In my 20’s, in my full-blown compulsive eating and bulimia phase, scones and muffins were at the top of my food list. They were binge foods as well as on the daily menu. I loved them with a cup of coffee, coffee often being the trigger to eat them.
I love flakey, buttery scones, but I don’t remember the texture of my grandmother’s scones–she was the only person who made them for me. Jane DelCarlino, nee Elliot, was a 1st generation Scot from Pittsburgh who died at 93. Her sisters, Meg and Bess, lived to be over 98. Grandma Jane is my model of longevity though not for personality- she was feisty to the point of meanness. My mother said she lived to spite everyone. But, because of her long life, I always assumed I’d live into my 90’s, diabetes or no diabetes.
My grandmother was an impulsive and impatient cook. Pots cooking on the stove were always engulfed in flames. Anything baked in the oven emerged crisp on the outside, tepid and undercooked on the inside. Jane did not go to college, and spent most of her working life as a cleaning woman until she got an LPN license. She had a habit of leaving the family–my mother and brothers–for weeks at a time. The stories about her don’t hint at affairs, but rather point to a thirst for life. Being married to a poor, illiterate Italian immigrant didn’t promise her much in the way of adventure, so I guess she made her own.
She, not my Italian grandfather, made spaghetti and meatballs. The oily sauce, canned tomatoes reduced to a paste, because my mother didn’t rescue the flame-engulphed pot fast enough. The sauce always had a faint taste of burnt, but in the 1950’s, with grandparents who had lived through the Depression and parents who were children of it, refusing to eat something still reasonably edible, was unthinkable. The taste of burnt eventually became appealing, even comforting. To this day I have no problem eating things I burn, because I still have the vague feeling it’s “wrong” to throw it away. And I confess to being mildly impatient cook, like my grandmother, as well as a forgetful one, like my mother. I’ll put thinly sliced onions on low heat to caramelize and promptly forget about them once I’m in front of a computer. Only the smell of burning onions brings me back to reality.
But I was talking about scones… I’m guessing my grandmother’s scones were made very simply with flour, water and a bit of butter. They were white and crusty but not flakey and buttery. But I can look at crusty, buttery scones in Starbucks, in the local coffee shop, in Panera, in all the places I stop for a cup of coffee, and not buy them. I rarely eat them now, though when I travel, especially if I’m traveling by air, I occasionally succumb. I’ll sit, eat a buttery scone slowly, drink coffee and wait for my flight. That’s a treat I sometimes allow myself, and it’s all the better for being infrequent.