order a big pot of tea and four sets of scones with cream. I used to relish not only the big bowl of whipped cream that came with the hot scones, but also the fact that they came with strawberry jam. At home it was always apricot jam, so strawberry jam added to the sense of occasion
Even on Sunday mornings when the family stayed home, scones often featured. The division of labour in our house for as long As I can remember was that my dad would get us up in the morning on weekdays, make breakfast and get us to school; but on weekends, the roles were reversed. My mom and dad would wake up and have their early morning espresso (I still marvel at what exotic beasts they must have been in the Port Elizabeth of the 1970s!) and then while my dad shaved, my mom would go through to the kitchen to start breakfast. Often I’d go with her, and often she’d bake scones. She never seemed to use a recipe – it was something she had made so many times before that the recipe came as naturally as breathing. And when she taught me, I also learned by doing, rather than by reading a recipe. In fact, I was quite disconcerted the first time I made these away from home and without my mom’s measuring jug. I’d never learned the exact quantities, just up to which mark on the jug you should pour! Luckily I knew what consistency the dough had to be and my first attempt to make these at a friend’s house, aged about 10, was a roaring success.
Both the old glass measuring jug and my mom are no more. One met a fatal accident when my father decided to heat milk in it… on the stove. And the other met with an incurable and equally fatal kidney disease. But the recipe, it seems, is imprinted in my DNA and when I miss my mom the most, I make these scones and let the taste and the smell carry me away to another time.
MAMMA’S SCONES (makes 8-10)
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease or spray a large baking sheet.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat the egg together with the milk and oil.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the liquid into it. Then mix using a wooden spoon, making cutting motions as if you were drawing a noughts and crosses grid. Turn the bowl after each grid.
Mix until all the liquid has been absorbed but do not over-mix. If there is still some dry flour visible, add milk a tablespoon at a time and mix till all the flour is absorbed. The mixture should be sticky but firm enough to hold its shape when you form the scones on the baking sheet.
Form a rough balls from the dough and place them on the baking sheet, evenly spaced. You can make them as neat or as free-form as you like but remember they are not going to look like cookie-cutter, egg-washed scones!
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden – test with a toothpick to see if they are done. They are delicious with sweet or savoury toppings – in the picture, I have gone for butter and red cherry jam. In the unlikely event that there are any left over from breakfast, slice in half, top with grated cheddar and pop under the grill for a tasty mid-afternoon snack.