Mamma’s no-recipe scones


20071209_scones1caption 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)


2 cups plain flour20071209_scones2e
3.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup of oil
2/3 cup of milk
1 egg


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.

I am submitting this post as a (late!) entry into Jeni and Inge’s wonderful Apples and Thyme event celebrating our culinary memories of our mothers and grandmothers.

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  1. says

    Thank you for this moving tribute to your Mom, and keeping her memory and tastes alive in this way. I have to admit that you made me weep. In honour of her, I shall have to make her scones.

  2. says

    This looks like the same recipe as for my mom’s scones. Saturday and Sunday afternoons watching cricket on TV wouldn’t have been the same without them :-) BTW, I would love to feature this recipe (and Cook Sister) on eLuckypacket if you don’t mind?

  3. says

    What a great tribute! Mmmm, scones! (To differentiate scones from baking powder biscuits, our scones always had a bit of nutmeg in them.)
    Your mom’s scones look very similar to my mom’s biscuits to which she sometimes added grated cheddar cheese. And served them for Sunday lunches with salad and cream of tomato soup. How much cheese? “Some” How much is some? “Oh just enough…”

  4. says

    Thank you for your wonderful tribute to your mom. It is wonderful that something as simple as making scones can serve as a link between your past and your present, and evoke such strong memories of time spent with your mom.
    The recipe you have for scones is quite different to the one that I use and I look forward to giving it a go.

  5. says

    Scones are my favourite breakfasts next to Greek yogurt and honey. They are a food group of their own. Thanks for sharing your memories of your mom. These scones are your “madelines”.

  6. says

    Your post touched me too. I remember helping my mum to make scones, but sadly, the only thing about the whole process I can recall is the special glass she kept just for cutting them out. Must make scones with my daughter very soon!

  7. says

    I was moved to tears by your first paragraph. I, too, have moments of deep longing for my mom and I find baking one of those ways that I feel connected to her. I loved your story and the scones look simply delicious! Thank you for the entry.

  8. says

    Such a poignant post, which made me think about what a similar legacy would be from my Dad, since we have been sorting out his things for the last little while. I think for my brother it was playing some of the vinyl LPs that he always played to us as children, while I just kept going through all his paintings that he’d done in the last years of his life – enjoying seeing how good his water-colours had got and wanting to keep every last unfinished sketch.
    That recipe book must be so vibrant with your mother’s spirit, and scones such a great life affirming comfort food. My husband requests them very often at weekends too for tea, so either his sister or I will make them ..and if we don’t he’ll occasionally resort to knocking up a batch himself!

  9. says

    I know I am late commenting but this is such a lovely tribute that I had to leave a little message! Those shared memories are so special, I always spend time going through my mum’s recipe binder when I am home in Joburg, I am lucky enough to still have my Mum to go through it with me and now my own binder is full of copies of her copies and hastily scribbled recipes copied from her books. I hope this will be something my own daughter will treasure one day.

  10. says

    I was just browsing the web and came across your site. I absolutely LOVE it !!!!
    We have a similar site at .
    We have started posted various special occasion recipes which other grannies have sent in.
    It would be wonderful if you wanted to share any of your recipes and post a webpage on our site. If not, no problem, and keep up the great work !!!
    Best wishes

  11. denise says

    it was loveley reading your letteres my daughter emigrated 4 weeks ago to australia and i dont think we will be seing here again so i no how it feels to not see one any more and i love making scones but mine dont seem to turn out right love d xxx

  12. says

    Lovely post. I bookmarked this awhile ago and now I think next weekend I need to finally attempt to make these delicious looking scones.

  13. Rosalind Billson says

    I loved your Mother’s scones especially as I was born in Port Elizabeth and also often had tea and scones at the tearoom next to the Oceanarium. I remember how wonderful that little place was and it was run I think by the Rotary ladies. You have evoked wonderful memories for me.

  14. Sam says

    This is a wonderful entry, one that I really relate to. One of my most precious possessions is my collection of my mom’s recipe books, especially her handwritten/magazine cut-out/back of envelope/food-splashed ones. It is how I remember her, smiling, laughing and presiding over her kitchen like a cuddly, and very down to earth domestic goddess. Cooking out of her books, or just inspired by her style (ie take any recipe and add extra cream & butter!) and then eating it all with great enjoyment, keeps her memory alive.
    Thanks for a great blog.

  15. Zarina says

    I find the last sentence deeply moving. And I’m motivated to try these scones just so to know how they taste.’s so simple!

  16. says

    Jeanne, I bought an oven about a year ago, having had nothing of the sort in my kitchen here in BKK. Part of the longing of living life as an expat, is making comfort food. It is the very best cure for being homesick. The first thing I made in the new oven was my mom’s scones. She wrote it down for me about 5 years ago, together with all my favourite recipes of things I loved as a child. She has passed away since, and we make her scones almost every Sunday afternoon as a tribute to her, and enjoy the scones with a nice pot of Joko tea. (Whenever friends come to visit, they bring Joko, so we are well stocked!) Even though I know the recipe off by heart, I still read it every time. Because she wrote it in her hand, and she wrote with all her love, and she did it especially for me. When I make them, its like I have a dialogue with her. Its perhaps the same as putting flowers on a grave. Somehow, every Sunday afternoon, it is as if she is with us when we make them. When baking them, the feelings and memories are so strong and the experience exceptionally vivid – its as if she is milling about in the kitchen. The experience is very strong, stronger than feelings I would have when I have a dream of her, but weaker without the familiar smells and images. I so can relate to your beautiful post. In fact I was thinking of writing a similar post on my blog. What is even more uncanny is that I also wanted to relate the scones to memories of the Oceanarium and that quaint little ‘picnic restaurant’ you described… I remember we used to go there often with my parents, and later with friends and lovers, just to enjoy their remarkable scones and tea. The kitchen was small and I am wondering whether they actually made anything other than their scones. The purple rinsed English ladies, often dressed for church, would be milling around in the background, and it would always be the best R1.50 I spent with my measly weekly student allowance ! As I recall it was either the Lions Club or Rosa Munch – not sure, but it was definitely some charitable organisation. I remember the scones being almost the size of an espresso saucer, and they were more than generous with the cream and jam. And of course the pots of tea. …and the crashing waves and afternoon sunshine and seabreeze (sometimes a frisky one, alla PE), to finish off the memory. Sitting there on Sunday afternoons having their tea and scones were always mingled with mixed feelings. The nostalgic weekend visit to my parents gone by, (they lived in Uitenhage) and the excitement of being back in the city for a week of university life. After spending a lazy hour before heading to my apartment, the lasting feeling was always that I felt rich. That feeling I would often have over the coming years, particularly when experiencing something extraordinary. Like seeing a favourite painting in real life or visiting a famous ancient site. Sometimes the feeling would wash over me, frozen in a moment, when spending time with special friends, or even just enjoying a meal of unsurpassed quality. It is a feeling which envelops one like a like a warm fluffy blanket. Wow, your write up brings back so many memories. It is so affirming, and unusual, to have a stranger share such a unique memory – both of the scones and our mothers gone, and a restaurant which bind bygone times. As the poet Breytenbach once remarked about a memory (of a family stroll along Hermanus Beach) : ” Onthou jy nog? Onthou tog goed, anders moet ek vir twee onthou. ” Even though the picnic restaurant, the scones with the melting cream and jam, the dignified English Ladies in their cement kitchen, like my mom, have all gone, the memories of it all will remain with me forever…
    And the most wonderful of it is, that it is all with me, halfway across the world, every time I pull out my recipe book and open the page to my Moms ‘Vinnige Skons’ page. For the next 40mins she is right there and if I were blind, I would swear Id be able to touch her.
    I cannot deny that I miss her the most on a Sunday afternoon, when we clear the table and put the empty cups and crumb filled plates into the dishwasher and I realise anew that she is no longer there…

  17. Lesley says

    Hi when was the section on Olive posted and up-dated? with regards to the Tapeande Olive Shop @ Cresta and the Trophy winners. Top of the page says January 2010? Is that correct? Regards,

  18. says

    What a lovely post. I miss the PE Oceanarium now – I hear it is no more either! I also have a recipe that I just inherited from my late Mom without paper or measurements – bread and butter pudding. Going to try these out tonight. :)

  19. says

    Thank you, for your memories of your Mom and for the scone recipe, I grew up in Mtubatuba and we used to get our milk in churns, delivered by the farmer. Mom used to skim off the thick layer of cream and make our own butter, but on Fridays and Saturdays the cream was kept for Sunday afternoon tea. We had scones with homemade jam, with preserves, with fresh fruit and CREAM. I have just tried your recipe and it tastes just like my Mom’s. I now live on the Garden Route and all cream is now ‘skinny’ no body at all, unless you have a farmer friend. Once again thanks for sharing. Regards