I love scones! After I finished The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, a spooky post-war British "great house" novel, it seemed inevitable that tea and scones were in order. The Little Stranger tells the story of the Ayres, an aristocratic British family that have fallen on hard times and their family doctor, Dr. Faraday. The real star of the novel is their home, "Hundreds Hall" a once great house now shabbily falling apart and seemingly haunted by some malevolent spirit. The characters in this book drank a lot of tea. Tea seemed to be a cure all for all the creepy goings on at Hundreds. So I settled on old fashioned currant scones, with an earl grey tea infusion. As you will see below, I made a big error in my tea infusing (good tip - don't heat buttermilk, it separates!) but I was able to recover the scones and they were delicious. Along with it I made a quick strawberry jam from Ina Garten. This is not the canning kind of jam but one that will last in the fridge only a couple of weeks.
Ayres are a once great gentry family in the English countryside. They own the great house Hundreds Hall. After the war, there are only three members of the family still alive - the matriarch, Mrs. Ayres, her daughter Caroline, a plain and hearty woman, already labeled a spinster at 26, and Roderick, her son and the heir of the manor who was severely injured in the war and emotionally unstable. Into their lives comes Dr. Faraday, a general practitioner of modest beginnings, whose mother once worked as a maid at Hundreds, who first comes to the house to treat the family's teenage maid, Betty. Dr. Faraday is a man with a chip on his shoulder - he internally questions his place in the world - he is sensitive that he came from a working class family and regrets that although he is a doctor, he is not more successful. He is clearly impressed by Hundreds and befriends the Ayres family and I think sees them as a way to climb higher in society. He becomes a very close family friend, the first call the family makes when something goes wrong. He treats Roderick's war injury and becomes friends with Caroline, eventually seeing past her plainness and becoming romantically involved with her. But something is off at Hundreds -- more than the fact that it is slowly falling apart and the Ayres are nearly bankrupt. That first night Dr. Faraday was called to the house to treat Betty, she complained that the house was scary and there was something dark going on there. Then Rod becomes unhinged, convinced that an "infection" had entered the house and it was his job to protect his mother and sister. Little dark burn marks appeared throughout his room, and then, spontaneous fires were started, almost burning the house down. Dr. Faraday gets Rod committed, then whatever was haunting the house set it sights on Mrs. Ayres, who becomes convinced that her dead daughter Susan is haunting her. Little by little things get worse at Hundreds, ending in a tragic fashion. Dr. Faraday, who by standing in the family had risen so high as to become engaged in Caroline, is left shattered and alone in the end. And feeling unworthy, at the end of the book you feel he seems almost disappointed that whatever "little stranger" had tortured each of the Ayres family, had left him alone. This was a great fun read.
Earl Grey Infused Scones and Quick Strawberry Jam
Adapted from the Tartine Cookbook (scones) and Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (jam)
To infuse the flavor of earl grey tea into the scones, I decided to heat the liquid used in the scones with the tea leaves, let it sit for about 15 minutes then strain the tea out. Unfortunately, the scone recipe I used from the Tartine bakery cookbook called for buttermilk. So I learned the lesson not to heat buttermilk, as it separates when heated. What a mess I made! I was able to rescue it, but next time I will use cream or regular milk. You can make these with buttermilk if you don't want the tea flavor, but if you do want the tea flavor, go with cream or milk. The jam is an easy recipe that doesn't call for all the typical jamming steps that makes it shelf stable since I have never done any canning before, and honestly don't even know where I would get canning supplies... do they sell that stuff at Target? Anyhoo, this easy jam is delish and lasts for two weeks in the fridge. This a great combo for a summer weekend with guests, even ghosts!
3/4 cup Zante currants
4 3/4 cups flour
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 cup + 1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, cream or whole milk
1 tsp lemon zest
3-4 tsp earl grey tea (or any other tea you particularly like)
2 pints strawberries
2 cups superfine sugar (I used caster sugar)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (I skipped this and instead used the juice of 1 lemon)
1/2 granny smith apple, peeled and fine diced
handful of blueberries
Preheat over to 400 degrees. Butter a baking sheet. First, combine the currants with warm water to cover in a small bowl and set aside for about ten minutes. Drain well before adding to the dough.
To infuse the cream or milk, put the cream or milk in a heavy saucepan, add the tea leaves, and heat until just boiling. Take off heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes, pour cream through fine meshed sieve to remove tea leaves.
Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir to mix with a wooden spoon. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and scatter the cubes over dry ingredients.
Use a pastry blender or 2 table knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Like pie dough, you want to end up with a course mixture with pea sized lumps of butter visible. Add the buttermilk (or cream or milk) all at once along with the currants and lemon zest. Mix gently with a wooden spoon till the dough comes together. If it is dry, add more buttermilk or cream.
Dust work surface with flour, pour dough onto work surface and pat into rectangle, about 1 and 1/2 inches thick. Use a biscuit cutter (or empty can) to cut circles. Put scones onto buttered baking sheet. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle sugar on top (the bigger the crystal the better). Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until the tops are lightly browned. Serve warm!
To make jam, clean the strawberries, then hull them. If they are big, cut them in halves or quarters. If are small, leave them whole. Place the berries in a deep heavy bottomed pot, toss them with the sugar and Grand Marnier or lemon juice. Bring the berry mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.
Add the applies and blueberries and continue to keep the mixture at a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, until the jam reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. This should take 25 to 35 minutes. Skim and discard any foam that rises to the top.
Allow mixture to cool to room temperature and then store covered in the refrigerator, it will keep refrigerator for 2 weeks.