Over the course of my adult life, I have gathered a small but nourishing collection of cookbooks. They sit on a shelf in the dining room, their spines marked by my attempts to cook from them, their colours and titles promising me a whole world of new flavours, expanded horizons, surprised tastebuds and wowed guests.
It’s the promise that gets me every time.
The French Kitchen; Mexican Food Made Simple; Weekend Cooking; Delia; Roast Figs, Sugar Snow; Breakfast, Lunch, Tea; a folder of a countless recipes copied down or cut out of magazines and newspapers; The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook. They all hold the promise of something better, even if it’s just a better option for dinner than toast.
It’s that same feeling of promise and better dinners that is currently drawing me ever closer to committing to something. Yes, actually putting my name down on a dotted line, making a public statement about my intentions and hopes, committing myself to spending time and money and effort…
I want an allotment. I want to grow things and dig soil and prune stuff and turn compost and weed rows of tender plants and eat raspberries straight from the cane and harvest my own vegetables in season. I want to sit in the sun with an enamel mug of tea and birds chirping around me. I want to hide in the shed with the rain drumming on the roof while I prick out seedlings. I want to have a glut. I want to pickle and jam and jar the excess. I want my friends to run away with the fear of being made to take more courgettes from me. I want soil under my fingernails, the smell of it in my nose and the weight of it on my boots.
When I was little and spending much time at my grandparents, I was convinced I was going to be a farmers wife, baking and picking fruit all day long. In between feeding lambs by hand, sliding down hay bales and scratching the big old sow with a piece of straw. As you probably tell, my ambition and grasp of a farmer’s wife’s reality was largely based on what I got to do at 8 years old, playing on the farm opposite their house.* This did not happen, but it was the earliest ambition of mine, somehow running alongside the one about writing without the need for dissemination or further thought. It was my equivalent of the standard “train driver” answer little boys would give when asked what they wanted to be.
Anyway, lack of farm and farmer aside (and not regretted – I am not made for 4am starts in blizzards with calving cows), the promise that got me baking this week was the Farmhouse cookbook and its recipe for potato scones. Not particularly high in fat (hurrah for waistline) but promising to be delicious served with chilli, soup, sausage casserole or just with cheese. So I set a casserole to cooking, and get the baking box out:
Boil 100g of peeled potatoes until soft. Drain and mash. Leave to cool.
Preheat oven to gas mark 7 (220C). Mix 50g of butter with 175g of flour with 1 tbsp of baking powder. Add the cooled mash, mix together. Add 60ml milk and stir until a dough has formed.
Roll out. Cut into circles. Place on floured baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes. Take out of oven and wonder why not raised and golden like ones in recipe book, but more like biscuits. Note that they still smell and taste amazing
Try again. Same result. Think sod it, you were aiming for the more American biscuit type of scone anyway. Discover that these flatter ones can be lightly toasted, thus extending their life. Experiment by adding thyme and Wensleydale cheese with most excellent results. Decide to try paprika and smoked cheese next time. Decide to try All The Cheeses in this recipe over the next few weeks.
*everything changes: the farm now focuses on rare breeds cows, no sheep at all; the gates are locked and padlocked, not open as they once were; the duck pond has been filled in; and the old sow has gone to the great sty in the sky. The farmer grew old, passed the farm onto his sons. The house on the rise is lived in by others who complain about the noise at milking time and the smell in summer. The village expands, contracts, expands again as barns become homes, bicycles are replaced by BMWs, the shop closes, and the latest village petition is for fibre optic broadband. This is not a criticism – things change, people move, ambitions shift.Village life adapts to new people and challenges. It always has.