the hedgerows are playgrounds | strawberry - rhubarb jam scones

I joked to my sister the other day that I should write a post about where we live, north Norfolk. Its little quirks. Do it, my sister said, people will find it interesting. It'll be funny, she told me, and your writing is usually so serious. So here starts a humorous tale about every day life in a small village with a thatched church and fields all around. The antagonists are the tractors. I'll start my story with an anecdote about how I'm often on the one-lane road, headed to the highway and I'll be doing 20 miles because I'm behind a tractor carrying hay on the trailer. It'll be far beyond legal weight limits but hey, this is Norfolk, anything goes. The car in front of me will be a black Range Rover, with a personalized number plate, something like HA1 D3R, and it will be the newest model. The driver will be a woman who is bleached blonde and will attempt to overtake the tractor around one of the hairpin bends. She'll be lucky because the traffic on the other lane is probably held up by a truck transporting a shiny new yacht to one of the marinas on the Broads; the rivers that crisscross the place.  

I'll also write about how we'll be standing on a grassy verge in the village where we live, the leg of my jeans will be soaked from local drainage issues and pressing it against Prune's wet fur to stop her swerving into the road and into the path of another tractor. The tractor will be new and fancy. Farmers do ok here. The roads are already narrow and cars spill out of driveways to park on either side, it'll start to rain, scattered showers, scattered dog walkers. Our house is flanked by forest on one side and a field on the other, where a family keep two horses. I say a family, because we can't really seem to figure out how they're all related, but in north Norfolk villages seem to be made up of a couple of interconnected families. The son (we think he's the son. He could be the brother?) is the local woodcutter with two labradors a bit like ours, a wood pile to rival that of those in northern Utah, and a unimog. When was the last time you saw one of those? He also seemed to have refurbished a Mercedes SUV that his wife likes to drive, off-road style, through the horse fields next door. Maybe it's a way of keeping their two toddlers entertained.

I'll say that the tractors don't stop, the whole year, and the size of their tyres is no joke. I'll recount the time that we were just walking along a genteel country lane, when a pick-up drove out into the middle of a field. We wondered what the driver, a farmer, was doing. He promptly lowered the window of the car, pulled out a rifle and let off a few shots to scare the crows. My heart didn't stop pumping the rest of the day. The car was not further than 25 meters from the road. I'll write as I did before about how people hang pheasants from their rafters, and rabbits from the mirrors of Land Rover Defenders, and about how one of the activities at the local primary school is plucking a pheasant for pheasant pie. My sister had a shock when she walked in to the school one day and found the pile of dead birds by the door. I'll mention that the next village is the winner of RHS Britain in bloom pretty much every year, and that from February onwards as you drive through there are great groups clad in overalls with shovels, preparing the beds and planting seedlings. That the post office is also in that village, owned by a family that everyone knows; it's a local institution. I was standing in line to mail something one day and there was a woman in front of me, collecting a parcel. She was wearing jeans tighter than mine; ankle cropped, with a frayed hem, and fancy Nike hightops, a flowy white blouse and big sunglasses. She was also twice my age (at least) and hugged the man when he served her, then drove off in a white Audi saloon. I tried very hard not to roll my eyes and for my efforts was bumped out of the queue by a man with a bushel of beets in one hand; wearing muddy boots and a deerstalker cap.

But I'll also write about how the kids from the village primary school literally fall out of cars waving to my sister who works there once a week; and little Archie calls from his bedroom window to say hello. There was the time a neighbor came knocking on our door, saying a rooster was in her garden and she was looking for its owner, fearing it would be eaten by a fox. About the elderly farmer with a Norfolk accent so heavy we wonder if he's speaking English (and we doubt he understands us) who stops us to chat and ask about the dogs, then waves from his ancient tractor.  About the bushes that are so heavy with blackberries come late summer the freezer is full the whole year; and the hedgerows that are playgrounds for robins and sparrows.

That there's an older couple with a gentle black Lab who often ask us how our grandparents are doing; they became friends. That in the fall I make applesauce out of apples from our own trees which in spring explode in color, and the roads turn pink from petals. I'll repeat, again, that winter nights are white, that I've never seen more stars in any of the unknown pieces of the wild where I've found myself. That from my bedroom I hear owls call and from in front of a sink filled with dishes I watch a family of blue jays teach their babies to eat from the birdfeeder. That I've seen young pigeons take flight after falling from their nest in a wild Norfolk storm, that the coast around here is one of the rare places that Arctic Terns nest. That someone aptly named it an area of outstanding natural beauty. The silence, early morning and late evening, is so immense it's haunting. That again I'll be standing trying to shelter my face from a biting wind, keeping a dog from under the tyres of a combine harvester, and watching a deer streak across fallow fields, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.  More than anything, I'll be charmed by the beauty in the chaos and the fine layer of red sand that is forever tacked to the bottom of my jeans. 

"And the peace which I always found in the silence and emptiness of the moors filled me utterly" James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small

Hello there :) Are you seeing an acute case of seasonal fruit fomo in this post? Particularly if I add that I am on an asparagus-for-dinner-bender? It just so happens that I really like strawberries. And rhubarb. And I wait all year for asparagus. Asparagus aside, the former are obviously a classic pairing and since these early season strawberries are not quite the sweetest yet, they work so well in a compote with the sour tang of rhubarb. I call these babies jam scones but they're really just scones with a dollop of compote (which is really easy to make). You can adjust the amount of maple according to the sweetness of your strawbs, using the lesser amount when the berries are really at their sweetest. These scones are not  typical scones - like my other scone recipes, they are more fragile and bread-like than flaky and rich buuuut no need to worry about keeping butter cold or anything like that.  The pastry/scone part is just barely sweet, so feel free to add a fat sprinkle of turbinado before baking and make sure you choose a compote you really like (whether this one or store bought) because that jammy center really sings. The spelt flour makes the pastry mildly nutty, with a little bit of whole-graininess that is so satisfying. They don't really need any shaping or anything, so I hope you try them out this spring :)

Big hugs xx


strawberry - rhubarb jam scones

makes 8 large scones & 2ish cups / 500ml compote

for the strawberry & rhubarb compote (makes one standard mason jar - around 2 cups / 500ml)

450g / 1 pound rhubarb
600g / 1.5 pounds strawberries
1/3 - 1/2 cup (80-120ml) pure maple syrup, depending on preference and your berries
Juice of one large lemon (or around 3 tablespoons natural oj)

for the scones

2 cups (230g) spelt flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 free range egg
1 tablespoon (20g) honey
2 tablespoons (27g) coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup (120ml) plain yogurt (I used goat yogurt, use what you have)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) strawberry and rhubarb jam, or your favourite natural-style jam


// To make the compote

Start by prepping the fruit. Discard the ends of the rhubarb stalks and cut to 2cm / 3/4 inch chunks. Wash and pat dry. Hull your strawberries, curing larger ones in half and leaving smaller ones whole.

Place a large, heavy based pan over medium heat.  Add to it the citrus juice and the washed + diced fruit. Pour the syrup over and stir together with a wooden spoon.

Let the fruit cook for about 20 - 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often and letting it bubble and reduce. Initially it will look VERY watery because the rhubarb is releasing its moisture. Don't be put off, it will suddenly thicken and you'll see the juices really reduce. The time will depend on the juiciness of your berries but look for when the liquid is mostly gone, the fruit it soft and broken down and that it slops off a spoon rather than drizzles (very technical, as ever).

Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a heat safe container. Allow to cool before closing; it will thicken as it cools. Magic. The compote will keep around a week to 10 days in the fridge in an airtight jar.

// for the scones

Preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'F and like a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.

In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, beat together the egg, oil and honey. Whisk in the yogurt and vanilla extract till smooth and pale. 

Draw a little well in your dry ingredients then pour in the wet mix. Stir together gently, but firmly with a wooden spoon. Once the dough becomes to come together (don't overmix), dump it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to bring it together.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces - I used a scale and a bench scraper but you can just eyeball it if you prefer. Shape each piece into a round mound and place evenly spaced on baking sheet.

Dip the back of a  tablespoon measure in flour then press it into the mound of dough to create an indent. Fill the indent with a tablespoon of compote and continue with each scone.

 Bake for 16-19 minutes, till the top of each scone is golden and feels crisp to the touch. Cool on a wire rack, but or enjoy straight from the oven. Cooled and in an airtight container they'll keep well for about 3 days, but will freeze and defrost.

 


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so much of so little | blackberry & ginger spelt scones with honey

blackberry-ginger-scones-11-1.jpg

I have a feeling that if I just started writing about my life in this space that my very, very small band of readers would desert me, like I desert me when I start writing randomly about my life. Or if I just started a post talking on and on about the recipe to maximise search engine hits by chucking in the key words 3000 times. Scone scone scone scone. They try for subtlety which makes things worse , because once you've read the recipe title three times in the main body, it's a bit hard to miss it. Then I don't need a discussion about how 'every one needs another chocolate chip cookie recipe' or a novel as to how the first time they used too much leavening. Or their justification for making and eating a whole tray of brownies. 'I'm just listening to my body', they say. Go for it! I tell them, but I'm not listening. Anyway. If it ever becomes any of those here; if I bore you with an in depth discussion of spelt flour or I start giving reasons for the extra bar of chocolate that ended up in my green salad just let me know, ok?

Which group do I fall into? I just write... what's in my head, I guess. And it looks like my head is a very chaotic place. I've kept journals all my life. I used to write two pages a day, now it's come down to one every other day, if I remember. But sometimes the writing cleans things up. It's like taking a charger or a cable out of a cupboard and detangling it, in the mess there's purpose and clarity. My blog is a bit of a journal, which is why it's such a jumble.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

Do you ever just look at the sky? Perhaps it depends on where you live. Maybe you look out to sea? I used to, when we first moved to Norfolk and we stayed by the beach. I could stand for ages on the cliff, in the wind, Prune girl sitting beside me. The sea was often gray, there'd be a halo of light in a slim parting of clouds, North Sea trawlers patrolling the horizon. But we moved inland, into deep rural Norfolk where there is... fulfilling emptiness. So much of so little. All fields and skies. I can look up and I can look across. At the chimney smoke rising from farmhouses in the valley. At the gaunt bodies of the winter beech, at the shine of frost on fallow fields. When there aren't fields, when there isn't the ocean, there's always the sky, for space and perspective.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

Because there are some thoughts that no amount of writing can ever untangle. They are so tightly coiled and knotted and messy and heavy. The fields and the sea are good but the sky is better because it's sometimes black and cold, sometimes blushing pink and powder blue. There are birds; the bass chorus of migrating geese, the sweet songs of blackbirds, the doves who are the delicate harp. Sure, the sky doesn't hold answers, it can't get into that tangle of thoughts but it's empty and there's space where that coil can straighten itself. People tell me that I can so clearly put into words what I'm thinking, which is sometimes true; I'd rather write to you to apologise or to say thanks, because what I can write is with more meaning than I could speak. But still I laugh because I wish that I could neatly organize what's in my head and write it all down. If only my thoughts were as simple as punctuated sentences. What I think is more like this post. An abstract mess. Sometimes the chaos is worse than other times and I tell myself to remember that the stars I'm seeing, they're no longer alive, and they're little puddles of light. Apparently there's hot blood flowing through me, so surely somewhere inside there's light.

I still haven't answered my own question. How do I write, what do I write about? My bed is under the big window of my tiny room and when I lie awake, thinking, I can see the stars. It's something for which I'm grateful. Till I moved here, to this tiny blip where the country meets the sea, I'd never seen so many. At night, here the sky is white, not black. If you look at one spot of darkness, a thousand more stars will emerge, some tiny, others huge. I've never really found any constellations, the stars seem scattered and oddly placed, perhaps confused. I miss them on cloudy nights when the skies seem quiet and dark, but so often the morning will dawn clear and a few odd specks will be there; three stars in a tidy row, aligned with the moon. I write because maybe it'll straighten out those thoughts, they'll align, and light up the darkest patches of my head.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

As I said in the first paragraph I'm actually really sorry that I can't seem to construe a normal post. Like just something down to earth and chatty, like other bloggers... but literally if I was just writing about the day to day, it would be an expletive filled passage about university, so I'd rather leave you with some abstract stuff that you (and I) can spend the rest of the week deciphering. Scones with a side of rambling! Just what you asked for. Two options: cut out the rambles and skip down to the recipe which is pretty damn good, or check back here in 20 years time when I have some incredible career and some sort of mental clarity. Ok. So scones.I was looking through my (tiny) recipe archives and I saw only one scone recipe. Only one! And I love them so much. So I knooooow they're nothing like the real deal since they're practically dairy free and they're wheat free but that actually makes them much less high maintenance. Yogurt instead of butter means no need to keep them cold, and the low gluten of spelt flour means they stay very tender and crumbly without worrying about over working the dough. Putting all the berries in the middle may seem odd but stops them sticking to the baking sheet and burning, and the color and sweet jaminess is such a great surprise. And obviously blackberries + ginger + honey is an amazing combination of a fiery kick, tartness and gentle sweetness. Especially if you grate your finger on the microplane while handling the ginger! So don't do that ok it hurts. And blood etc. I was probably too busy thinking. Anyway these are really very simple so I really encourage you to try them, they'll make someone and yo'self really happy. Thanks for putting up with me! You guys are the best.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt scones w/ blackberries & ginger, honey sweetened + dairy free

blackberry & ginger spelt scones with honey

Cozy spices and vibrant blackberries leave these honey-sweetened spelt scones full of flavor. Ginger adds a warm kick and the berry layer in the scones makes a jammy, sweet center. They're easily dairy free if you use a non-dairy yogurt, plus are much easier than the traditional kind.

makes 6 medium scones // easily dairy free

1 1/3 cup (150g) whole spelt flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons (45ml) plain/ natural yogurt ( I used goat yogurt, use what you like)
1 free range organic egg
Big chunk peeled ginger root (bigger the better, these scones can handle the spice)
3/4 cup (100g) fresh or frozen blackberries plus a few extra for garnish
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar, to sprinkle if you’d like


Preheat the oven to 180’C or 350’F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and then stack it on top of another cookie sheet. This is to stop the bottom of the scones browning too quickly.

In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour, spices, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, honey (use the oil spoon and it will slide right off), yogurt and egg. Beat with a whisk till pale and creamy.

Using a micro plane grater or a small box grater, grate your ginger chunk into the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Mind your fingers.

Add the wet mix to the dry mix and gently fold together to form a rough, shaggy dough.

Flour a flat work surface liberally and dump out the dough. Divide it into two equal chunks and use your hands to form two rough rectangles, each about 15cm long. Onto one piece, sprinkle the berries and push them down slightly, heaping the berries a bit in the middle so they are not too close to the edges – this stops the berries burning on the base of the scones and creates a jammy, smooth center.
Once the berries are in place, gently lift the second dough rectangle and cover the first piece, pinching the sides together. Cut the new double layer rectangle into 6 pieces: 3 squares, then each one cut diagonally. Push  any extra berries into the top layer for garnish and sprinkle over the turbinado, if using.

Transfer the scones to the lined baking sheet. Bake for 16-18 minutes, till the top of each scone is darker brown and a skewer inserted into the scone goes through a crisp upper layer, and comes out without crumbs. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve as they are, or with some honey or jam, they are not overly sweet.

They taste amazing out of the oven but will keep in airtight container in the fridge for about 3 days.

notes

If you are using frozen berries, don’t let them thaw too much or they will release a lot of moisture and the scones will lose their shape a bit. Same if you’re using fresh – pat them dry after washing them so that they don’t make the central jammy part too watery.


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lucky enough | dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones

dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones

The doors and windows were open from 5am but it had been 21 celsius overnight. The cushions lived out on the patio table, the stove stayed switched off, the oven was given a wide berth. The tap was ran till the water came out ice cold, fans whirred all day, Prune and Suzi panted in the shade. The strawberry plants were heavy with red fruit, the ground finally dry, we could wear good shoes to walk the dogs. In the middle of the day it was simply too much to sit in the sun, I'd sit in my room in front of the fan, reading a Jack Reacher and watching the curtains flap in the semblance of a light breeze. 2016. The year of the heatwave, though I think we were lucky enough to have three or four in a row.

dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones
dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones

Four weeks or so of proper warmth, no rain; no storms, no fog. My sister makes (beautiful) scrapbooks and she has a screenshot of the weather forecast from her phone; 27 degrees and wall to wall sunshine for the rest of the week. We'd been commissioned by our parents to paint the fence of the front garden and rather than the wet and wind we expected, we were blessed with cloudless skies in a technicolor blue. From the little orchard in the front garden, in the heat of the afternoon there was some kind of a hush. It was like something out of Huckleberry Finn, in the distance was the soft thump of a ball being kicked around by kids playing in the fields, a farm dog barking on a rambling country lane, the occasional cough of a caravan taking tourists to the sea, church-bells singing for the hour. Picking strawberries from the garden, making salads with feta and nectarines, eating dripping ripe peaches over the sink.

dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones

That real heat eventually petered out, leaving behind a sky that was light teal painted with streaks of gray, occasional rainstorms and temperatures that hovered vaguely in the mid-teens day and night. It was nature's transitional phase, as frustrating as waiting for a web page to open: wishing you'd not closed the tab in the first place, but since you had, willing the new screen to appear. Cars and rooms were still too hot but the wind was cool, it was too wet for most shoes but not cold enough for boots and some shops decided it was time to break out the Christmas decorations. The fall deserves some sympathy as a season, especially in Europe, where the trees take their time erupting into golds and ambers, storms pick up and the nights start drawing in. But when it arrived, this year it came with a bang. It was as if someone had opened the door of a very stuffy room, letting in a strong breeze that whirled right through us, throwing everything up in the air. It was the start of the new year, my first few days of university flew in as the leaves started to pile up. It was time for the supermarkets to retrieve the squash, for slippers in the house, for my warm glow in the corner of the kitchen. It was time for scones, time to preheat the oven again.

dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones
dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones

Scones! I didn't really 'introduce' my recipe in the last post for the loaf, but I thought I would this time. Rye flour isn't gluten free but is lower in gluten than whole-wheat flour, making these scones a bit delicate but it has such a nice flavor (and color). Dark chocolate and cardamom are an unlikely but amazing combination, slightly exotic and that smell. Just try them for the smell. And the fact that they're a lot easier than normal scones! There are some changes you can make to tailor them to various diets, they're in the recipe notes. I now establish how much I love scones, and hope you try them too. Lots of autumnal hugs xx

dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones
dark chocolate + cardamom rye scones

dark chocolate and cardamom rye scones

// dairy free. Makes 6 medium scones


1 cup (110g) rye flour
1/4 cup whole spelt flour (40g)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8teaspoon salt (that's a pinch)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (30ml) maple syrup
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
3 tablespoons (45g)  yogurt of choice (I used goat's milk yogurt)
2 tablespoons (30ml) milk of choice (or replace milk and yogurt with 1/4c or 60ml full fat coconut milk)
1 free range egg
50g/1.8oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (about a heaped 1/3 cup when coarsely chopped)

Preheat the oven to 180'C, 350'F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, add the vanilla extract, maple syrup, oil, yogurt & milk; stir well to combine. Add the egg and beat till it's smooth, pale and creamy.

Add the wet mix to the dry mix and slowly, gently combine. It will be pretty thick and take some time to come together, that's ok, but if it's very dry add another tablespoon of milk. -As the dough starts to come together, fold through the chopped chocolate

Cover a work surface with parchment paper (or flour it pretty well) and gather the dough into your hands. Gently squash/shape it into a vague oval, about 9cm/3.5inches thick and 18cm/7in long. If there is any chocolate left in the bowl, push it into the dough (the more the better, right?)

Using a pastry wheel, divide the dough in two, then each half into 3 triangles to form 6 scones

Place on the parchment paper, well spaced, and bake for about 15-18 minutes, till the tops are golden. The skewer trick works for these too - if it's inserted into the middle and comes out clean, you're good. Cool on a wire rack. The scones keep in an airtight container for about 3 days. 

Notes

I list yogurt and milk as ingredients and by all means, use dairy yogurt and milk, or plant based yogurt and milk. I also think that 1/4 cup (60ml) full fat coconut milk would work instead, the milk & yogurt give the tenderness that butter and cream would traditionally. I always use freshly ground cardamom and 70% dark chocolate. Try not to rough the dough around too much so they stay nice and soft and fluffy and amazing.


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