This has been a tough week. I’ve had stressful days at work, and should be used to a lack of sleep, but last week was hard. A five week old baby, two toddlers, and putting our flat on the market has taken its toll on my senses. Did I mention that my darling baby boy has decided that he wants to feed every two hours (aghh!). I can see why recordings of babies crying are (allegedly) used for sleep deprivation on SAS selection! I have, nonetheless done quite a lot of cooking – baking in particular – my stress buster and comfortingly tasty too!
On the first Monday of the month, I would usually be scanning the pages of Energy (http://energy.pressandjournal.co.uk/Default.aspx?UserKey) for the Security Notes column. As part of my job I regularly contribute to this journal - covering topics such as kidnap in the Niger Delta, to terrorist attack in Algeria and evacuation from Libya; all very far removed from my ramblings on food on my blog. (You can have a look at one of my work articles here http://energy.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/2152790. One of the nice things about a regular column is that it is scheduled deadline. You know what has to be researched and written; and you know when the deadline is. The other aspects of my job often mean you don’t know what’s coming next - the nature of international security incidents, conflict and issues of political risk do not lend themselves to forward planning. Although planning ahead helps, very often plans are taken over by events – terrorist attacks, urgent evacuations or kidnap tend to turn the best laid plans upside down.
On the home front with three children, forward planning can also obviously be hampered. This has been one such week. As much as I love my home city, it is fair to say that the appalling Aberdonian weather struck again and turned all my good plans upside down. Unable to drive because of my caesarean, coupled with the Aberdeen’s recent bad weather has limited the activities I’ve been able to do with my wee girls. We have defaulted to baking and a couple of tea parties (when our planned picnics have been rained off). We’ve and made lots of mess and had lots of fun in the process!
The first thing on our bake list was scones, to accompany the wild raspberry jam I made earlier in the week.
This recipe is an adapted version of one from a lovely lady called Mrs. Mathers. The original recipe calls for Soda Bread Flour; as it is not always easy to get I use the plain flour and baking powder combination detailed below.
450g Soda Bread Flour and 1 teaspoon of Baking Powder (OR – and I use this - 450g Plain Flour and 3 teaspoons Baking Powder)
2 heaped tablespoons of sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Pinch of salt
Enough buttermilk to mix into a soft & sticky dough (I find that two standard pots of buttermilk will make 3 batches of scones)
Preheat your oven to 220 oC (200 oC fan). Grease or line a large baking tray.
Sieve the flour (or soda bread flour) and baking powder into a large bowl and add the margarine. Rub together with your hands into a crumble.
Add the sugar and mix loosely.
Add the eggs and mix gently with a spoon then pour in enough buttermilk to make a soft and sticky dough.
Do not overwork the ingredients, just make sure they are mixed.
Roll out to 1 and a quarter inches thick and cut out the scones, I use a 3 5/8 “ cutter which makes 6 big scones – a scone has to be big!
Place onto the baking sheet and bake for 10 -12 minutes. (If you are using a smaller cutter, you will require a shorter baking time).
(If you want to make fruit scones, add a handful of sultanas when you add the sugar and for cheese scones, omit the sugar and add a handful of grated cheese at this stage – for these, it is also nice to scatter a little cheese on the top of the scones prior to putting them in the oven).
Wild Raspberry Jam (works for regular raspberries too!)
Although we came across a huge raspberry crop on our walk we only managed to pick 450g of berries; two bored little girls put an end to the berry picking after a couple of near misses with some nettles. Nonetheless, according to my mum whose recipe I use and who is a brilliant and prolific jam maker, one pound (450g) is the minimum requirement. I’m looking forward to taking my wee girls to the pick your own fruit farm soon, where armed with a special basket, I am sure they will last longer for some more berry picking. Later in the year, I plan to take them to the plum orchards near my husbands mum in Lanarkshire. Until then, we’ll make the most of all the lovely summer berries.
Juice of half a lemon
(You can make this jam with equal quantities of fruit to sugar with a minimum of 450g of each – for 450g of fruit and sugar, use just a squeeze of lemon juice and increase with quantity with common sense.)
You will obviously also require jam jars (maximum of 2 per 450g of raspberries) and wax paper circles for each jar.
Prepare your jars by cleaning them thoroughly in hot soapy water, drying them and sterilising them by placing them in a 140 oven until just prior to use – whereupon you can take them out and place them upside down on a clean tea towel. The still warm jars will also prevent them cracking when you add the hot jam.
Prepare your raspberries by removing any stalks (and if you’ve picked them from the hedgerow like me, remove any beasties that may be lurking)
Put a small plate in the freezer – for testing the jam’s readiness.
Put your fruit in a large pot and warm gently and add the sugar. Add the lemon juice. Melt the sugar into the fruit on a low heat until the sugar is totally dissolved – stirring frequently.
Bring gently to the boil – watching all the time – for three minutes before testing.
Remove the jam from the heat and check it is ready by dropping a small amount onto the chilled plate – if the jam forms wrinkles on its surface if you push it with a spoon, it is ready.
If it is not quite ready, put it back on the heat and slowly bring back to the boil for another couple of minutes before checking again.
Pour the jam into your prepared jars and top with a waxed paper circle – allow the jam to cool before sealing with the lids, as this will prevent mould from growing on the top of the jam.